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When the Cubs look out west and see what Cuban rookie Yaiel Puig has done after just one week in the big leagues - and after just 63 games in the minors before that - it's hard not to think about recently drafted slugger Kris Bryant and the handful of other potential impact hitters in their system making the same big noise someday.

In fact, the Theo Epstein rebuilding program depends on it, manager Dale Sveum.

"Oh, yeah, those are the guys we're counting on in the organization that we need to come through when you do call them up," Sveum said of Bryant, advanced-A teammates Javy Baez and Jorge Soler and Class A outfielder Albert Almora. "Those are our best prospects - whether it's Baez, Soler, the Almoras - whenever they're ready to get here. We're still talking about a couple years away.

"[But] those are the guys that you have to have hit. Otherwise, you're back to the drawing board."

Soler and Baez made big first impressions at big-league camp in spring training. And both earned Florida State League All-Star selection.

And the heating-up Baez, delivered an eye-popping four-homer game Monday night.

But Sveum said he doesn't anticipate any of those top prospects getting even a late callup in September this year.

"We're not talking about next year or anytime this year," he said. "That's not what we're trying to do. :They're here to develop. ... We're still not getting the huge production at the level [they're at]."

Did the Cubs get the next Bryce Harper or Mike Trout with Thursday's No. 2 overall pick - a big hitter who could land in the big leagues fast as an impact player?

"Deep down I absolutely think that," said University of San Diego slugger Kris Bryant, the Cubs' choice for what many considered the team's most important draft pick in at least a decade.

"I think every ballplayer should think like that. You should think you can go out there and play with the best of the best," said the 6-foot-5 third baseman, who has drawn comparisons to Troy Glaus and Jayson Werth. "That confidence is definitely inside of me."

It's a confidence the Cubs seem to share after passing on the biggest power arm in the draft and their greatest area of need to take Bryant over Oklahoma right-hander Jonathan Gray.

Given the dearth of elite pitching prospects in the Cubs' system, the decision means the Cubs will look elsewhere for frontline starters - such as 26-year-old Cuban defector/free agent Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez, or deadline trades of veterans again, along with an overall draft emphasis in pitching for the second consecutive year.

It might also suggest the timeline on the Cubs' rebuilding is getting moved back again, especially if Matt Garza is traded next month or leaves via free agency in the fall.

The Cubs moved to that pitching emphasis Thursday night with their second pick, taking Missouri junior Rob Zastryzny, a 6-foot-3 left-hander, with the 41st overall pick. Their next pick comes at 75 overall when the draft resumes Friday.

Bottom line with the No. 2 pick, said Jason McLeod, the Cubs' top scouting and player development executive was deciding on the likeliest big-impact, long-term player.

Bryant, 20, a junior whose advisor is hard-negotiating agent Scott Boras, hit .329 with 31 home runs and an .820 slugging percentage in 62 games for San Diego this year.

Once the Houston Astros selected Stanford pitcher Mark Appel - a pitcher coveted by some in the Cubs' draft room -- with the No. 1 overall pick, Gray seemed the likely choice for the Cubs to get the impact pitcher they crave.

Colorado took Gray with the third pick.

"We felt the best player for the Cubs long term, looking at those two players, was Kris Bryant," McLeod said. "We talked a lot about the history of the draft and position player vs. pitcher and those kinds of things."

Position players historically succeed at a higher rate and higher impact than pitchers with top first-round picks.

Recent changes in college-bat rules that reduced the exaggerated power of traditional aluminum bats made Bryant's numbers this year even more impressive and reliable for evaluating, McLeod said.

"Don't get me wrong," McLeod added, "We thought all three of those guys were very talented and deserved to go 1-2-3 in the draft. We just made the pick that we felt was right for this organization now and for the long-term."

Gray's draft stock was called into question in the past week with revelations he tested positive for Adderall, an ADHD medication commonly used by athletes for enhanced short-term focus.

