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posted: 7/7/2013 8:00 AM

Plenty to watch as teams play out the season

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  • Josh Phegley follows through on a sacrifice fly during the White Sox' 8-3 loss to Tampa Bay on Friday. Phegley figures to split the catching duties with Tyler Flowers for the remainder of the season.

      Josh Phegley follows through on a sacrifice fly during the White Sox' 8-3 loss to Tampa Bay on Friday. Phegley figures to split the catching duties with Tyler Flowers for the remainder of the season.
    Associated Press

 
 

It's officially next year, on both sides of town.

Winning is no longer the main objective. Good thing, since it's proven unlikely to happen much.

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How many young players can we develop? Which veterans are best used as trade bait to restock the system? What can we work on with the guys who will be here in 2014 and beyond?

The Cubs were considering these questions on Opening Day.

The White Sox joined them this week, and it felt even more official Friday night.

After tearing it up in Charlotte most of the year, Josh Phegley finally made his debut, and will split catching duties with Tyler Flowers.

Phegley had a hit and a sacrifice fly, struck out twice and drove in 2 runs. Defensively, he was ... interesting.

If you'd like a target for your personal White Sox iso-cam, he's a good one.

Simon Castro -- the best arm acquired in the Carlos Quentin trade-- gave up hits to the first two batters he faced but settled down and struck out four over 3 scoreless innings.

Castro is a 25-year-old prospect, who has started his entire career until a few weeks ago. But he could absolutely end up a usable bullpen piece. The stuff is there, and predictability of that role is tricky.

The Sox don't have much MLB-ready talent in the system, but what they have will get a chance.

More interesting was seeing Gordon Beckham at shortstop for two innings. It was his first Sox stint at the position he played in college. He played there in Charlotte on his injury rehab a couple of months back.

If Alexei Ramirez goes in a trade, option No. 1 is no secret.

Star power on the horizon:

Javier Baez is one step closer to the big leagues.

The No. 15 prospect in MLB.com's top 100 was promoted to Double-A on Friday night, and he's currently the best active hope for an elite breakthrough player in the Cubs' system.

It's interesting to watch the Cubs' front-office plan as to his development. He had 235 plate appearances in Peoria, and then totaled 423 at the higher A level in Daytona.

If Jorge Soler were healthy, he might have gone up, too.

Baez has absurdly good bat speed, and the Gary Sheffield comparisons are exciting.

Challenges have been plate discipline and learning to walk. Helping him develop more patience is now the responsibility of West Tennessee manager Buddy Bailey and hitting coach Desi Wilson.

September of next season continues to be a very realistic goal, with a promotion conceivable straight from Double-A. An Iowa stop isn't strictly necessary in the Cubs' philosophy.

Doubles machine Manny Machado of the Baltimore Orioles just turned 21 on Saturday. MVP candidate (again) Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels turns 22 in August. The gifted Bryce Harper of the Washington Nationals won't turn 21 until October.

It's entirely possible that by even midseason 2014, Cubs fans will have their own extremely talented kid to watch.

Just a matter of time:

Here's a prediction, for the road.

Robin Ventura will peacefully walk away from managing at season's end. I'm still waiting for that first sign, or comment, that he truly loves and wants this job.

We know he said yes to Jerry Reinsdorf and Kenny Williams, as a loyal soldier, but then tellingly turned down an extension. You have to really hunger for that role to do it well.

There are lots of options on staff. Mark Parent won manager of the year in the minors. Joe McEwing is thought of highly. And of course Jim Thome joined the organization with Reinsdorf's vocal, eventual managerial, endorsement this week.

We'll see. But if I had to bet on it, it won't be Ventura next spring.

•Matt Spiegel co-hosts "The McNeil & Spiegel Show" 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday-Friday on WSCR 670-AM. Follow him on Twitter @mattspiegel670

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