Cubs could change the equation with Kris Bryant in left field


Cubs could change the equation with Kris Bryant in left field

MIAMI — The Cubs insisted moving Kris Bryant to left field shouldn’t be interpreted as a precursor move that sets the stage for a huge shakeup.

But feel free to imagine all the possibilities, the wide-ranging effects if Bryant does shift from third base, what it means in 2015 and beyond.

Manager Joe Maddon wouldn’t go there before Tuesday’s 5-2 loss to the Miami Marlins. But it’s a good thing Bryant packed his outfield glove.

“I almost didn’t bring it this road trip,” Bryant said at Marlins Park. “I haven’t played there in awhile, but I’m excited for it.”

[MORE CUBS: Starlin Castro doesn't worry about the critics]

The Cubs could promote Javier Baez from Triple-A Iowa to strengthen their shaky infield defense and see if his Gary Sheffield bat speed still plays after trying to channel some of that aggressiveness and cut down on all those strikeouts.

The Cubs would also have to figure out what to do with All-Star shortstop Starlin Castro and 21-year-old second baseman Addison Russell.

Does putting Bryant in left field somehow signal the Cubs are convinced elite prospect Kyle Schwarber can be the long-term answer at catcher?

How will all these moving pieces influence the front office’s thinking leading up to the July 31 trade deadline?

[MORE CUBS: Cubs hope ankle injury doesn't force Jorge Soler onto DL]

The Cubs are 27-23 and will be looking to add, but Maddon downplayed the Bryant position switch, rattling off all the factors that went into the decision.

Jorge Soler could be placed on the disabled list with an ankle injury, and that would definitely change the outfield mix, probably creating an opportunity for Junior Lake in right. Maddon also didn’t like the matchup of Chris Coghlan against Marlins lefty Brad Hand and wanted to give utility guy Jonathan Herrera some playing time at third base.

“Honestly, it’s just based on today,” Maddon said. “I just chose to do this. Purely, that’s it.”

But the Cubs are always thinking about tomorrow and what’s coming next. Bryant has some outfield experience, playing center and right at the University of San Diego and getting exposed to left in spring training.

[SHOP CUBS: Get a Kris Bryant right here]

Coghlan’s hitting only .229, but he’s definitely contributing with seven homers, a .739 OPS and five outfield assists, which was tied for second in the National League. It’s also fair to wonder if Bryant would be a defensive upgrade in left field.

Bryant is a team guy who doesn’t seem to care how the dominoes might fall, willing to move wherever, and that’s another factor the Cubs will consider.

“I’m prepared for anything,” Bryant said. “I played all over the field growing up. I think that’s important to have that versatility.

“I’ve said it before: It’s a kid’s game. So (when) you’re a kid playing this game, you play all over the field. That’s what I do. I’m a ballplayer. I’m ready for anything.”

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.”

When Kyle Schwarber met new Cubs hitting coach Chili Davis: 'I don't suck'

When Kyle Schwarber met new Cubs hitting coach Chili Davis: 'I don't suck'

MESA, Ariz. — The first thing Kyle Schwarber told his new hitting coach?

"His first statement to me is, 'I don't suck.'"

The Cubs hired Chili Davis as the team's new hitting coach for myriad reasons. He's got a great track record from years working with the Boston Red Sox and Oakland Athletics, and that .274/.360/.451 slash line during an illustrious 19-year big league career certainly helps.

But Davis' main immediate task in his new gig will be to help several of the Cubs' key hitters prove Schwarber's assessment correct.

Schwarber had a much-publicized tough go of things in 2017. After he set the world on fire with his rookie campaign in 2015 and returned from what was supposed to be a season-ending knee injury in time to be one of the Cubs' World Series heroes in 2016, he hit just .211 last season, getting sent down to Triple-A Iowa for a stint in the middle of the season. Schwarber still hit 30 home runs, but his 2017 campaign was seen as a failure by a lot of people.

Enter Davis, who now counts Schwarber as one of his most important pupils.

"He's a worker," Davis said in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago. "Schwarbs, he knows he's a good player. His first statement to me is, 'I don't suck.' He said last year was just a fluke year. He said, 'I've never failed in my life.' And he said, 'I'm going to get back to the player that I was.'

"I think he may have — and this is my thought, he didn't say this to me — I think it may have been, he had a big World Series, hit some homers, and I think he tried to focus on being more of a home run type guy as opposed to being a good hitter.

"His focus has changed. I had nothing to do with that, he came in here with that focus that he wants to be a good hitter first and let whatever happens happen. And he's worked on that. The main thing with Kyle is going to be is just maintaining focus."

The physically transformed Schwarber mentioned last week that he's established a good relationship with Davis, in no small part because Schwarber can relate to what Davis went through when he was a player. And to hear Davis tell it, it sounds like he's describing Schwarber's first three years as a big leaguer to a T.

"Telling him my story was important because it was similar," Davis said. "I was a catcher, got to big league camp, and I was thrown in the outfield. And I hated the outfield. ... But I took on the challenge. I made the adjustment, I had a nice first year, then my second year I started spiraling. I started spiraling down, and I remember one of my coaches saying, 'I'm going to have to throw you a parachute just so you can land softly.' I got sent down to Triple-A at the All-Star break for 15 days.

"When I got sent down, I was disappointed, but I was also really happy. I needed to get away from the big league pressure and kind of find myself again. I went home and refocused myself and thought to myself, 'I'm going to come back as Chili.' Because I tried to change, something changed about me the second year.

"And when I did that, I came back the next year and someone tried to change me and I said, 'Pump the breaks a little bit, let me fail my way, and then I'll come to you if I'm failing.' And they understood that, and I had a nice year, a big year and my career took off.

"I'm telling him, 'Hey, let last year go. It happened, it's in the past. Keep working hard, maintain your focus, and you'll be fine.'"

Getting Schwarber right isn't Davis' only task, of course. Despite the Cubs being one of the highest-scoring teams in baseball last season, they had plenty of guys go through subpar seasons. Jason Heyward still has yet to find his offensive game since coming to Chicago as a high-priced free agent. Ben Zobrist was bothered by a wrist injury last season and put up the worst numbers of his career. Addison Russell had trouble staying healthy, as well, and saw his numbers dip from what they were during the World Series season in 2016.

So Davis has plenty of charges to work with. But he likes what he's seen so far.

"They work," Davis said. "They come here to work. I had a group of guys in Boston that were the same last year, and it makes my job easier. They want to get better, they come out every day, they show up, they want to work. They're excited, and I'm excited to be around them.

And what have the Cubs found out about Davis? Just about everyone answers that question the same way: He likes to talk.

"I'm not going to stop talking," he said. "If I stop talking, something's wrong."