But McLeod said: "Ultimately it didn't affect how we felt about him as a player and as a person. That really has no bearing on it, other than we had to do more due diligence on it. We certainly wish good health and success for Jon."

The Cubs have a $10.6 million MLB-mandated budget for their top 10 picks, including $6.7 million for Bryant's slot.

Bryant said he didn't know much about the Cubs except that they haven't won the World Series in "a while."

"Hopefully, I can do all I can to help the Cubs win one," he said, adding he plans to start quickly. "If we can make this deal happen, I obviously think I can play in the big leagues now. I have that type of confidence in myself. But that's not my decision."

Cubs' swings and misses with top draft picks

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Thursday's No. 2 overall draft pick for the Cubs could be the most significant in franchise history, given the Theo Epstein rebuilding project underway.

How the Cubs' previous top-5 overall picks have fared, including Joe Carter - the guy on the list with the best big-league career but who never played a game of it for the Cubs:


3B Josh Vitters (3), 2007 On DL at AAA; .121, 33 Ks, 38g

RHP Mark Prior (2), 2001 All-Star in '03 before derailed by injuries

SS Luis Montanez (3), 2000 .223 in 129g as OF since '08 debut with Orioles

OF Corey Patterson (3), 1998 Symbol for overhyped Cubs prospects (.252 career)

RHP Kerry Wood (4), 1995 RoY and 2-time All-Star had HoF look until injuries

RHP Mike Harkey (4), 1987 Cubs passed on J.McDowell (5) and K.Appier (9)

SS Shawon Dunston (1), 1982 2-time All-Star, longtime Wrigley favorite

OF Joe Carter (2), 1981 4-time All-Star traded in '84 Sutcliffe deal

OF Brian Rosinski (4), 1975 Local kid never got to big leagues

SS Terry Hughes (2), 1967 54 career big-league games (2 w/ Cubs)

RHP Dean Burk (5, 1966 Downstate kid never made big leagues


No more hugs for Pujols from the Cubs

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ANAHEIM, Calif. - Two years ago, the Cubs gave Albert Pujols a hug. The Angels gave him $240 million.

That was the intersection point for a pair of franchises that went in dramatically different directions as the 2011 season came to a close - the once-big-market, big-spending Cubs cordially passing on the big boys as the Rickettses' austerity plan took hold under the guiding, rebuilding hand of Theo Epstein.

The Angels, with the promise of a $3 billion local TV deal, spent like never before as owner Arte Moreno continued to chase the 2002 championship success of previous ownership - signing Pujols and $77.5-million pitcher C.J. Wilson in the 2011-12 winter, and $125-million outfielder Josh Hamilton last winter.

It hasn't paid off in October yet, but in the Cubs' first game against the Angels in three year, Pujols' eighth-inning homer off Carlos Villanueva - for L.A.'s 4-3 victory -- offered a reminder of why so many Cub fans seemed to rejoice over the hype of then-GM Jim Hendry's hug of Pujols before a midseason game against Pujols' St. Louis Cardinals in '11.

"People made a big deal about it," Pujols said, smiling when reminded. "But that's just who I am. This game comes and goes, but the relationships that you build will always stay there forever, until the day you die."

Pujols, who knew Hendry for years through mutual friends from Hendry's college coaching days, still talks to Hendry once in a while.

"I have fun conversations with him," he said. "He's a guy I respect, and whether he was working for one of our rivals, to me I didn't care. ... He even sent congratulations to me when I signed here."

Easy for Hendry say. Whether the Cubs had even a slim chance of ever signing Pujols, it ended the day Hendry was fired later that 2011 season.

Meanwhile, the guy who spent a decade killing the Cubs for the Cardinals, did it again in his first game against them since signing as a free agent with the Angels.

It was his 54th homer against the Cubs, most for him against any team - and sent the Cubs to their National League-leading 19th loss in games they led at some point.

After the game, Pujols downplayed his lifetime of success against the Cubs (never mind against Villanueva - against whom he now has a 1.165 OPS).

