Cubs

Schierholtz ready to make his mark with Cubs

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Schierholtz ready to make his mark with Cubs

With spring training just a couple weeks away, the parallels between Brett Jackson and Nate Schierholtz extend beyond just the fact they will man the same outfield in Arizona.

As the two were heading from California to Chicago for the 2013 Cubs Convention last week, they found themselves in the same row on the same flight.

That's not altogether surprising, considering they both hail from the same area on the nation's left coast. Schierholtz attended high school at San Ramon Valley in Danville, Calif., while Jackson grew up in Berkeley and attended the Berkeley campus of the University of California.

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According to Schierholtz, the two had the same coaches growing up.

"It's kind of a cool similarity," Schierholtz said at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers Friday. "I'm looking forward to giving him tips and helping him out any way I can. I'm looking forward to being his teammate."

The Cubs brought in Schierholtz this winter to help provide outfield depth on the big-league club, allowing Jackson to head back to Triple-A Iowa to start the 2013 season after striking out in almost half his at-bats in the majors at the end of last year.

Schierholtz turned down offers from several other teams to ink a one-year, 2.25 million deal -- with 500,000 in incentives -- with the Cubs.

There are still a few weeks left in the offseason and the Cubs continue to court local product Scott Harison to help bolster the outfield, Schierholtz was given the impression before he signed that he would receive regular playing time in Chicago.

"Cubs manager Dale Sveum said he was looking for me to come in and play the outfield every day," Schierholtz said. "That's something I've looked forward to my whole career. I got chances here and there in San Francisco, but I didn't really get a full-time job ever. It's my job to come in to spring training and show them what I can do.

"The opportunity here was a no-brainer to me. I wasn't looking to be a fourth outfielder. I wanted a chance to play every day. I felt like this team is going in the right direction and I thought I could help them out."

While some other clubs were offering multi-year deals or the chance to contend in '13, they couldn't provide the regular playing time the Cubs had to offer.

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"What it came down to is I just felt comfortable here," Schierholtz said. "I talked to Dale a couple times before I signed and I talked to a lot of other teams as well. It just came down to Chicago really believing in me and believing I can come in and play up to my potential.

"It wasn't as important to me to sign somewhere for, say, two years and potentially not play as much as opposed to coming here and playing. Everything just felt right. I love the city and the fans. I couldn't be happier to be here."

As for when Jackson arrives, Schierholtz has plenty to offer the young prospect.

Schierholtz -- who, like Jackson, hits lefty and throws right-handed and is considered an above-average defender -- is only four years older than Jackson, but knows what it's like to handle expectations.

The 28-year-old outfielder was a second round draft pick of the Giants in 2003, six years before the Cubs took Jackson 31st overall.

Both players are roughly the same size -- Jackson is listed at 6-foot-2, 210 pounds while Scherholtz is listed at 6-foot-1, 205 pounds -- and ironically have the exact same career OPS in the minors (.867).

But while Jackson got his first taste of big-league action last season, Schierholtz has been here before and brings playoff experience to the Cubs outfield.

Schierholtz earned a World Series ring for his work on the 2010 Giants and spent the beginning of last year in San Francisco before being traded to the Phillies for Hunter Pence and watching his former team claim their second championship in three seasons.

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"I was fortunate enough to play for a couple teams that went to the World Series and won," he said. "So I want to get back there. I feel like once you've done it, you really want to get back and you have a little bit different perspective. I'll do everything I can to help the team out and hopefully we can start winning some games.

"Playoff experience has helped me a lot. It helped me just settle in and finally realize the importance of team chemistry.

"winning is more fun, that's really what it comes down to. When you win games, everyone's happy. That's the ultimate goal."

As he decides what's next, it's clear Ben Zobrist has something left in the tank

As he decides what's next, it's clear Ben Zobrist has something left in the tank

When Ben Zobrist rejoined the Cubs active roster on Sept. 1, it was fair to wonder how much he could provide offensively. After all, he spent the previous four months on the restricted list while tending to a family matter, last playing a big-league game on May 6.

Zobrist did no baseball activities from May to mid-July, only working out to stay in shape. Although he eventually ramped things up, he played in just 12 minor league rehab games in August before returning to the Cubs, a small number compared to the length of his absence.

