Travis Wood carving a spot in Cubs' future
You didn't need to pay close attention over the last week to see the "future" of the Cubs on full display.
First baseman Anthony Rizzo came up and had 3 game-winning RBI in his first five games.
Three key lefties
The Cubs obtained left-handed starter Travis Wood and two minor-leaguers for lefty reliever Sean Marshall last December. Wood has stepped up in the Cubs' starting rotation and reliever James Russell has filled Marshall's bullpen role. Here is a look at how all three are doing:
Shortstop Starlin Castro made his second straight All-Star Game at the ripe old age of 22.
You did have to pay a little closer attention, however, to notice Travis Wood flying under the twin radars of Rizzo and Castro.
All Wood did was win his second decision on the six-game homestand, pitching 7 scoreless innings Sunday to beat the Astros. Wood improved to 3-3 and lowered his ERA to 3.05 with his third straight victory.
He also is on a run of 18 consecutive scoreless innings, the most by a Cubs left-handed starter since Ted Lilly went 19 in a row in 2008.
The 25-year-old Wood's confidence may be at an all-time high, especially considering he failed to make the big-league roster out of spring training.
"It was there, but it was kind of pushed aside because I wanted to come in, and being traded for a guy like (Sean) Marshall, I wanted to come in and show them it was a good trade," he said. "I wasn't able to do that. It was there. It kind of just got pushed aside. I had to get it back, and I did."
Just as Castro and Rizzo are key parts to the Cubs' future on offense, Wood is an important building block for the starting rotation as team president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer seek to build a team with good young players.
Epstein and Hoyer stuck their necks out by trading popular and effective left-handed reliever Marshall to the Reds to get Wood in a package deal.
That trade is showing signs of looking good for the Cubs on several levels.
First, Marshall would have been a free agent after this season, commanding big bucks. In Wood, the Cubs received a player with just 1 year and 39 days of service time entering this year.
There was another benefit. The Cubs had confidence left-handed reliever James Russell could fill Marshall's role, at a fraction of Marshall's cost.
Russell has done that, with numbers strikingly similar to Marshall's in Cincinnati. In 39 games entering Monday, Russell was 2-0 with a 2.45 ERA and a WHIP (walks plus hits per 1 inning pitched) of 1.28. For the Reds, Marshall entered Monday 2-3 with a 2.70 ERA and a WHIP of 1.20. He also had 9 saves.
So yes, the Cubs gave up perhaps the best left-handed setup man in the game, but one who had more value to a contending team like the Reds than a rebuilding team like the Cubs.
In return, they got an important part of their future in Wood.
"That's the reason we traded for him," said manager Dale Sveum. "We obviously gave up one of the best relievers in baseball for him because that's what we thought about him as well as myself seeing him on the other side of the fence in Cincinnati, how well he pitched against the Brewers when I was there against a really good right-handed lineup. I knew it was somewhere in there. We talk about spring training, but he's made the adjustments, and the confidence level he has right now is off the charts."
As far as being part of the Cubs' future, Wood said he welcomes that.
"Absolutely," he said. "That's what I'm looking for. I want to find a place where I can stay for a while and help the team win a championship."
The future, Part II:
Had a chance to visit with David Schuster on WSCR radio Sunday night. He posed an interesting question as to what Cubs prospects might be called up before Sept. 1.
My response was that, depending on trades the Cubs make, I didn't see any major prospects called up before September.
Although center fielder Brett Jackson (and his 117 strikeouts) has been getting most of the attention, the most interesting player at Class AAA Iowa now is third baseman Josh Vitters.
In Sunday's 13-12 loss at Nashville, Vitters was 3-for-6 with 2 doubles. His line for the season entering Monday was .298/.350/.510 for an OPS of .860. He has 13 homers, 44 RBI, 19 walks and 46 strikeouts in 292 at-bats.
Although some Cubs fans grew impatient with Vitters, it's important to know that he won't turn 23 until Aug. 27 — he was 17 years old when the Cubs use their first-round draft pick (third overall) in 2007 to get him.
Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have said they'd like to get their prospects a full season of Triple-A ball before considering a call-up. By the time September rolls around, Vitters will have had that full season after getting 655 at-bats over the previous two seasons at Class AA Tennessee.
Since Vitters already is on the 40-man roster, there's no harm in giving it a shot come Labor Day.
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