Prospects Arismendy Alcantara and Kyle Hendricks are only reason to follow Cubs
BY GORDON WITTENMYER Staff Reporter July 18, 2014 11:08PM
Updated: August 20, 2014 6:18AM
PHOENIX — Looking for reasons to pay attention to the Cubs the rest of the season (beyond the dogfight for another top three or four draft pick)?
Good luck. Because it’s still all about the future for these guys.
But while the future isn’t exactly now for the Cubs, it might be just close enough that the roster shape-shifting over the last 2½ months could be worth watching — if not for answers to the timeline in Chicago, then at least for watching rookies and previewing prospects.
As the Cubs opened their post-All-Star schedule Friday against the Arizona Diamondbacks, manager Rick Renteria said rookie right-hander Kyle Hendricks, who debuted July 10 in a victory at Cincinnati, will join the rotation as the fourth starter Tuesday at home against the San Diego Padres.
“The thought is to allow him to slot into that spot and then see how he does,” said Renteria, who also had touted prospect Arismendy Alcantara in the lineup for the sixth consecutive game Friday.
Alcantara, whose scheduled two-game debut last week was extended because of his impressive performance, said he hasn’t been told how long he’ll stick on the roster as pitching moves come next week, but team officials have been encouraging.
He led off the fourth with a walk, stole second, then scored when newly minted All-Star Anthony Rizzo homered in the Cubs’ 5-4 loss.
“We still have to have conversations to see how we’ll go,” Renteria said, “but he’s been playing very, very well. And it’s still day-to-day, and we’ll see.”
They’ll also see one of the top five prospects in baseball, Javy Baez, likely in these final weeks, after Baez was moved from shortstop to second base the last two nights — his first games in his minor-league career that he has played anywhere but Starlin Castro’s position.
Baez, who homered in those last two games, continues to surge at the plate since his miserable six-week slump to open the season.
Renteria inexplicably veered far out of his way to downplay a position change for Baez that his Class AAA manager suggested will last for an extended stretch and is clearly about increasing his versatility for a potential big-league promotion.
“It’s good to see that he’s moving around,” Renteria said, ‘‘but from my perspective, it’s not an imminent anticipatory position to think I’m going to see him.”
But the bread crumbs definitely are starting to drop on the path to wherever this rebuilding thing is going to go. And if crumbs are all that the Cubs have to offer the faithful these last 2½ months at Wrigley, at least it’s more than they’ve offered the first 2½ seasons of the process — and maybe even something worth buying a ticket to watch once Baez arrives.
“If we’re going to be going like this, yeah, you’d like to see those guys come up,” said reliever James Russell, one of the top candidates for the other kind of roster moves expected before the trading deadline — if not during the August waiver-trade period.
“Who knows, maybe in September if guys like Baez and [Kris] Bryant are swinging the bat well — well, Bryant’s been swinging it well all year — then you never know. It could happen.”
In Bryant’s case, not likely. The slugging third baseman, who leads professional baseball with 33 home runs, is more likely to debut next season — with the Cubs preserving another year of club control before free agency.
“But it’s just kind of cool to see guys like Alcantara come up,” Russell said. “He’s acted like he belongs every step of the way. It’s fun to watch.”
NOTE: Ex-big-league catcher Yorvit Torrealba, who played only four games for Mesa of the Arizona Rookie League, requested and was granted his release from the minor-league contract he signed last month.