Cubs

Cubs believe Jason Heyward still has room to grow as a power hitter

jason-heyward-cubs-power-hitter.png

Cubs believe Jason Heyward still has room to grow as a power hitter

If you thought fans were excited when Jason Heyward chose to sign in Chicago, just imagine how the Cubs must be feeling.

Joe Maddon called Heyward "a beautiful man," throughout the 2015 season when he watched the dynamic 26-year-old outfielder star for the St. Louis Cardinals.

Theo Epstein's front office took note of the way Heyward played against the Cubs all year, but it was a particular at-bat in the National League Division Series that really caught Epstein's eye.

[RELATED - Can Jason Heyward handle the pressure of largest contract in Cubs history?]

In Game 3 at Wrigley Field, Heyward got a breaking ball from Jake Arrieta - the best pitcher on the planet at the time - off the plate outside and drove it to the left-field bleachers.

"It was a swing I hadn't seen from him up close in person before," Epstein said. "It shows a real sophisticated approach and an ability to make and adjustment like that against one of the best pitchers in the game.

"A lot of our players and staff were buzzing about that swing in the clubhouse after the game. You couldn't help but envision maybe some of the damage he could do playing at Wrigley Field on a consistent basis."

Heyward has had success at Wrigley Field throughout his career, sporting an .898 OPS (on a .311/.376/.522 line) in 25 games at "The Friendly Confines."

He also enjoyed playing in Chicago during the postseason, going 3-for-6 with a double, that homer off Arrieta and a pair of walks in a limited sample size.

That being said, Heyward only hit 13 homers in the regular season, after hitting 11 in 2014. In fact, he's only topped 18 homers one time in his career - clubbing 27 with the Atlanta Braves in 2012.

The Cubs are paying Heyward like a middle-of-the-order slugger ($184 million), but the fact of the matter is, he may never develop into more of a power hitter.

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

That doesn't mean the Cubs can't hope, however.

"I think it's in there," Epstein said. "He has hit 27 home runs before. There are a lot of players who don't find their consistent power stroke until they get to this age - 26, 27, 28."

Epstein then compared Heyward to another right fielder - Dwight Evans - who didn't find his consistent power stroke until his late 20s with the Boston Red Sox.

Up until age 26, Evans managed just 65 homers over six seasons in the big leagues, topping out at 17 in 1976 at age 24.

However, Evans hit 24 homers in his age 26 season, launching a 12-year run where he hit 301 longballs, averaging 25 per season and hitting at least 20 in every year but one during that stretch.

"Obviously for Jason, it's in there," Epstein said. "But his frame and his batspeed, how far he does hit the ball when he gets ahold of one and his ability to manipulate the barrel and opposite field home runs in parks that allow it like Wrigley Field, I think there's more power in there.

"But the beautiful thing about this is he doesn't have to hit for more power than he already has to really help us win a lot of games because of what he brings to the table defensively, on the bases and his on-base skills.

"Now, you add consistent power production into the mix and you're talking about one of the true, true elites in the game. We'll see how his career evolves.

"But he doesn't have to do more than what he's already done. His approach and how hard he works and wants to get better and the growth mindset that he has, he could put it all together."

Heyward was an interesting free agent, given that most players who hit the open market are on the wrong side of 30. But he is a young player with his prime years ahead of him and even though he isn't a consistent power threat yet, he was still considered the top position player in the free agent class.

[RELATED - Cardinals don't appreciate Jason Heyward's reason for signing with Cubs]

Heyward appreciates the way this game has developed and everybody can understand there's more to a player's skillset than just batting average, home runs and RBI.

But he also believes - like the Cubs - that there's room for his game to grow.

"I feel like I'm not done," Heyward said. "I feel like there's more in there. I said that at the beginning of spring training in 2015.

"I feel like I took some strides going forward and getting back to some things that I used to do when I was 19, 20 years old. I want to see what I can do to make the most of that and continue to build off this past year."

Cubs Talk Podcast: Sitting down with new Cubs coaches Chili Davis and Jim Hickey

2-21_jim_hickey_usat.jpg
USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Sitting down with new Cubs coaches Chili Davis and Jim Hickey

Spring training baseball games are up around the bend, but before the boys of summer get into organized action, two of the team’s new coaches Chili Davis and Jim Hickey sit down with Kelly Crull.

Plus, Vinnie Duber joins Kelly to discuss these baseball conversations including the memorable first words of Kyle Schwarber to Chili Davis, “I don’t suck!"

Listen to the full episode at this link (iOS users can go here) or in the embedded player below. Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts.