"I treat it like every game the same, every pitcher I face," he said. "Obviously, I've had good success against those guys because I've played almost 100, 200, 300 games against them in my career, being in the same division as St. Louis.

"I take every game as my last game of my career, the last game of my life."

No more hugs for this guy.

Cubs' Sveum ticked at pitch call on winning HR by Pujols

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ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Carlos Villanueva knows first-hand about the Los Angeles Angels' Albert Pujols as much as any pitcher on the Cubs' roster. After all those years with Milwaukee facing Pujols' St. Louis Cardinals, nobody had faced Pujols in more plate appearances than Villanueva.

"He's hit me well," Villanueva said quietly after The Machine got him again. "But he wasn't htting 1.000 off me. I've gotten him out before. You make a good pitch and he might be out. You make a mistake, and hitters like him do what they're supposed to do."

In this case, it was a first-pitch, 89-mph fastball down the middle of the plate in the eighth inning that Pujols crushed to left field for a two-run shot that gave the Los Angeles Angels a 4-3 victory over the Cubs.

It was Pujols' 54th homer against the Cubs - most for him against any opponent.

It was his third off Villanueva - making him 10-for-29 (.345) against Villanueva, with a .759 slugging percentage and 1.165 OPS.

It was also yet another case of manager Dale Sveum left chapped after the game by a pitcher and/or catcher freelancing away from the game plan and burning the team.

The Cubs now lead the National League with 19 losses in games they led at some point.

"We were not supposed to be even close to calling or throwing that pitch against him," Sveum said. "Somewhere along the line, you lose the scouting report between the bullpen and the mound."

Pujols, who entered the game hitting just .243 with eight homers, got a cookie from Villanueva that split the plate just below belt high.

Villanueva said he was throwing the right pitch - he just didn't execute it. He wanted it in on Pujols - "maybe move his feet, or get a foul ball," he said.

It negated a quality start from Scott Feldman, who survived Angels ace Jered Weaver to leave a 3-1 game in the hands of the bullpen with two men on and none out in the seventh.

James Russell navigated the bottom of the order to limit the damage to one run and give Villanueva the ball with a 3-2 lead.

The Cubs have 12 blown saves, compared to just 10 saves.

"We seem to beat a lot of people for seven innings,'' said Sveum, whose club lost for the third straight time following a season-high five-game winning streak.


Shark vs. Snakes

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ANAHEIM -- Until he heard what Arizona manager Kirk Gibson had to say after Saturday's game, Cubs starter Jeff Samardzija thought his back-and-forth with Diamondbacks third-base coach Matt Williams was just "heat of the moment" stuff and over with.

Afterward Gibson told reporters: "He didn't get the win did he? Maybe he should just shut the f--- up and pitch."

Samardzija, addressing it Tuesday for the first time, said: "Maybe they just needed a story about something over there. ... I don't think it was a big deal. I just thought we were playing the game, and there were a lot of emotions. And they played for a long time, too, and they were successful as players. I figured they'd understand, but I guess not.''

The D-Backs seemed to be upset at a some inside pitches from Samardzija to Arizona pitcher Ian Kennedy.

"I don't know why I'd be trying to hit him; he's the pitcher," Samardzija said. "I was just losing the ball arm-side there for a while. Apparently they don't like that."

The Cubs see the Diamonbacks again July 22-25 in Arizona.

Why Cubs manager compares Castro to Jeter

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ANAHEIM - The longest slump Starlin Castro can remember having in his career has the Cubs' All-Star shortstop batting seventh in the two-game series against the Los Angeles Angels.

Manager Dale Sveum, who admits a lot of the video and cage work the staff is doing with Castro could be getting in his head, told the shortstop it's not a long-term move and isn't about putting him on notice or suggesting he'll suddenly be trade bait next month.

"Just a way of hopefully letting him kick back and relax in another spot and see what happens," Sveum said.

