Cubs

Mooney: The clock is ticking on Vitters

Mooney: The clock is ticking on Vitters

Friday, Feb. 25, 2011Posted: 9:00 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

MESA, Ariz. The executives, coaches and agents gathered now at the NFL combine in Indianapolis already have a good idea of what theyre going to get.

The players are close to fully developed physically. They have worked at established football factories, sometimes in front of crowds that exceed 100,000. They have dealt with the media. The fittest have already survived.

It does not work that way with Josh Vitters. The kid hadnt even turned 18 yet when the Cubs made him the third overall pick in the 2007 draft.

Spring training is the time to imagine the possibilities. The sun is shining and the sky is blue as Vitters signs autographs at Fitch Park. Baseball America, ESPN and MLB.com have each released its rankings of the games top prospects. Vitters is nowhere to be found.

I stopped looking at that stuff a long time ago, once I realized that it didnt matter at all, Vitters said. It really has nothing to do with the game. Its all about going out there and performing.

Its really just something for readers and bloggers to look at and feed off. (I) dont really pay attention to any of that.

The Cubs are still high on the 21-year-old Vitters, even if they may not be certain whether the corner infielder projects at third or first base.

Vitters has hit .328, .316 and .291 across parts of the past three seasons at the Class-A level in Boise, Peoria and Daytona. Last year ended at Double-A Tennessee in July, when he was hit by a fastball that broke his hand.

Sure, a few impact players chosen after Vitters in the 2007 first round have already emerged: Orioles catcher Matt Wieters (No. 5); Giants pitcher Madison Bumgarner (No. 10); Braves outfielder Jason Heyward (No. 14); and Tigers pitcher Rick Porcello (No. 27).

But youve probably never heard of most of the other names and maybe never will.

And they all loved Vitters coming out of Cypress High School, where he was Californias Gatorade player of the year. Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus rated him as the drafts best prep position player.

The main thing with Josh was just getting used to the routine of playing baseball all the time, said Cubs coach Dave Keller, the former minor-league hitting coordinator. Any time you get young kids like that signed, theyre not used to playing every day.

(Theres a time) where they cross over and they realize that this is a little bit more of a job. And its easy for them to get burned out.

Vitters played in the Arizona Fall League and spent six weeks at what the Cubs now call Camp Colvin. Its the offseason strength and conditioning program at the Mesa complex that Tyler Colvin has found so beneficial.

Several club officials have remarked that Vitters seems more mature. Hes always around Brett Jackson, perhaps the organizations top prospect, and on Friday the two were working on a handshake. Jackson comes across as supremely confident and totally at ease with the attention. It hasnt been that way for Vitters.

(Its) not only dealing with the pressure of: Im a first-round pick, I got to live up to all these expectations, vice president of player personnel Oneri Fleita said. Youre trying to find your place. And last year was the first time it looked like (Vitters) came out of his shell. Hes interacting with his teammates (and) maybe these guys grabbed it and pulled it out of him.

No one can predict a career path with certainty Jeff Samardzija tossed a football around the clubhouse on Friday morning. Scouting director Tim Wilken has an excellent reputation, but the process takes time, even for first-round picks like Colvin and Andrew Cashner.

Colvin played three seasons at Clemson University and wasnt a major-league contributor until the age of 24. Cashner was drafted three times before he finally signed with the Cubs, after attending junior college and Texas Christian University.

Vitters doesnt focus on what he hasnt done yet. He looks forward to what he can still become.

I dont really feel any pressure from it, Vitters said. I know everybody has different maturing rates as far as growing up and getting to the big leagues. Im not really putting a timetable on myself. Im hoping that I can put together a good year and see what happens.

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

Jason Kipnis comes home looking to write one final chapter of his career

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USA Today

Jason Kipnis comes home looking to write one final chapter of his career

Jason Kipnis, who’s potentially the Cubs’ new second baseman but indisputably the pride of Northbrook, said there’s one major reason why his possible reunion with Wrigley Field is so exciting.

“Now I don’t have to hate the 'Go Cubs Go' song,” he quipped.

Kipnis was a late addition to the Cubs’ roster, and still not even a guaranteed one at that. After almost a decade spent being one of the Cleveland Indians’ cornerstones, Kipnis arrived in Mesa on a minor league contract, looking to win a job. Ironically, being with his hometown team is unfamiliar territory for the two-time All-Star. 

“[Leaving Cleveland] was hard at first,” he said. “You get used to the same place for 9-10 years, and I think it’s a little hard right now coming in and being the new guy and being lost and not knowing where to go. But it’ll be fun. It’s exciting. It’s kind of out of the comfort zone again, which is kind of what you want right now – to be uncomfortable. I don’t know, I’ve missed this feeling a little bit, so it’ll be good.”

