After two years of struggling at the plate, what does 2018 hold for Jason Heyward?


After two years of struggling at the plate, what does 2018 hold for Jason Heyward?

Jason Heyward's rain-delay speech that helped the Cubs to a Game 7 win and a curse-smashing World Series championship might have been worth the $184 million.

But heading into Year 3 of his franchise-record eight-year pact, Heyward's statistical contributions at the plate have been anything but worth the investment.

No one is doubting Heyward's defensive value, which Joe Maddon endlessly praises and loves so much that he keeps Heyward as an everyday fixture in the Cubs' lineup despite the lack of offensive success. Heyward has won a Gold Glove in each of his first two seasons with the Cubs, and it doesn't take an expert in advanced defensive metrics to know that Heyward is a fantastic defender.

But in two years on the North Side, here's what Heyward has done with the bat: a .243/.315/.353 slash line with 18 home runs, 42 doubles, 108 RBIs, 15 steals, 160 strikeouts and 95 walks in 1,073 plate appearances over 268 regular-season games.

And with the Cubs' outfield and lineup in general crowded with promising young position players like Ian Happ, Albert Almora Jr. and Javy Baez, the question has to be asked: Will Heyward's role be limited as the Cubs look to win their second championship in three seasons?

To get the answer out of the way early, probably not. Maddon loves Heyward's presence in right field — as he should, considering Heyward's won four straight Gold Gloves there — and believes the offense will come.

"What I expect is outstanding defense, outstanding leadership qualities, very good base runner. Offensively, I know all the expectations are — I’ve been really happy with him as he is, I have," Maddon said last month at the outset of spring training out in Arizona. "We’ve gone to the playoffs, won a World Series with him. Of course, you look for maybe a higher average, more power, whatever. I like him on the field, man. I like him in the dugout. I like him in our clubhouse.

"He’s such a skillful athlete, I think all those numbers will continue to rise as he gets up to 32, 33 years of age. It’s going to keep getting better. But he’s such a good baseball player and he’s such a force within the group. And I know hitting’s a topic of discussion, I totally concede that, but I don’t look at it that way. I think he will get the big hits when it’s necessary, but I also believe the stuff everyone’s looking for, it’s going to start showing up."

But none of that means that "fixing" Heyward isn't one of the Cubs' top priorities. New hitting coach Chili Davis arrived with a few clear missions, and getting Heyward back to what he did earlier in his career is among those at the top of Davis' list.

And it shouldn't be viewed as some impossible thing. Heyward's lack of production in his first two years as a Cub remains a head-scratcher considering how good he was leading up to his arrival on the North Side. He had a career year with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2015 that earned him that massive contract, his .293 batting average a career high, as were his 23 stolen bases and 33 doubles. His .359 on-base percentage was the second highest of his career, his .439 slugging percentage the third highest of his career, and he finished in the top 15 in voting for National League MVP honors. During his five-year tenure with the Atlanta Braves, he hit 84 home runs and reached base at a .351 clip. The Cubs saw firsthand what Heyward could do when he slashed .357/.438/.643 with an opposite-field homer in the 2015 NLDS.

Davis' solution to the problem? Get Heyward back to doing what he did before.

"He knows that there's more in the tank, and he's reaching for it. He wants to be better," Davis said in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago. "I think what happened to Jason from the Braves years to the years here ... was he probably got away from who he is. He was a natural, gifted athlete with the Braves. So we're just talking, we talk about getting back to natural, getting back to what makes him a good player.

"So it's more his interaction with me and telling me the things that he felt when he was doing well and my eyes trying to see that whenever he works, he's focused on doing those things all the time. And he's working well. We've been here since some time in November. Little baby steps. But I tell you what, you don't have to say things to him twice. He retains the information very well."

Heyward, never one to be short on confidence no matter what the numbers might say, has a different solution.

"Play. Be on the field and play. Everything else is going to take care of itself."

Heyward's referencing the fact that he played in "only" 126 games last season, a noteworthy decline for a guy who has cracked the 140-game mark five times in his eight-year career and the 150-game mark twice. He made a couple trips to the disabled list in 2017, both times with fluky hand injuries, nothing that reflected a lack of conditioning or preparation. So for Heyward, he believes that simply being healthy for a full season and staying off the disabled list will yield the results he expects to see.