Castro is 10 for his last 61 (.164) over the last two weeks. His average has sunk from .291 to .258 entering Tuesday night's game against the Angels.

"It's tough, because this is long enough," he said. "I've never [slumped] longer than this. Good things aren't happening now, but I know it's coming.

"Let's see what happens," he said. "Four months left? I think that changes."

Sveum, who'd like to see Castro scrap his leg kick but has learned to accept it, said the sometimes heated scrutiny Castro gets is just part of the territory that comes with his marquis position, market and big contract.

"Just like the Derek Jeters of the world," Sveum said of the Yankees great - who batted seventh or lower in 163 games in his career. "Those guys are going to be dissected. They're playing a prime spot in a big market, and it's a guy who's had a lot of success very early in his career. It's a good thing they've put themselves in that position to be dissected."


Could Marmol return to Cubs' closer role?

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With all the bullpen shuffling in recent days, Carlos Marmol has quietly moved into a larger, late-inning role among the setup crew

With more than four months left in the season, is it possible he could return to the closer role this year?

"That's my goal," he said.

"To be honest with you, I hope not," said his manager, Dale Sveum.

Sveum got a lot of laughs for the comment before Thursday's game, but it was more about Mr. Perfect, Kevin Gregg, than it was about Marmol.

"I mean, not taking anything away from [Marmol]; he's pitched really good in what he's had to do," Sveum said. "But that obviously means that Gregg's not doing a very good job, and he's done a great job."

Or, more likely, it would mean Gregg (6-for-6 in saves with 0.00) is gone in a trade at the July deadline.

"We'll cross those bridges when we get to them," Sveum said. "We're worried about today. I'm not worried about what happens in trade deadlines and all that."

Marmol, who lost his closer job a week into the season, has added motivation for regaining his old job as he tries to build at least modest value looking ahead at free agency in the fall.

"Of course," he said. "That's the job I've been doing for three years, four years. I want to go back there. But I'm just trying to get people out first - get comfortable out there and get people out."

He says he's comfortable now and has a 1.77 ERA in 20 appearances since losing his ninth-inning role, albeit with 26 runners allowed via hit (12), walk (12) and hit batters (2) in that span.

He pitched a 1-2-3 eighth against the 3-4-5 hitters in the Sox lineup Thursday.

It's been one of Marmol's tougher seasons, with a sexual-assault civil case still unresolved, the quick demotion and even that day a few weeks ago when he and his agents were victims of social-media eavesdropping.

"It's getting better," he said, leaning back with his feet propped up in the clubhouse. "I don't want to say it's tough. It's too early. There's a lot of time left this season."

Cubs' Jackson rights ship, then sunk by storm

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In a season where little has gone right for Edwin Jackson, he finally seemed to put it all together against the White Sox Tuesday night - only to see the heavens intervene and wipe out another start early.

Jackson retired seven of the eight batters he faced before a hard rain ended his start - and more than an hour later ended the game. He had his previous start, last week in Pittsburgh, ended after three innings by a rain delay.

"One of those things," said the Cubs' $52 million free agent acquisition. "Sometimes when you're having a season like I'm having, that's how it is. You feel good, something happens. You feel bad, something happens.

"Back-to-back rainouts might be a first in my career, though."

Jackson is 1-7 with a 6.11 ERA in 10 official starts.

The Cubs led 2-0 on Welington Castillo's second-inning, two-run homer off Sox ace Chris Sale when the game was halted.

It has not been rescheduled. Cubs manager Dale Sveum speculated the teams' June 24 mutual open date would be a reasonable time to play the game.

"You hate to waste any time when you get up 2-0 against a pitcher like Sale," Sveum said. "It's too bad the game had to be canceled that quick. We knew that rain was coming."

He especially liked what he saw from Jackson - and seemed especially disappointed the right-hander's sharp start was scuttled.