It was a slow offseason for the second baseman, but the second baseman said that he was weighing offers from several teams. Opportunity and organizational direction dictated most of his decision-making, but Kipnis admitted that the forces around him were all, rather unsubtly, pulling him in one direction.

“They were telling me to take a deal, take a cut, whatever. Just get here,” he joked. “... It made sense, it really did. I think I didn't fully understand it until it was announced and my phone started blowing up and I realized just how many people this impacted around my life. Friends and family still live in Chicago, so it’s going to be exciting.”

The theme of renewed motivation has hung around Sloan Park like an early-morning Arizona chill, and Kipnis said part of the reason he feels the Cubs brought him in is to set a fire under some guys. He talked with Anthony Rizzo during the offseason, who talked about how the Cubs had struggled at times to put an appropriate emphasis on each of the 162 games in a regular season. That’s not a new problem in baseball, and it struck a chord with Kipnis, who himself was on plenty of talented Cleveland teams that never got over the hump. 

“They got a good core here. I’m well aware of that, they’re well aware of that, too,” he said. “I texted him and called him and asked him what happened last year, because I look at rosters, I look at St. Louis’, I look at all that, and I’m like, ‘I still would take your guys roster.’” 

As for his direct competition, Kipnis said he hasn’t had a chance to really get to know Nico Hoerner yet, but doesn’t feel like the battle for second base has to be a contentious one by any means. At 32, Kipnis has been around long enough to understand the dynamics an aging veteran vs. a top prospect, and doesn't feel like it’s a situation where only one of them will end up benefiting. 

“I know he came up and had a pretty good success, so I think [it’s] going to be a competition, but at the same time, I’m not going to try to put him down,” he said. “I’d like to work with him, kind of teach him what I know too and hopefully both of us become better from it.” 

According to Javy Baez, the Cubs need to improve their pregame focus

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USA Today

According to Javy Baez, the Cubs need to improve their pregame focus

While the Cubs’ decline has been talked about over and over again, it’s always been framed in relatively vague terms. Perhaps in the interest of protecting a former manager who is still well-liked within the clubhouse, specifics were always avoided. It was just a change that was needed.

That is, until Javy Baez spoke on Sunday morning. In no unclear terms, Baez took a stab at explaining why such a talented team has fallen short of expectations in back-to-back seasons. 

“It wasn’t something bad, but we had a lot of options – not mandatory,” Baez said from his locker at Sloan Park. “Everybody kind of sat back, including me, because I wasn’t really going out there and preparing for the game. I was getting ready during the game, which is not good. But this year, I think before the games we’ve all got to be out there, everybody out there, as a team. Stretch as a team, be together as a team so we can play together.”

Related: What to love, and hate, about the Cubs heading into 2020

The star shortstop's comments certainly track. Maddon is widely considered one of the better managers in baseball, but discipline and structure have never been key pillars of his leadership style. He intrinsically trusts players to get their own work done – something that's clearly an appreciated aspect of his personality... until it isn't. World Series hangovers don’t exist four years after the fact but given Maddon’s immediate success in Chicago, it’s easy to understand how players let off the gas pedal. 

“I mean I would just get to the field and instead of going outside and hit BP, I would do everything inside, which is not the same,” he said. “Once I’d go out to the game, I’d feel like l wasn’t ready. I felt like I was getting loose during the first 4 innings, and I should be ready and excited to get out before the first pitch.” 

“You can lose the game in the first inning. Sometimes when you’re not ready, and the other team scores by something simple, I feel like it was because of that. It was because we weren’t ready, we weren’t ready to throw the first pitch because nobody was loose.” 

Baez also promised that this year would be far more organized and rigid. They will stretch as a team, warm up outside as a team and hopefully rediscover that early-game focus that may have slipped away during the extended victory lap. That may mean less giant hacks, too. 

“Sometimes we’re up by a lot or down by a lot and we wanted to hit homers,” he said. “That’s really not going to work for the team. It’s about getting on base and giving the at-bat to the next guy, and sometimes we forget about that because of the situation of the game. I think that’s the way you get back to the game – going pitch by pitch and at-bat by at-bat.” 

Baez was less specific when it came to his contractual discussions with the team, only saying that negotiations were “up and down.” He’d like to play his whole career here and would be grateful if an extension was reached before Opening Day – he’s just not counting on it. The focus right now is on recapturing some of that 2016 drive and the rest, according to him, will take care of itself.

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