Cubs

Cubs still waiting on final roster answers

422882.jpg

Cubs still waiting on final roster answers

Thursday, March 24, 2011Posted: 1:15 p.m. Updated: 4:24 p.m.

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

MESA, Ariz. Mike Quade loves the ponies and spent four years managing Triple-A Iowa. This has the feel of a Des Moines caucus, and is being covered like a political horse race.

Its all whos up, whos down and whos surging ahead that day. A week out from Opening Day, the Cubs are putting the finishing touches on their roster, but delaying the major decisions on their pitching staff until the weekend.

Heres what we know: Jeff Baker and Darwin Barney have made claims on the second-base job by hitting above .350 and with their steady defensive play. Reed Johnson a 34-year-old veteran valued for his experience and clubhouse presence will be the fifth outfielder.

Phase 1 is done, Barney said. Im breaking with the Chicago Cubs. Its pretty amazing. Now the focus is on the team its on winning.

The Cubs appreciate Barneys intangibles he won the College World Series twice at Oregon State University and the 25-year-old represents another player drafted and developed by the organization.

Blake DeWitt has essentially made the team, but will again start working at third base an idea the Cubs had resisted and transition into more of a utility role. The 25-year-old has struggled at the plate (.167) and there are concerns about his range and ability to turn the double play at second base.

You still got to perform, Quade said. I can be as excited as I want about the possibilities of Blake DeWitt getting better and having a better season than he has this spring. If I didnt believe that, he wouldnt be on the club.

But suddenly (Baker and Barney) are making a case for themselves. And so now versatility becomes as important as anything.

The picture became clearer on Thursday when the Cubs optioned outfielder Fernando Perez to Triple-A Iowa and sent infielders Bobby Scales, Scott Moore, Augie Ojeda and Matt Camp to minor-league camp.

Perez was included in the Matt Garza deal and the Cubs would like to see him develop in Iowa. He turns 28 next month and has unbelievable speed but needs to improve his jumps and the angles he takes in the outfield.

Besides, the Cubs were already comfortable with Johnson, who made many friends during his first tour on the North Side (2008-09). Fans loved his reckless style and enjoyed watching him dive at the wall.

Johnson feels like he has rediscovered his swing after working closely with Rudy Jaramillo. Johnson remembers that the hitting coach basically turned around Mark DeRosas career in Texas.

Johnson signed a minor-league deal in January because he was so familiar with the organization. But he also noticed how non-roster players are on their own schedules and even take their drug tests at a different time.

Youre given all those constant reminders. (You) try to forget about it but stay focused, Johnson said. About a week to 10 days ago was really where I just put the confidence in myself (to say): Hey, Im going to make this team. And thats the way its going to be.

Yet the biggest question remains: Who becomes the fifth starter?

Andrew Cashner will start Saturday against the Rangers and try to eliminate Carlos Silva from consideration.

Silva had the best outing of any candidate on Wednesday one run in six innings but his spring ERA is still 10.90. There are concerns about how engaged and effective Silva will be for an entire season.

Cashner has a guaranteed spot on the roster and proved himself as a major-league reliever last season and could be another weapon in what looks like a very good bullpen. It has to be tempting to consider that possibility.

No temptation at all right now, Quade said, because that would do us no good if Im running him out there as a starter and not taking that seriously, or all of a sudden on the basis of four or five starts abandoning this completely.

The only time that Ill consider the other side of it is when his success as a starter or lack thereof has come to the point where we need to talk about whats best for him and the club. But right now I think we continue to let him pitch and let this play out.

PatrickMooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. FollowPatrick on Twitter @CSNMooneyfor up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

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."

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Andre Dawson talks about his Cubs reunion

andre_dawson.jpg
USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Andre Dawson talks about his Cubs reunion

Carmen DeFalco (ESPN 1000) and Jordan Bernfield join Kap on the panel. Anthony Rizzo returns to the Cubs after an emotional weekend home while Tom Ricketts expects another World Series parade. Plus Hall of Famer Andre Dawson joins Kap to talk about his Cubs reunion and how the current crop unsigned free agents compares to his experiences with collusion.