Changes aren't exactly popular, but Cubs and Sox — except maybe Willson Contreras — will adapt to baseball's new pace-of-play rules

Changes aren't exactly popular, but Cubs and Sox — except maybe Willson Contreras — will adapt to baseball's new pace-of-play rules

MESA, Ariz. — We know Willson Contreras doesn’t like baseball’s new pace-of-play rules.

He isn’t the only one.

“I think it’s a terrible idea. I think it’s all terrible,” Jon Lester said last week at spring training, before the specifics of the new rules were even announced. “The beautiful thing about our sport is there’s no time.”

Big surprise coming from the Cubs’ resident old-schooler.

The new rules limit teams to six mound visits per every nine-inning game, with exceptions for pitching changes, between batters, injuries and after the announcement of a pinch hitter. Teams get an extra mound visit for every extra inning in extra-inning games. Also, commercial breaks between innings have been cut by 20 seconds.

That’s it. But it’s caused a bit of an uproar.

Contreras made headlines Tuesday when he told reporters that he’ll willingly break those rules if he needs to in order to put his team in a better position to win.

“I’ve been reading a lot about this rule, and I don’t really care. If I have to pay the price for my team, I will,” Contreras said. “There’s six mound visits, but what if you have a tight game? … You have to go out there. They cannot say anything about that. It’s my team, and we just care about winning. And if they’re going to fine me about the No. 7 mound visit, I’ll pay the price.”

Talking about pace-of-play rule changes last week, Cubs manager Joe Maddon said his team would adapt to any new rules. In Chicago baseball’s other Arizona camp, a similar tune of adaptation was being sung.

“Obviously as players we’ve got to make adjustments to whatever rules they want to implement,” White Sox pitcher James Shields said. “This is a game of adjustments, we’re going to have to make adjustments as we go. We’re going to have to figure out logistics of the thing, and I would imagine in spring training we’re going to be talking about it more and more as we go so we don’t mess it up.”

There was general consensus that mound visits are a valuable thing. So what happens if a pitcher and catcher need to communicate but are forced to do it from 60 feet, six inches away?

“Sign language,” White Sox catching prospect Zack Collins joked. “I guess you have to just get on the same page in the dugout and hope that nothing goes wrong if you’re out of visits.”

In the end, here’s the question that needs answering: Are baseball games really too long?

On one hand, as Lester argued, you know what you’re signing up for when you watch a baseball game, be it in the stands at a ballpark or on TV. No one should be shocked when a game rolls on for more than three hours.

But shock and fans' levels of commitment or just pure apathy are two different things. And sometimes it’s a tough ask for fans to dedicate four hours of their day 162 times a year. So there’s a very good reason baseball is trying to make the game go faster, to keep people from leaving the stands or flipping the TV to another channel.

Unsurprisingly, Lester would rather keep things the way they are.

“To be honest with you, the fans know what they’re getting themselves into when they go to a game,” Lester said. “It’s going to be a three-hour game. You may have a game that’s two hours, two hours and 15 minutes. Great, awesome. You may have a game that’s four hours. That’s the beautiful part of it.

“I get the mound visit thing. But what people that aren’t in the game don’t understand is that there’s so much technology in the game, there’s so many cameras on the field, that every stadium now has a camera on the catcher’s crotch. So they know signs before you even get there. Now we’ve got Apple Watches, now we’ve got people being accused of sitting in a tunnel (stealing signs). So there’s reasons behind the mound visit. He’s not just coming out there asking what time I’m going to dinner or, ‘Hey, how you feeling?’ There’s reasons behind everything, and I think if you take those away, it takes away the beauty of the baseball game.

“Every game has a flow, and I feel like that’s what makes it special. If you want to go to a timed event, go to a timed event. I’m sorry I’m old-school about it, but baseball’s been played the same way for a long time. And now we’re trying to add time to it. We’re missing something somewhere.”

Whether limiting the number of mound visits creates a significant dent in this problem remains to be seen. But excuse the players if they’re skeptical.

“We’ve got instant replay, we’ve got all kinds of different stuff going on. I don’t think (limiting) the mound visits are going to be the key factor to speeding this game up,” Shields said. “Some pitchers take too long, and some hitters take too long. It’s combination of a bunch of stuff.

“I know they’re trying to speed the game up a little bit. I think overall, the game’s going as fast as it possibly could. You’ve got commercials and things like that. TV has a lot to do with it. There’s a bunch of different combinations of things. But as a player, we’ve got to make an adjustment.”