Cubs

Why Kris Bryant is such a money player for this Cubs team

Why Kris Bryant is such a money player for this Cubs team

PITTSBURGH — Dressed in a towel, Chris Coghlan walked through PNC Park’s visiting clubhouse late Monday night and saw the group of reporters around Kris Bryant. Coghlan wanted to get paid and talked over the interview: “Did you put it in my locker? I didn’t see anything when I got in.”

The Cubs had just won their 100th game for the first time in 81 years. Before that 12-2 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates, Bryant promised Coghlan all the cash in his wallet — the meal money for this entire road trip — if the leadoff guy scored on his 100th RBI.

“He still hasn’t paid me, by the way,” Coghlan said Wednesday afternoon, hours before hammering a Ryan Vogelsong pitch off the center-field wall for a bases-loaded triple in the second inning of a 6-4 win, looking like a solid role player for October. “I won’t take his money. He said he would, (but) I’m going to bust him. I just want to make him pull it out. That’s all.”

Coghlan understood how much it bothered Bryant to finish last year with 99 RBIs, how anxious he could get while being stuck on that same number again for almost a week. Once Bryant notched his 100th and 101st RBIs with his 39th home run, one of the first postgame questions was about getting No. 40.

“That’s how the world works,” Coghlan said. “Trust me, that’s on his list, to knock that off. Trust me, this guy wants to win the MVP, too.

“I think he’s going to win the MVP. But that’s how the world works: OK, now it’s 40 (homers). But if he hits like three in the next five games, (what about) 45? That’s just the way it is. You’ll never change that.

“You want to embrace that, because that’s how you don’t get complacent. But I think contentment is a wonderful attribute to obtain. And there’s a huge difference between contentment and complacency. In our society, we forget that and put the two together.”

Coghlan knows that he doesn’t have Bryant’s all-world talent, but he still recognizes the serious attitude and singular focus. At the age of 31, Coghlan has perspective as someone who became the National League’s Rookie of the Year with the Florida Marlins in 2009, got non-tendered four years later, had to sign a minor-league deal with the Cubs and got traded to and from the Oakland A’s within four months this year.

“KB is very goal-driven — that’s what makes him successful,” Coghlan said. “He has the highest expectations. What I joke with him about is (that) even when you accomplish what you want, there’s always something next that presents itself.

“But now that I’ve gotten a little older, I’ve realized: Man, there are some times I wish I would have enjoyed the moment a little bit more. Because now when you look back, you realize how tough it was.

“That’s what I try to tell him a lot — just enjoy it. I try to get him to laugh and smile because he doesn’t laugh that much. He doesn’t smile all the time.

“He’ll smile for a game-winner, but a regular one, it’s just, ‘Oh, you know, no big deal.’”

[SHOP CUBS: Get a Kris Bryant jersey right here]

Coghlan got an early scouting report on Bryant while having dinner with Scott Boras, the super-agent who represents several high-profile Cubs. Of course, Bryant probably would have hit the 100-RBI mark last season if the Cubs hadn’t stashed him at Triple-A Iowa for the first eight games, gaining an extra year of club control through 2021 and pushing back his free-agent clock.

“I remember talking about it with Scott,” Coghlan said. “They were like: ‘Yeah, this guy is off the charts with what he can do.’ But the No. 1 thing that we always heard was talking about how good of a kid he was. (Scott) was like: ‘You’re going to love him, because he’s just such a good kid.’

“That’s what the Cubs do so well. I think Theo (Epstein) does that so well (putting the pieces together). It’s not just about your skill set. It’s what type of teammate you are, and that stuff matters when you have to live with each other for seven, eight months a year.”

Ever since Epstein’s front office chose Bryant with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2013 draft out of the University of San Diego, Cubs fans expected a franchise player who would deliver the first World Series title in more than a century.

Bryant is following up his Rookie of the Year campaign with: a second All-Star selection at third base, the versatility to play all over the outfield and shift across the infield, 120 runs scored, a .295 batting average that’s 20 points higher than last season, a .953 OPS that’s almost 100 points higher than last season and almost 50 fewer strikeouts than his league-leading 199 in 2015.

“It’s phenomenal,” Coghlan said. “That second year, you have so many questions you have to answer. He’s in a big market, too. I was in a smaller market, but what does help him is there are so many other stars around and stories to talk about. I remember my second year, after every game — regardless of what I did — I had to answer for the team.

“What’s remarkable is his adjustments, and I don’t think people talk about it enough. They just think it’s because he’s so great and he’s always done it.

