Saturday afternoon proved to be a true pleasure for the 60-plus hardcore baseball fans (mostly Cub fans) who ventured to Monti’s restaurant on the north side of Chicago (4757 N. Talman). In addition to delicious cheesesteak sandwiches, pizza, and refreshments, Monti’s offered a comfortable destination point for baseball enthusiasts to discuss a wide-range of issues. Hosted by Baseball Prospectus’ own Harry Pavlidis, Ken Funck, Mauricio Rubio, and Jordan Gorosh, the event also included local baseball luminaries Wayne Randazzo (voice of the Kane County Cougars), John Arguello (Cubs Den), Sahadev Sharma (ESPN, Vineline contributor), among others. Wrigleyville Nation also attended the event and took the temperature of the baseball experts on a number of topics.
The consensus of those in attendance suggests that the Cubs are looking at one more difficult season (69-75 wins), before the influx of young talent in the minor league system reaches the majors and translates into more wins for the parent club. Javier Baez and Kris Bryant were naturally among the Cubs’ farm hands most highly spoken about on Saturday. In addition to these high-end talents, the overall depth of the Cubs’ farm system most impressed those in attendance.
Mike Olt inspired optimism from many in attendance. As a former top prospect who struggled last season amid vision problems, Olt represents a quintessential buy-low acquisition for this Cubs’ front office.
Many did not foresee the offensive regression noted in last week’s column, Welington Castillo. Again, the computer projections for Castillo are far less optimistic than the predictions of most human observers. While Castillo showed significant improvement in his defense last season, one area of concern mentioned Saturday was Castillo’s pitch framing. Apparently, Castillo has worked hard during the offseason to make improvements in this area. As one analyst pointed out, a poor pitch framer can become an average pitch framer through practice and training, but excellent pitch framers have an element of athleticism and hand strength that separates them from the rest. Given his strong arm and excellent ability to block the plate, let’s hope that Castillo’s hard work elevates him to the level of an average pitch framer. Strong defensive catchers with some pop in their bat are a scarce commodity in baseball these days.
The Cubs appear destined to leave both WGN radio and television at the conclusion of this season. While FOX has been rumored as a possible television option, the radio alternatives include WBBM (AM 780) and WMVP (AM 1000). A break with WGN radio, in particular, would be a departure for any Cubs’ fan born after 1925 (the Cubs’ inaugural season on WGN radio). These changes likely would reduce the range of both Cubs’ television and radio broadcasts and impact the team’s fans who reside outside the Chicago metropolitan area. While the internet has changed how many fans watch games, listen to games, and read about games, a significant portion of Cubs’ fans who live outside of Chicago still rely on traditional means (television and radio) for following Cubs’ games. The upcoming evolution in Cubs’ media choices will come as a harsh change for many fans.