How Dillon Maples got out of his own way: 'I've always been my biggest enemy'

How Dillon Maples got out of his own way: 'I've always been my biggest enemy'

"I wanted to have approval that it was OK to quit."

Dillon Maples almost wasn't here. 

The newest weapon out of the Cubs bullpen features a 100 mph fastball and a wicked slider, striking out 102 batters in 64.2 innings this season between three minor-league stops and the big leagues.

But a year ago, he almost gave it all up.

Maples' journey from A-ball to the majors has been one of the most interesting stories in Chicago when the Cubs called him up as rosters expanded in September. After all, it's not every day a guy makes the jump from the lower levels of the minors (Advanced Class-A Myrtle Beach) to pitching at Wrigley Field.

"It's been a surreal year," Maples said on the CubsTalk Podcast this week. "Out of spring training, I just wanted to be on a team and break camp, and I did that."

Maples turned 25 shortly after Opening Day, but he was glad to be starting the year with Myrtle Beach given his familiarity with the area after spending part of 2016 there but also because his hometown is only about two-and-a-half hours away.

But Maples understood he was entering his sixth season of professional baseball and still hadn't advanced beyond A-ball. He knew it was time for a change.

So he got out of his own way.

Maples was demoted from Myrtle Beach to Class-A South Bend in the middle of last season and after one particularly poor outing, he called his dad, Tim, a former professional pitcher who spent five years in the Baltimore Orioles organization from 1979-1983.

"I had been pitching fairly well since I got sent down. I just had a terrible outing," Maples said. "Just walking guys. It's one thing to walk guys and have your stuff and you're just missing. Like, you're going after them with aggressive intent. But it was just passive.

"I was up there in my own way. I wasn't free, I wasn't loose, I wasn't dominating guys. I didn't have that dominating mindset. I can deal with bad results if I'm going out there and mentally wanting to crush whoever I'm facing. I lose sleep over the fact that I'm timid, I'm scared, I'm passive. That's what I can't handle.

"But yeah, I called him and told him I lost passion. I'm 24, in low-A. To me, it didn't get any worse. He told me to just not get so emotionally involved or invested in that one outing. So I heeded to his advice. We had an off-day the next day. I deflated and came back to the ballpark, stuck with it and came into the next year with this attitude that I wasn't going to hinder myself anymore."

How close was he to actually quitting?

"I just wanted somebody to tell me it was OK to quit," Maples said. "That's basically what I wanted. I wanted to have approval that it was OK to quit. If my dad would've said, 'You know what, it's OK. You've been playing a long time.' I wanted an excuse out of the game.

"I was calling, kinda seeking his approval for an exit. I knew that I wouldn't've been strong enough to walk [into the manager's office to quit] by myself. And also, it might've just been my subconscious telling me this guy knows a lot more than you. He's played, he knows all about the grind.

"Plus, he's looking at it from a different perspective, a detached are where he's at the house looking at it — 'Oh, he walked three guys. That's not that big of a deal. He's been pitching well.' To me, that was the end of the world. 

"It's always good to have those people you can call that believe in you."

Maples said it took him seven years to figure out how to get out of his own way. Everybody who ever told him to slow the game down or let it come to you or take a breath didn't resonate until it clicked for himself in his own situation.

Let's see if Maples can channel his newfound mentality in the big leagues. After striking out and walking a batter in a shutout inning his debut over the weekend, he got lit up Monday in Pittsburgh, allowing five earned runs on three hits and a pair of walks.

If Maples does rebound from a tough outing, it will be by leaning on what got him here — a change in process and routine, helped by the likes of Cubs mental skills coach Darnell McDonald.

"In my career, I've always been in front of myself," Maples said. "I've always been my biggest enemy. Anytime. That's where I've struggled the most.

"So this year, I just have freed up, trusted in my routine and what got me results. OK, that got me results, so I'm not gonna do anything different. From the time I got results, but yeah the mental side is - gah - [huge].