Whether Cubs fans expect to see those same results at this point is a different thing entirely. But Heyward's confidence in himself and his expectations for 2018 are not at all lacking.

"If I’m coming in with higher expectations, then I feel like I’ve been tripping (for the past couple years)," Heyward said. "I feel like you always expect to do well, have high expectations. Myself, I’d like to play more games. Knock on wood, try not to be on the DL, especially a couple times, that hurts. Especially someone like myself for repetition, at-bats, just going with the flow of the game and being able to build off of that.

"I feel like when I play a lot of games in a season, I’ll do a lot of good things. I did a lot of good things last year, but missed time takes away from that a lot."

Heyward talked positively about working with Davis, who has other charges to turn around, too, in Kyle Schwarber and Ben Zobrist, who both had disappointing 2017 campaigns. But Heyward, because of his humongous contract and the benefits he could bring to the Cubs' lineup if back at full production levels, would figure to be the most important on that list.

Heyward, though, believes that no matter what Davis or any coach can contribute, it all comes down to him. And that's how fans and observers will see things, too.

"It’s important to understand that your voice needs to be the most important as a player," Heyward said. "You can hear whatever you want to hear from a coach, but if you don’t know how to put it together for yourself, it isn’t going to matter."

Cubs Talk Podcast: Jed Hoyer breaks down Cubs renovated pitching staff


Cubs Talk Podcast: Jed Hoyer breaks down Cubs renovated pitching staff

Between more power in the rotation and more strike-throwing in the bullpen, the Cubs were decisive in how they wanted to remake their pitching staff entering the 2018 season.

GM Jed Hoyer sits down with David Kaplan to explain the thought process of the front office over the winter.

Take a listen here or in the embedded player below. 

Where does the Cubs lineup rank in MLB?


Where does the Cubs lineup rank in MLB?

It's that time of the year — a week out from Opening Day where all the predictions and rankings come through.

The latest coming through the baseball world is's Anthony Castrovince creating a list of the Top 10 lineups in baseball in 2018.

The Cubs come up lower than I expected — sitting sixth.

Here are Castrovince's rankings:

1. Houston Astros
2. New York Yankees
3. Washington Nationals
4. Boston Red Sox
5. Cleveland Indians
6. Chicago Cubs
7. Los Angeles Dodgers
8. Minnesota Twins
9. St. Louis Cardinals
10. Oakland A's

We broke down our own rankings of the Top 10 lineups in Major League Baseball:

Here's how I would rank the top lineups:

1. Houston Astros
2. Washington Nationals
3. Chicago Cubs
4. New York Yankees
5. Cleveland Indians
6. Boston Red Sox
7. Arizona Diamondbacks
8. Milwaukee Brewers
9. St. Louis Cardinals
10. Minnesota Twins

The Astros should be atop everybody's list.

The Nationals may actually be an underrated powerhouse offense, even with Daniel Murphy currently injured. Once he returns, you're looking at probably the best 1-6 of any lineup in baseball with Adam Eaton and Trea Turner (two premier leadoff-type hitters) setting the table for Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon and Murphy (three MVP candidates) and Ryan Zimmerman cleaning things up.

The Cubs may not have the sheer strength and power of the Yankees, but the Chicago lineup is deeper and more well-rounded. Regardless of who leads off and who plays on a given day, this Cubs team will batter opposing pitchers on a nightly basis and feature what very well could be three MVP candidates — Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Willson Contreras.

The Yankees would see a boost here if Brett Gardner shows no signs of aging at 34 and Greg Bird finally stays healthy.

The Indians are stacked, but don't quite boast as much depth 1-9 as the other lineups ahead of them with Tyler Naquin, Roberto Perez and Bradley Zimmer projected to make up the bottom-third of the order.

The Red Sox feature a dynamic young core despite a lineup that is coming off something of a down 2017 campaing. Adding J.D. Martinez to the mix is an incredible boost, as is a full season of phenom Rafael Devers.

The Diamondbacks have Paul Goldschmidt and a few question marks — including how the new humidor will affect the way the ball jumps in the dry Arizona heat. 

With new additions like Lorenzo Cain and former Marlins outfielders Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna, the Cubs' main division rivals (Brewers, Cardinals) see a jump in lineup rankings.

The Dodgers are noticably absent given the injury to Justin Turner. Without him anchoring the order for the first month or so, this lineup absolutely needs Chris Taylor to turn in a repeat performance after a breakout 2017.