Max Bain – Photo by Rich Biesterfeld
What is Extended Spring Training?
A lot of our readers associate Arizona with the Cubs organization in terms of Spring Training. While that’s a true statement, the Cubs have a presence in Arizona and around Sloan Park for nearly 10 ½ months out of the year. While the major league and full-season affiliate teams have left the complex, the group for Extended Spring Training is quite busy with workouts and typically playing games 5 days a week. This group is comprised of a mix of young players – many who played in the Arizona Complex League last season, along with 2022 draft picks and players called up from the Dominican Summer League – and veteran members of the organization who were not assigned to a team out of spring training and typically have some specific development goals being worked on.
I spent a portion of this weekend at the Cubs complex and at an away game and there was a lot of noteworthy activities, along with sightings of some familiar names and faces.
There’s been a great deal of interest in the status of Brailyn Marquez this spring after he was DFA’d last November and then re-signed with the team in December. I had seen him playing catch on the field as a member of the rehab group several times, but there wasn’t much official news on how he was progressing. However, on Friday I watched Brailyn throw a bullpen and this was significant because it’s the first time I’ve personally seen him throw off a mound since his injury problems began. There were several questions on Twitter asking ‘how did he look?’ The nature of a bullpen really makes that impossible to answer because he was just throwing his pitches and you don’t have a batter to gauge how effective those pitches are. But, throwing a bullpen is another step in the process of getting back into games. I don’t have any idea of what that timetable may look like, but it was a positive sign to see both Brailyn and Luis Devers throwing off the mound again.
Ed Howard – on the comeback trail!
Ed Howard is another player who has drawn a lot of interest as he comes back from a major injury suffered in 2022. I’ve tweeted out some shots of Ed taking BP and fielding grounders, but in those cases, he was always working out with coaches, but not other players. That changed on Friday as he was doing both activities with the other infielders who are part of the Extended Spring Training Group. Ed was making good contact in BP and looked smooth in the field as he made the plays worked in tandem with the teammates who were covering second base in these drills. I’m not sure of the timetable of his return, but I would suspect that his next milestone would be to begin playing in some XST games.
Drew Gray – Live BP
The Cubs selected Drew Gray out of IMG Academy as a high school pick in the 2021 draft. He made one start late in the ACL season after signing and the results were quite impressive and there were high hopes for Drew in the 2022 season. But during Spring Training of 2022 came news that Drew had to have TJS and was out for the year. I’ve seen Drew playing catch on flat ground this spring but got the opportunity to see him throw his first live BP session on Friday. Several of the players he faced were making solid contact and he did hit one batter, but the main thing to hope for out of this session is that he felt good afterwards and the results will improve as he throws some more sessions. I talked to one of the coaches after Drew threw and he shared that Drew hit 93 MPH on the radar gun.
Jackson Ferris was the Cubs 2022 2nd Round Draft pick and had also been teammates (and roommates) with 2021 draftee Drew Gray. Jackson was the starting pitcher on Friday and I’ve now been fortunate to see both of his starts. He was relatively dominating in his first start and looked very sharp. In his second outing, he battled his control and there was quite a bit of traffic on the bases (2 hits and 3 BB’s in 3 innings). He didn’t give up any runs, but it’s a reminder to temper expectations with a young player making his professional debut. Extended Spring Training and the Arizona Complex League have become even more important for players just like Jackson in these years immediately following the removal of short-season teams like the Cubs once had with the Eugene Emeralds.
‘We’re playing with different usage rates now to build a more balanced approach when I get back to TN. I think the Cubs are kinda evolving the purpose of extended. I think it’s a development system, not necessarily where you stick guys who aren’t good enough to break with a team’ – Max Bain
Max Bain spent time with the South Bend and Tennessee affiliates in 2022 but remained in Mesa for Extended Spring Training as there were specific items the coaching staff wanted to work with him on. In Friday’s game, Max’s focus was on throwing his change-up. His outing began with 6 straight balls, but then he settled in and had a good outing by going 2 innings giving up 1 run with 4 strikeouts. He threw 70% change-ups and got a lot of swings and misses, so it was a successful developmental outing.
Catcher Adan Sanchez spent the 2022 season in the DSL before being called up to the Mesa Complex for Instructs last fall. On Saturday, he drew the assignment to catch World Series pitcher Kyle Hendricks and acquitted himself well. After his day was through, I was able to see in the dugout and Kyle came over to Adan in the dugout and thanked him for being his catcher. The look on Adan’s face was priceless and he didn’t quite know how to respond. It was a great veteran move by Kyle that I suspect Adan will never forget. And if you didn’t know, Adan won’t even turn 18 until the end of next month.