Cubs: What’s next for Jeimer Candelario?

Cubs: What’s next for Jeimer Candelario?

PITTSBURGH — The Cubs didn’t option out Jeimer Candelario so that they could showcase him in Sunday’s All-Star Futures Game in San Diego and ramp up the speculation leading into the Aug. 1 trade deadline.

Major League Baseball had already found a replacement for Candelario, who made his earlier-than-anticipated big-league debut Fourth of July weekend against the New York Mets and Noah Syndergaard’s 100-mph heat.

The Cubs wanted a different presence, and they got it by calling up infielder Munenori Kawasaki from Triple-A Iowa before Saturday’s game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park. Kawasaki bowed to reporters in the clubhouse and wore an oxygen mask that looked like something out of “The Silence of the Lambs.” When Fox Sports broadcaster CJ Nitkowski, an old teammate in Japan, asked how his English is now, Kawasaki replied: “Horses---.”

“It’s the experience factor,” manager Joe Maddon said. “You can see that Candy probably needs a little bit more seasoning at this point. And that’s fine. I love the kid. I think he’s going to be a very, very good player.”

The question is: Where?

It’s hard to see Candelario breaking through the layers of position players already established with the Cubs, making him an interesting trade chip this summer. As a corner infielder, Candelario will be blocked by All-Stars Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, who together could be middle-of-the-order hitters here through the 2021 season, and the Cubs will have more moving parts with Willson Contreras and Kyle Schwarber.

“Just by being here, that’s going to help a lot,” Maddon said after watching Candelario go 1-for-11 with two walks and five strikeouts during his first week in The Show. “He went from Double-A to Triple-A to the big leagues already this year, so that’s a lot of movement.

“What he did here now — got a couple at-bats, played some defense, made a couple plays, was in a big-league clubhouse — all that stuff counts.

“How far away is he? I would say ... go back to Triple-A, kill Triple-A for a bit, he’s not far off. He’s somebody that may be able to help you by the end of the season with a good run on his part.

“Just getting to know him, I think the most important thing was that he saw this and felt this. I don’t think he will be as impressed with it the next time.”

Here are some selling points if the Cubs need to buy pitching: Candelario is a switch-hitter who put up a 1.052 OPS through his first 25 games at the Triple-A level. He has been an Arizona Fall League Rising Star. He has a reputation as a good defensive third baseman. He is bilingual after splitting his childhood between New York and the Dominican Republic. His father pitched in the minors for the Houston Astros. He is still only 22 years old.

“He’s really talented,” Maddon said. “I love his swing. He’s a calm kid. We just thought it was wise to get him back out and go play.”

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."