Sunday Rundown: WBC Great for Baseball, Caissie Holds His Own, Revisiting Prospect Trades, Will Ferell’s ‘Stint’ as Cub

Baseball has its answer to finding a  younger audience, and who would have guessed it was nothing more than the game’s best players giving their all for pride and their love for the game? If you haven’t been watching the World Baseball Classic, you’re missing out on a tournament that is more exciting than the World Series. If baseball can steal the thunder from the NCAA tournament, it must be doing something right.

If you’ve yet to catch a game, it’s not too late. Team USA plays Cuba tonight in Semifinal Game 1 and Mexico will challenge Japan on Monday for the right to go to the championship game on Tuesday evening. Old schoolers continue to call the classic a needless exhibition and support that theory by pointing out significant injuries to Freddie Freeman, Edwin Díaz, and José Altuve. Then again, Brandon Nimmo, who refused to play because he didn’t want to get hurt and jeopardize the Mets’ season, was injured in a “meaningless” Grapefruit League game.

Marcus Stroman, Matt Mervis, Owen Caissie, Jared Young, Javier Assad, and Roenis Elías were among those representing the Cubs in this year’s event. Elías will start against the Americans tonight, battling Adam Wainwright in the 6pm CT contest. As a Cubs, fan do you root for Elías and Cuba or the Americans, who are counting on a Cardinals starter and noted Cubs killer?

If you need any proof that the WBC will provide a portal to a younger audience, blowhard podcaster Keith Olbermann thinks the tournament is just another way for MLB to sell new jerseys.

“The WBC is a meaningless exhibition series designed to get YOU to buy another uniform,” Olbermann tweeted to anyone willing to listen. “[It’s MLB saying] ‘to hell with the real season, and split up teammates based on where their grandmothers got laid.’ Call it off. Now.”

Not too sexist, Keith.

“That blunt description of the artificiality of the team assignments is also trivial and for that, I apologize,” he later added. “But WBC has always been a threat to what actually counts: The Season. Kill it.”

Olbermann hasn’t been relevant since he appeared in a Hootie & The Blowfish video back in 1995 and he now earns a paycheck with his agenda-specific podcast. The 64-year-old is a “get off my lawn” type of media personality who has had run-ins with previous employers ESPN and MSNBC. He’s entirely wrong about the WBC and that’s a shame. MLB should seize on its popularity to keep younger fans interested in baseball.

Midwest Farm Report

Caissie has earned quite a bit of notoriety with his WBC performance. The 20-year-old outfielder is the most advanced of the prospects Chicago received in the Yu Darvish trade. The Cubs have repeatedly challenged Caissie, and he’s answered the bell every time. He’s been electric for Team Canada, though he needs to work on his home run trot.

Big League Chew

Earlier this week, The NY Post decided to look back at the trade that sent Javier Báez and Trevor Williams to the Nets for Pete Crow-Armstrong. Author Joel Sherman also revisited separate deals that sent Anthony Rizzo and Scott Effross to the Yankees. The Cubs acquired top prospects Kevin Alcántara and Hayden Wesneski in those trades.

Sherman wrote that one scout who has seen Wesneski described him like this: “It’s a back-of-the-rotation-type starter. He’s a guy who will live off the variance on his fastball — he can cut it and sink it. He can maneuver the baseball. And he’s got depth to his slider, but to me, it is not a major out weapon, so he will have to be a guy who pitches backward. He will have to trick you a little. He can’t live in the middle of the zone. But if he found some extra velocity, which he may, that would be big for him.”

Sherman also cited low-end projections for Crow-Armstrong, calling him a Kevin Kiermaier-type, which is to say a good defender with a league-average bat. He pointed to Armstrong’s strikeout-to-walk ratio as the prospect’s biggest obstacle. Sherman also said there’s no guarantee Alcántara will reach his potential.

“Alcántara, who turns 21 in July, is a toolshed. One scout said, ‘He has everything you want,'” Sherman wrote. “There are a lot of guys in the minors who have a lot of tools. It is always who can translate it to the majors.”

The New York skew is obvious, but each of the three players mentioned still has much to prove. Still, I’d take Crow-Armstrong, Wesneski, and Alcántara over Báez, Williams, Rizzo, and Effross without thinking twice. In fact, I think Alcántara’s offensive profile will one day remind Cubs fans of Kris Bryant.