Even Zobrist admitted upon his big-league return that his timing at the plate wasn’t where he wanted it to be. And yet, what he did in September was nothing short of impressive. In 21 games, he posted a .284/.377/.388 slash line, performing at a level many couldn’t have expected, considering the circumstances.

Zobrist's impact on the Cubs' lineup goes beyond what you see in the box score, however. Not only is he a switch hitter with some pop, but he has a keen eye for the strike zone and frequently puts together professional at-bats.

On a Cubs team that tends to expand the zone, Zobrist’s presence mattered. In his second game back, for example, he went 3-for-3 with two walks, helping the Cubs beat the Brewers 10-5. After the game, Brewers starter Chase Anderson pointed out how different the Cubs' lineup looks with Zobrist in it.

"They play the matchups really well and Zobrist makes that team so much better," Anderson said on Sept. 5. "Just bringing his presence to the top of the lineup, it changes their dynamic a little bit."

Where Zobrist stands entering 2020, though, is currently unclear.

Zobrist is set to hit free agency after the World Series and will turn 39 next May. Therefore, it’s possible that he’s played his last game in the big leagues, as he has little, if anything, left to prove at this stage in his career.

Ahead of the Cubs’ season finale on Sept. 29, Zobrist told reporters in St. Louis that he hasn’t thought about how much time he’ll take before deciding what’s next for him. His family situation will obviously play a big role in his decision, but if September showed anything, it's that he still has something left in the tank.

“I’m 38 but I got that feeling all over again,” Zobrist said following the Cubs’ season finale, a 9-0 loss to the Cardinals in which he pitched a scoreless inning. “Just really fun, you know? It’s a fun game. Sometimes you don’t come out on the winning end, but you still gotta have fun with it and enjoy it. I enjoyed it today."

The Cubs roster is expected to undergo changes this offseason, with center field, second base and the leadoff spot being just a few areas the team will look to address. The latter two spots became revolving doors during Zobrist’s absence, as the Cubs struggled to replace what he brought offensively.

Zobrist is past the point in his career of being an everyday player. However, he still could be a useful asset for the Cubs in a supporting role, bringing his veteran approach to the lineup when he plays while still offering an experienced voice in the clubhouse.

“I take a lot of joy in that role, just being a supporting guy and being a part of winning clubs and part of winning atmospheres and cultures,” Zobrist said on Sept. 29. “The Chicago Cubs have been that since I’ve been around. This year we didn’t make the playoffs — we still have a winning record — (but) the kind of relationships that are built here and the culture that’s been built here is definitely a winning one.”

After the Cubs announced that they wouldn’t retain Joe Maddon for 2020, Zobrist acknowledged that more changes were likely coming in the offseason. Only time will tell what that means for the veteran utilityman — should he continue playing.

Whether he retires or joins a different team for 2020, though, Zobrist will look back on his four seasons with the Cubs fondly.

“(They’re) just the most passionate fans I’ve ever met,” he said of Cubs fans. “They’re very loyal, very passionate and it’s been such a pleasure to be a part of that team that beat the curse back in ’16, so I feel that still, when I see Cubs fans, there’s a lot of them that hug me and thank me for being a part of that.

“I’ll always look back at [my] time here — I don’t know what’s going to happen in the offseason — but look back at these four years and [be] very grateful to be able to be part of a group like this and be able to do what we did while I was here.”

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Cubs Talk Podcast: An ode to Joe Maddon and looking to the next era

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USA Today

Cubs Talk Podcast: An ode to Joe Maddon and looking to the next era

On the latest Cubs Talk Podcast, Tony Andracki, Kelly Crull, Scott Changnon and Jeff Nelson give us their memories of Joe Maddon's time with the Cubs and discuss David Ross and Joe Espada's candidacy to be the next manager.

01:30 Kelly's memories of Joe from the perspective of a reporter

06:00 Going back to Hazleton with Joe

07:45 Joe's legacy as manager of the Cubs

16:00 How Joe impacted Javy Baez' career

18:00 David Ross and Joe Espada may be the leaders to replace Joe Maddon.

Listen here or via the embedded player below:

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Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream Cubs games easily on your device.