"I don't have to worry about strength training - I love to lift, I love to get after it. But yeah, the mental side, I just gotta stay on top of that."

Offseason of change begins with Cubs firing pitching coach Chris Bosio


Offseason of change begins with Cubs firing pitching coach Chris Bosio

"Of course," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said in the middle of the National League Championship Series — he would like his coaches back in 2018. Pitching coach Chris Bosio told the team's flagship radio station this week that the staff expected to return next year. President of baseball operations Theo Epstein didn't go that far during Friday afternoon's end-of-season news conference at Wrigley Field, but he did say: "Rest assured, Joe will have every coach back that he wants back."

That's Cub: USA Today columnist Bob Nightengale first reported Saturday morning that Bosio had been fired, a source confirming the team declined a club contract option for next year and made a major influence on the Wrigleyville rebuild a free agent. Epstein and Bosio did not immediately respond to text messages and the club has not officially outlined the shape of the 2018 coaching staff.

Those exit meetings on Friday at Wrigley Field are just the beginning of an offseason that could lead to sweeping changes, with the Cubs looking to replace 40 percent of their rotation, identify an established closer (whether or not that's Wade Davis), find another leadoff option and maybe break up their World Series core of hitters to acquire pitching. 

The obvious candidate to replace Bosio is Jim Hickey, Maddon's longtime pitching coach with the Tampa Bay Rays who has Chicago roots and recently parted ways with the small-market franchise that stayed competitive by consistently developing young arms like David Price and Chris Archer.

Of course, Maddon denied that speculation during an NLCS where the Los Angeles Dodgers dominated the Cubs in every phase of the game and the manager's bullpen decisions kept getting second-guessed.

Bosio has a big personality and strong opinions that rocked the boat at times, but he brought instant credibility as an accomplished big-league pitcher who helped implement the team's sophisticated game-planning system.

Originally a Dale Sveum hire for the 2012 season/Epstein regime Year 1 where the Cubs lost 101 games, Bosio helped coach up and market short-term assets like Ryan Dempster, Scott Feldman, Matt Garza and Jeff Samardzija. 

Those win-later trades combined with Bosio's expertise led to a 2016 major-league ERA leader (Kyle Hendricks) and a 2015 NL Cy Young Award winner (Jake Arrieta) plus setup guys Pedro Strop and Carl Edwards Jr. and All-Star shortstop Addison Russell.

Bosio helped set the foundation for the group that won last year's World Series and has made three consecutive trips to the NLCS. But as the Cubs are going to find out this winter, there is a shelf life to everything, even for those who made their mark during a golden age of baseball on the North Side.

Report: Cubs fire pitching coach Chris Bosio after six seasons with team


Report: Cubs fire pitching coach Chris Bosio after six seasons with team

In Theo Epstein's end of season press conference on Friday he said that any coach Joe Maddon wants back will return in 2018.

Evidently, there's one coach Maddon didn't want back.

According to USA Today's Bob Nightengale, the Cubs have fired longtime pitching coach Chris Bosio.

Bosio served as the Cubs pitching coach from 2012-17. He was the team's pitching coach under former managers' Dale Sveum (2012-13) and Rick Renteria (2014), and was retained when Maddon was hired as manager of the Cubs in 2015.

Bosio, who is one of the most respected pitching coaches in baseball, was instrumental in the career resurgence of Jake Arrieta who captured the Cy Young award in 2015, and the development of 27-year-old starter Kyle Hendricks (MLB's ERA leader in 2016).

One reason that could've led to Bosio's firing was the pitching staff's control issues during both the regular season and postseason, which Epstein mentioned during Friday's press conference. The Cubs issued the fifth-most walks (554) in the National League during the regular season and the highest total (53) during the postseason.

As the Cubs hit the market for a new pitching coach, Nightengale mentioned that one name that could be on the radar is former Tampa Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey, who parted ways with the organization following the 2017 season.

Hickey served as Maddon's pitching coach in Tampa Bay from 2006-2014.