Cubs

Cubs prospect Dan Vogelbach can't worry about the DH or Anthony Rizzo

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Cubs prospect Dan Vogelbach can't worry about the DH or Anthony Rizzo

You know the baseball world is going stir-crazy when a new story pops up almost hourly about whether or not the designated hitter will - or should - come to the National League.

With less than a month until pitchers and catchers report to spring training, the DH debate rages on, with Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred clarifying his comments this week and admitting pitchers will still be hitting in the NL for the foreseeable future.

That can't be the news Dan Vogelbach wanted to hear. Not if he still has dreams about breaking into the big leagues with the Cubs.

[RELATED - How Cubs rebuilt their pitching staff without a David Price]

Vogelbach has to keep improving and would need either a trade or an Anthony Rizzo injury to eventually find his way into a big-league lineup spot. There's no other way around it until the DH comes to the NL.

"Quite frankly, I can't worry about that type of stuff," Vogelbach said during Cubs Convention earlier this month. "I'm just going to continue to play first base and be the best first baseman that I can and learn from Rizzo.

"Obviously, Rizzo is the first baseman of the Chicago Cubs and that's not going to change. So I can't worry about what he does or how he performs. I can only worry about what I do. So if [the DH] opens up, that's another chance and another bat in the lineup. But right now, I'm just going to continue to try to be the best first baseman I can be."

Rizzo is only 26, a two-time All-Star and under team control through the 2021 season. And Vogelbach hasn't forced the issue yet, reaching the Double-A level for the first time in 2015 before missing a month-and-a-half with a torn oblique.

Vogelbach said he's 100 percent healthy and ready for what figures to be a pivotal year in his development. Now 23, he hasn't really shown off the kind of power the Cubs expected when they drafted him in the second round in 2011, 59 spots after Jim Hendry's front office took Javier Baez with the ninth overall pick.

In five minor-league seasons, Vogelbach has hit 60 home runs, or roughly one every 25 at-bats. It hasn’t quite been the light-tower power he was known for during his high school days in Florida.

But Vogelbach has proven he’s more than just a power hitter, putting up a career .382 on-base percentage in the minors with 239 walks and only 292 strikeouts in 411 games.

In some ways, Vogelbach resembles Rizzo as a left-handed hitter. That's by design.

"The way Rizzo hits, he's not scared to go to two strikes," Vogelbach said. "He knows when he needs to hit and when he can let it go to hit a home run.

"That's the stuff that I look at. Everybody hits differently, but when it comes down to it, approach-wise is how you're going to hit and how you're going to be successful."

[MORE CUBS: Why Cubs spent big this winter (and won't be major players next offseason)]

Vogelbach talked about understanding the situation, how swinging for the fences in a tie game with a runner on second and two outs is silly when a single can give his team the lead.

Vogelbach is an intense competitor, the type of guy who hates to lose and won't try to hide it. But he prefers a quiet approach when putting in the work.

"I'm not big on asking questions," Vogelbach said. "I just like to watch [Rizzo], how he battles with two strikes, how he doesn't do too much. That's why, every single year, he hits for a high average and his on-base percentage is so high.

"And that's what I pride myself in. I get to watch him and the way he takes pitches the other way. He doesn't chase pitches and that's the way I like to be."

It would make sense if Vogelbach returned to Tennessee to begin this season before making the jump to Triple-A Iowa. He is listed at 6-foot, 250 pounds on his Baseball-Reference page but looks more streamlined now. He also heard all the Kyle Schwarber comparisons throughout Cubs Convention weekend.

[SHOP CUBS: Get your Cubs gear right here]

"Coming out of high school, I was obviously overweight and I wasn't in shape," Vogelbach said. "In high school, you can get away with anything. So coming here, they had a plan for me and basically told me I didn't have a choice.

"So I took that to heart. I have to do whatever I can to play. That was the first step. I had to change my eating habits. I worked out a lot more and kind of made it a lifestyle.

"Since losing weight that year, it's really helped me in every aspect of the game. I'm healthy, I feel good and I'm ready for the season."

Stay tuned to see if that means wearing a Cubs uniform or becoming part of a bigger trade for pitching.

Report: People around baseball believe Joe Girardi is waiting for managerial job with Cubs or White Sox

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USA TODAY

Report: People around baseball believe Joe Girardi is waiting for managerial job with Cubs or White Sox

Joe Girardi won't be the manager of the Cincinnati Reds in 2019, perhaps because he has hopes of landing a gig in Chicago.

According to Fancred's Jon Heyman, Girardi was in the running for the Reds' managerial job (which went to former Cubs third-base coach David Bell this weekend) but pulled himself out, this after interviewing for but not getting the same position with the Texas Rangers. Heyman cites "industry speculation" that Girardi might want to remain a free agent so he can land the job of skipper in Chicago.

Heyman is of course not specific, listing a city with two major league teams, leaving this open for interpretation as either the Cubs or the White Sox.

Obviously Girardi has a history on the North Side. He had two stints there as a player, from 1989 to 1992 and again from 2000 to 2002. Joe Maddon has one year remaining on his contract, and Cubs president Theo Epstein said during his end-of-season press conference that the team has not had discussions with Maddon about an extension. After managing the New York Yankees to their most recent World Series championship in 2009, Girardi might again want a crack at managing a big-market contender.

But if Girardi is simply itching to get back to his home state — he was born in Peoria and graduated from Northwestern — perhaps he has the White Sox on his wish list, too. Rick Renteria has one year remaining on his current contract, as well, and should the rebuilding White Sox see all their young talent turn into the contender they've planned, the manager of such a team would be an attractive position to hold.