"He came out throwing the ball really well," Sveum said, just a few days after publicly saying it was up to a veteran like Jackson to solve his own problems and break his funk. "He obviously had a lot of conviction and velocity from the get-go - 92-93-mph cutters as well as his fastball at 96. That's the guy we want to go out there all the time - 86-87-mph sliders and velocity from the get-go, and then see what happens from there."

Right-hander Arodys Vizcaino, the well regarded prospect coming off Tommy John surgery who the Cubs got in the Paul Maholm trade last July, had his comeback abruptly cut short by an unrelated issue in the elbow and could be out the rest of the season.

Vizcaino, whose original healthy-spring prognosis already had been pushed back to an expected July debut, had arthroscopic surgery to clean out a calcium buildup in the elbow after Dr. James Andrews examined him Tuesday for recent discomfort.

Vizcaino, 22, is to be shut down for six weeks before restarting a throwing program and probably is looking at a 2013 debut in the Arizona Fall League. Best-case scenario for a Cubs debut seems to be next April.

Vizcaino, who was considered a key part of the Cubs' rebuilding process as a potential impact starting pitcher, was in Chicago during the last homestand to have his throwing supervised by the big-league staff.

The team said nothing then about any issue with the elbow.



Maybe it's something in the water in Northwest Indiana, maybe something in all those decades of slag runoff that helped create an industrial-strength homegrown baseball hero.

Whatever it is, Cubs' ace Jeff Samardzija seems to think it had something to do with his career-best dominance of an opponent Monday night in his two-hit shutout of the White Sox.

Cubs manager Dale Sveum said Samardzija has proven his mettle in every big game he's started over the last two years, attributing that big-game performance boost to the stuff of No. 1 pitchers.

But is it more mettle? Or metal?

"I don't know, I've just kind of always been that way as long as I can remember," said the former Notre Dame football star of his big-game attitude after the 7-0 victory over the Sox. "Sometimes you can lull me to sleep with other games that aren't that important. That's something I've got to get better at as a player - that every day is the same, regardless of who you're playing or the situation."

For now, there's definitely nothing better than driving from Indiana, where he still lives, to pitch at the South Side park he used to go to as a fan when he was a kid, and in this case with all his family at the game.

"I love this place, man," he said. "There's just a comfort level when you get to sleep in your own bed and drive 15 minutes to the park and come play.

"You've got the smell of the steel mills in the background. It's not the most beautiful scent in the world. But it smells like home."

Matt Garza just smiled Monday after Cincinnati manager Dusty Baker called him out for blasting Reds pitcher Johnny Cueto Sunday after Cueto threw a pitch over the head of Cubs teammate David DeJesus.

Baker told Mark Sheldon of mlb.com: "You got something to say, you go over there and tell him. Johnny ain't running. ... Just put them in a room, let them box and let it be like hockey. Let them fight, somebody hits the ground, and then it'll be over with. I'm serious about that."

Garza - who said Sunday that Cueto needs to "grow the hell up" and "if he has something to say he knows where to find my locker, and definitely I'll find his" - shrugged off Baker's comments as if following a company line already echoed by his manager and GM.

"We take things day to day, and today we have the White Sox," Garza said. "New day, new game. And go Samardzija."

Teammate Alfonso Soriano laughed at Baker's fight comments and said he's got $200 bucks that says Garza wins the fight.

"If they fight, I bet on Garza, because he's my teammate," Soriano said, "I bet a couple hundred. ... And I want to be the judge. Garza wins all three rounds. No matter what happens."

If there's a serious side of the issue for the Cubs - beyond the teams' next series in two weeks - it's the fact a player showed the kind of competitive anger and intensity often missing from this team the past two or three years.

A player who could be gone as a free agent in a few months.

"You want that fire-iness and that fight," GM Jed Hoyer said. "We lost Game 7 of the [2008] ALCS [while with Boston] in part because of that mentality, and he came in [with Tampa Bay] and just dominated us. He wants the ball in big spots, and he's a great teammate and always on the top step cheering his teammates on.

"That toughness and that fire is something you always want. We need a lot of guys like that."

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