Cubs

Cubs don't want to wring Kyle Schwarber out to dry

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Cubs don't want to wring Kyle Schwarber out to dry

For the Cubs, their biggest addition before MLB's July 31 non-waiver trade deadline may already have happened.

In his first 15 career games, Cubs rookie catcher Kyle Schwarber has been on an absolute tear, showing the front office that they may not need to boost the roster, at least from an offensive standpoint, for the last two months of the season. Heading into Sunday's series finale against the Philadelphia Phillies, the first round pick of the Cubs in the 2014 MLB Draft has a .391/.429/.674 slash line with three homers, 11 RBI and a 1.102 OPS.

The 22-year-old Ohio native has shown a tremendous hit tool in his short time in the majors, but his work behind the plate is what the Cubs want to see him improve.

And Schwarber is more than willing to put in the work.

"He's really gets after anything he wants to do," Maddon said. "He sits with [Mike] Borzello when he's not playing. He's wide-eyed. He asks good questions. He's in there man. He's definitely engaged mentally and that's what he has to be. Physically, he's gotten better too. Physically, they've worked through some issues with his receiving and everything. He's doing a really good job."

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Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer has also seen the progress with Schwarber.

"Pitchers know how hard he works before the game," Hoyer said. "They see the effort and I think that goes a long way with a pretty veteran pitching staff to know how hard he's going to work. The whole game is a work in progress. Certainly the catching is something he'll continue to work on.

"But as we said all along, he sees himself as a catcher and he says he wants to be seen as a catcher first. That mentality is gonna go a long way with the pitching staff."

Currently, Maddon isn't using Schwarber behind the plate when Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester are on the mound. Schwarber has gotten the bulk of his catching duties with Jason Hammel and Kyle Hendricks on the mound. 

But there may be more to that than just not using an inexperienced rookie with veteran pitchers.

"When somebody comes up and they're doing extremely well everybody wants a taste of that on a daily basis," Maddon said. "When he came up we talked to him about specifically how he's going to play here and that's what we've been doing. I've always thought why don't you consider the fact that maybe the way that we're playing him bleeds into the fact that he's playing so well too."

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While Cubs fans may want to see Schwarber's bat in the lineup each night, Maddon is being extremely cautious, especially for the way he handles a player that's never played a full 162-game season.

"Be careful what you ask for sometimes, folks," Maddon said. "He's got two more months plus to play yet. Just keep him healthy, keep him well, keep his mind and his body good and then he can help you when it really matters too.

"You can't take a young guy like that and just wring him out to dry. I'm telling you that it goes away."

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."