Sherman’s article is behind a paywall, but you can get 30 days for free just for registering. After that, they’ll clip you $4.99 per month.

Sunday Six-Pack

  1. Until the End of the World Soundtrack by Various Artists. A forlorn and exquisitely decadent example of melancholy, this effort featured the final recordings of CAN and Talking Heads. German filmmaker Win Wenders challenged the artists to write songs that could be perceived as prophetic, and the result is magnificent. R.E.M., U2, Depeche Mode, and Lou Reed also participated, and Julee Cruise contributed an otherworldly version of Elvis Presley’s “Summer Kisses, Winter Tears.” The highlight is “Calling All Angels” by k.d. lang and Jane Siberry. This album is loaded with rarities for those into that.
  2. Howlin’ Wind by Graham Parker. The best pop album ever made, hands down. The entire output sounds like a cooler version of Van Morrison’s Moondance LP. It’s Parker’s debut, and it’s one of the better examples of pub rock. Nick Lowe produced it, and Parker applies Lowe’s obligatory sinister edge throughout.
  3. Who Are You? by the Who. Leave it to Pete Townshend to write the greatest opening line to a song ever. “I woke up in a Soho doorway a policeman knew my name. He said ‘You can go sleep at home tonight if you can get up and walk away.'” This is the band’s final studio album with Keith Moon on drums. The long-player is also considered a comeback album for The Who. They had only recorded By Numbers during a five-year span of solo projects and in-fighting when it was released.
  4. Steel Wheels by the Rolling Stones. In case you haven’t heard, Steve Jordan is the new touring drummer for the Stones. He’s so good that Charlie Watts actually deferred to him while recording some of Steel Wheels. Mick & Keith were going through a bit of a split of their own at the time, and though it’s not a classic in the vein of Black & Blue, this one is surprisingly tight. Jordan and Richards steal the show on most of the tracks. Richards is incendiary and sounds like Muddy Waters on speed on “Hold on to Your Hat.” I hate the word “incendiary,” but it’s appropriate here.
  5. Afterlife by Joe Jackson. This is one of the most underrated live albums ever. That said, it’s a compilation of live performances, which subtracts from the continuity of a typical scheduled but impromptu performance. Jackson’s version of “Fools in Love/For Your Love” gives the former part of the segue a slightly more menacing tone. The second half of the song is a downtempo cover of the Yardbirds’ hit.
  6. One More Car, One More Rider by Eric Clapton. Clapton is usually great in concert, but this one is a little too polished for most, with EC really showing his age. Life happens, but Clapton defers to other band members to hit the upper register on some of his classic hits. That said his backing band is nothing short of fantastic. Billy Preston and Greg Phillinganes are a dual threat on keys, and Steve Gadd handles the backline with typical perfection. A cover of “Over the Rainbow” feels like Clapton’s swan song, and he hasn’t toured much since.

This Week’s Money Quotes

  • “I don’t think I was trying to make any sort of statement [in spring]. People know that I could play defense and they know that the bat is behind the glove. I see what they see. I see a little bit more just because of what goes on in my own mind and what goals I have set for myself. … I’ve told people for years that I’m being patient with myself in terms of the power, and I showed a lot of that last year. I think I’m really damn close to being a more complete hitter than people give me credit for.” – Crow-Armstrong
  • “[The other day] in the cage, Freeman was talking about his routine and how you just have to keep the routine and don’t stray from it because that’s one thing that you always have to have. It’s cool because not many 20-year-olds get to play for their country, so I’m just very, very grateful for the opportunity that I can actually be around these guys and know that I can ask questions and not be scrutinized for it.” – Caissie

Sunday Funnies

Back in 2015, comedian Will Ferrell played every position and suited up for 10 teams, including the Cubs.  Ferrell served as the third-base coach first, giving players literal signs. He held up one that read, “Don’t Pull a Muscle,” and another that said, “Swing As Hard As You Can.” After seeing the latter, Bryant sent a sharp foul ball in Ferrell’s direction. Ferrell later struck out with the Angels deploying radical shift and then manned first base for half an inning.

Heck, Ferrell even got his own page at Baseball-Reference, though he’s repping the A’s in his profile pic.

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