Cubs

Chris Coghlan brings unique perspective to Cubs youth movement

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Chris Coghlan brings unique perspective to Cubs youth movement

Chris Coghlan doesn't have the luxury of thinking about the future.

Who knows if Coghlan will still be here next year, or even for the rest of this season? The Cubs outfielder turns 30 in June and only allows himself to think in a day-to-day mindset instead of getting caught up in the big picture.

Coghlan wants to win a championship here and make a permanent home in Chicago, but he knows that decision isn't his to make.

In the here and now, Coghlan is seeing the majority of playing time in left field, hitting near Starlin Castro in the order just about every day. But the former first-round pick of the Florida Marlins (2006) and National League Rookie of the Year (2009) knows his role is more than just roaming the outfield at the corner of Clark and Addison.

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"I think all of us have had different experiences in this game," Coghlan said. "Mine's just been very unique, because I've been at the top from an individual standpoint. And I've been at a low point from an individual standpoint where I've gotta make a team out of spring training.

"I've been a guy who's played enough years to see what it's like and what it means to have a winning attitude and to go about that business. I've been a backup player. I've been a full-time player. In six years, I've had a full realm.

"That does give me an advantage and I'm grateful for that. And I don't want to waste that opportunity, to be able to talk to those guys, and whatever role they're in, to say, 'Hey, I've been there. I've done that.'

“We have a lot of young guys that are still trying to figure it out and it's a great opportunity to be able to share that and impart that."

Coghlan enjoyed a career resurgence last season, emerging as a leadoff hitter and posting a .283/.352/.452 slash line with 28 doubles, nine home runs, 41 RBI and 50 runs.

The Cubs brought in Dexter Fowler to set the table at the top of the 2015 lineup and Coghlan has struggled some in his new role, batting just .228 with a .290 on-base percentage. He has shown power - three homers, four doubles - while hitting anywhere from fourth to seventh in the lineup.

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Coghlan admitted he's still getting used to his new role but enjoys playing on a Cubs team that finished April with a 12-8 record and within striking distance in the NL Central.

"I think everybody is more excited," he said. "I mean, the object of the game is to win. That's it. The only thing we play for is to win a championship. So when you're on a team that's winning and has a chance to really contend, it makes things way more enjoyable.

"It sucks playing in September when you have no shot. It's just grinding it out. It's tough not to count days down when you're in that situation. Hopefully this year, when we're in September, we're contending for the division and every game is exciting and you look forward to it and can't wait to get to the ballpark.

"That's the way we feel right now."

Coghlan has seen every level of a rebuild in his career, breaking into the big leagues on a 2009 Marlins team that had Hanley Ramirez, Dan Uggla, Josh Johnson and Ricky Nolasco leading the way.

By the time Coghlan left Miami after the 2013 season, the Marlins had traded away all of those guys and spent three straight seasons in last place in the NL East while building from scratch around young slugger Giancarlo Stanton.

In Chicago, Coghlan has seen plenty of big-league debuts - Javier Baez, Arismendy Alcantara, Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, among others - as the Cubs try to break in their young talent while going for it at the same time.

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"There are some similarities between [the Cubs and Marlins], but here, it's different because they try to lock up their guys," Coghlan said. "You've got Starlin and [Anthony] Rizzo and then they're bringing in older guys and you have these young guys that are now coming up through the system.

"I think that's probably what Miami tried to envision. But their history just hasn't shown that. I mean, they've locked up [outfielder Christian] Yelich and Stanton now, so they're headed in a different direction. But in my five years there, it wasn't like that. They didn't want to keep guys around for whatever reason.

"Here, it's different in that aspect. I feel like they have a better understanding of their plan - and executing their plan - than when I was in Miami."

Albert Almora's strong connection to Team USA baseball

Albert Almora's strong connection to Team USA baseball

Who was Theo Epstein’s first draft pick with the Cubs?

The answer to that trivia question will always and forever be Albert Almora Jr. picked sixth overall in the 2012 amateur draft.

In some ways, the young outfielder from Florida became the forgotten man in the stable of can’t-miss prospects that Epstein and top lieutenants Jed Hoyer and Jason MacLeod amassed since their arrival over six years ago. While players such as Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Ian Happ zoomed through the minor leagues on their way to the majors, Almora took a different path – one that included seven different stops over parts of five developmental seasons before he broke into the big leagues during the 2016 season.

But Almora’s road to the majors began years before he was selected by the Cubs, when he began playing for Team USA as a 13-year-old. Over the next several years, Almora played for the Red, White & Blue seven times, his final appearance coming in 2015. The seven appearances are the most in the history of USA Baseball, and Almora recognizes the impact his time with the national squad had on his playing career.

“[It was] one of the best experiences of my life," he said. "Every year I had something special to play with, unbelievable guys, went to crazy places, and out of those six years, five of them came with a gold medal so that was pretty special as well. Also, that helped me in my baseball life, how to experience things and learn from those type of experiences.

“I’m a Cubbie and that’s what’s on my chest right now, but Team USA will always have a special place in my heart.”

While Almora carries those national team experiences with him every day, his main focus coming into the 2018 season is becoming a consistent difference-maker. Almora made only 65 starts during the 2017 campaign, and 63 percent of his at-bats last year came against left-handed pitching, against which he hit a robust .342. That led to a platoon role in a crowded outfield, with Jason Heyward, Kyle Schwarber, Jon Jay, Ian Happ and Ben Zobrist all taking turns on the merry-go-round. But with the departure of Jay, Almora believes his time is near.

“I have the most confidence in myself that I can play every day, but I try not to think about that kind of stuff because it’s out of my control," Almora said. "All I control is like last year what I did; whenever I was given an opportunity, I tried to do my best and help the team win.”

Almora’s ultimate role on the 2018 Cubs remains to be seen, but there’s no question that Theo’s first Cubs pick will earn whatever role he ends up with, and the foundation of Almora’s journey to Clark and Addison was laid many summers ago during his time with Team USA.

Willson Contreras willing to pay the price for mound visits

Willson Contreras willing to pay the price for mound visits

News broke to Willson Contreras that the league will be limiting mound visits this upcoming season, and the Cubs catcher —notorious for his frequent visits to the rubber — is not having it.

“I’ve been reading a lot about this rule, and I don’t really care. If you have to go again and pay the price for my team, I will," he said.

The new rules rolled out Tuesday will limit six visits —any time a manager, coach or player visits the mound — per nine innings. But, communication between a player and a pitcher that does not require them moving from their position does not count as a visit.When a team is out of visits, it's the umpire's discretion to allow an extra trip to the mound.

But despite the new rules, Contreras is willing to do what's best for the team.

“There’s six mound visits, but what if you have a tight game? They cannot say anything about that. If you’re going to fine me about the [seventh] mound visit, I’ll pay the price.”