But just because folks believe Girardi wants to manage in Chicago doesn't mean there'd be mutual interest. Despite Epstein's comments that there have been no extension talks with Maddon, the president of baseball operations also backed his manager in that same press conference, refusing to blame Maddon for the team's "broken" offense down the stretch last month. And Rick Hahn and the rest of White Sox brass heap frequent praise on the job Renteria has done in his two years, describing him as an important part of player development and of establishing a culture hoped to spread throughout the organization.

Plus, it's worth mentioning that Girardi's decade-long tenure in the Bronx came to an end amid suggestion that he was unable to connect with his young players. It's unknown how much of a realistic concern that would be for any team thinking about hiring him. But the recently fired Chili Davis believed that very issue was part of the reason his time as the Cubs' hitting coach came to an end. And there are few teams out there younger than the White Sox.

Again, it's just speculation for now. But if for some reason one or both Chicago teams don't hand out new contracts to their current managers, perhaps Girardi would be interested in an opening on either side of town.

Glanville: Fall to Spring - A player’s offseason changes meaning with each changing season

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USA TODAY

Glanville: Fall to Spring - A player’s offseason changes meaning with each changing season

A few weeks after the we (the Cubs) were eliminated from the 2003 playoffs, I got a phone call from my college professor. Since it was officially the off-season, I was in the early stages of a break from following a pocket schedule to tell me where to be every day for nearly eight months.

But this was a man I could not refuse. I chose my college major to go into his field of transportation engineering and he was calling because he needed a teaching assistant to accompany him on his trip to South Africa.

One minute I could barely move off of my couch in my Chicago apartment after losing Game 7 against the Marlins. The next minute, I would be standing within miles of the Southern most point in Africa at the Cape of Good Hope. Why not? I needed the distraction so I agreed to go.

The offseason is its own transition. Leaving the regimen of routine, of batting practice and bus times, to an open ended world that you have to re-learn again. When I finished my first full major league season in 1997, I lived in Streeterville at the Navy Pier Apartments.

That offseason, I decided to stay an extra month in Chicago only to wake up panicked for the first two weeks because I thought I was missing stretch time for a home day game. A major league schedule becomes etched in your DNA after a while.

It is also a time that you get to reflect. The regular season does not give you a moment to really get perspective on what was just accomplished, what it all means, what you would change. I always joked about the T-shirt I wanted to a sell that listed all of the things a major league player figures out during the off-season. From the perfect swing to the ex-girlfriend you need to un-break-up with next week.

It all becomes so clear when a 96 MPH fastball isn’t coming at you.

For years, I would arrange a training program to follow, but I quickly learned that I had to mix it up. There was only so much repetition I could stand in the off-season. So some years, I moved to the site of spring training and worked out early with the staff, other years I found a spot at home where I grew up or wherever I played during the season, to train.

I was single when I played, but now with a family, I have a better understanding of the challenges my teammates would express as they were re-engaging as a daily father again after this long absentee existence.

To keep it fresh and spicy, when I got older in the game, I enrolled in a dance studio and took a winter of dance lessons. Salsa, Foxtrot, Rumba, you name it. On Thursdays we had to dance for an hour straight, changing partners in the room every song change. Dancing with the Stars had nothing on me.

Of course, not every offseason is fun and games. There were years when I wasn’t sure I would have a job the next year, or I was in the throes of a trade rumor. In 1997, I was traded from the Cubs to the Phillies two days before Christmas. In 2002, my father passed away on the last game of the season, leading the offseason to be a time of mourning.

By my final season in 2005, I thought I was officially on my couch forever. I was going to fade away into oblivion like many players do. No fanfare, the phone just would stop ringing and I would just let the silence wash over me. The Yankees had called earlier in that off-season, acting like they were doing me a favor which I turned down, then they called back later with a more open tone, seeing me as a potential key piece in their outfield with Bernie Williams slowing down quite a bit at that point.

I did get off that couch for that call, only to get released the last week of camp, so I was back on the couch, with a fiancé and some extra salt in the wounds after that final meeting with Brian Cashman and Joe Torre, who boxed me into the coaches office to tell me I was released. Released? Come on. Never had that happen before.

The Cubs players will go through all of this if they have the good fortune of playing a long time. The wave of uncertainty, the meaning of age in this game spares no one. Each offseason is a time to reset, a period where you get away, seemingly adrift from the game, then as spring gets closer, the shoreline comes up in the horizon once again, magnetically drawing you to its shores for another season.

Amazingly, you don’t always know your age and what it has done to your body. 34 can’t be that old, right? I can still run, or throw 95. Then those 23-year-olds in camp are the wake up call, or maybe you are that 23-year-old and can’t believe your locker is next to Ryne Sandberg’s.

Then you blink, and you are advising Jimmy Rollins about etiquette and realize you have become that guy, the seasoned vet, preaching about locker room respect.

For the 2018 Cubs, they fell short of their goal to repeat their 2016 magic. Failed to meet their singular destination that meant success over all else. Yet, those who come back for 2019, will not be the same player, the same person, that left the locker room at the close this season. They will have grown, changed, aged, wizened up, rehabbed, hardened. All of which means that new perspective is the inevitable part of this time off, whether you like it or not.

Baseball is a game that has this unique dynamic. The highest intensity rhythm of any sport. Every day you are tested. You are pushed to the brink by sheer attrition. According to my teammate Ed Smith, who was playing third base at the time when Michael Jordan reached third, Jordan, after playing well over 100 games in a row, said to him “Man, I have never been this tired in my entire life.”

The grind.

Then it stops on a dime. Season over. Only on baseball’s terms.

But you may be granted another spring. Another crack at it. Until one day, the baseball winter never ends and its time for you to plant your own spring.