“(But) from watching, I can see his strikeout numbers are down. His swing and miss in the zone is down. He’s covering more pitches. Before, (you knew he would) have to keep making adjustments, because once they figure out his weakness, they’re going to expose that, and they did that at times last year.

“Now you look at him, you’re like: Bro, this is a whole ‘nother step forward. This is getting close to being epic.”

Cubs have new hitting coach in Anthony Iapoce

Cubs have new hitting coach in Anthony Iapoce

The Cubs are heading into a new season with a different hitting coach for the second straight winter, but the most recent choice is a familiar face.

Anthony Iapoce is set to join Joe Maddon's coaching staff this week after serving in the same capacity with the Texas Rangers for the last three seasons. The Cubs confirmed the move Monday afternoon shortly after the news broke out of the Rangers camp.

The Cubs fired Chili Davis last week after just one season as the team's hitting coach.

Entering the final week of the season, the Rangers fired manager Jeff Banister, leaving Iapoce and the rest of the Texas coaching staff in limbo.

As such, Iapoce is rejoining the Cubs, where he served as a special assistant to the General Manager from 2013-15 focusing on player development, particularly in the hitting department throughout the minor leagues.

Iapoce has familiarity with a bunch of the current star offensive players on the Cubs, from Willson Contreras to Kris Bryant. 

Both Bryant and Contreras endured tough 2018 seasons at the plate, which was a huge reason for the Cubs' underperforming lineup. Bryant's issue was more related to a left shoulder injured suffered in mid-May while Contreras' offensive woes remain a major question mark after the young catcher looked to be emerging as a legitimate superstar entering the campaign.

Getting Contreras back to the hitter that put up 21 homers and 74 RBI in only 117 games in 2017 will be one of the main goals for Iapoce, so the history between the two could be a key.

With the Rangers, Iapoce oversaw an offense that ranked 7th, 9th and 14th in MLB in runs scored over the last three seasons. The decline in offensive production is obviously not a great sign, but the Rangers as a team have fallen off greatly since notching the top seed in the AL playoffs in 2016 with 95 wins only to lose 95 games in 2018, resulting in the change at manager.

Iapoce has worked with an offense backed by Adrian Beltre, Elvis Andrus, Shin-Soo Choo, Nomar Mazara and Joey Gallo the last few seasons.

Under Iapoce's tutelage, former top prospect Jurickson Profar shed any notion of a "bust" label and emerged as a budding star at age 25, collecting 61 extra-base hits with a .793 OPS in 2018.

When the Cubs let Davis go last week, they provided no update on assistant hitting coach Andy Haines, who just finished his first season in that role and is expected to remain with the team for 2019. The same offseason Iapoce left for the Rangers, Haines took over as the Cubs' minor league hitting instructor.

What should Brandon Morrow's role be in Cubs 2019 bullpen?

What should Brandon Morrow's role be in Cubs 2019 bullpen?

Since the Cubs' early exit from the postseason, many have turned their attention to the 2019 roster and wonder if Brandon Morrow will be the team's closer next year.

However, the question isn't WILL Morrow be the closer, but rather — SHOULD he be counted on as the main ninth-inning option?

Morrow didn't throw a single pitch for the Cubs after the All-Star Game, nursing a bone bruise in his forearm that did not heal in time to allow him to make a return down the stretch.

Of course, an injury isn't surprising given Morrow's lengthy history of arm issues. 

Consider: Even with a half-season spent on the DL, Morrow's 35 appearances in 2018 was his second-highest total since 2008 (though he also spent a ton of time as a starting pitcher from 2009-15).

Morrow is 34 now and has managed to throw just 211 innings in 126 games since the start of the 2013 season. 

Because of that, Theo Epstein isn't ready to anoint Morrow the Cubs' 2019 closer despite success in the role in his first year in Chicago (22-for-24 in save chances).

"[We're] very comfortable with Morrow as part of a deep and talented 'pen," Epstein said. "We have to recommit to him in a very structured role and stick with it to do our best to keep him healthy. Set some rules and adhere to them and build a 'pen around that. I'm comfortable."

Epstein is referencing the overuse the Cubs have pointed to for the origin of Morrow's bone bruise when he worked three straight games from May 31-June 2 during a stretch of four appearances in five days.

Joe Maddon and the Cubs were very cautious with Morrow early in the year, unleashing him for only three outings — and 2 innings — in the first two-plus weeks of the season, rarely using him even on back-to-back days.

During that late-May/early-June stretch, Morrow also three just 2 pitches in one outing (May 31) and was only called upon for the 14th inning June 2 when Maddon had already emptied the rest of the Cubs bullpen in a 7-1 extra-inning victory in New York.

The blame or origin of Morrow's bone bruise hardly matters now. All the Cubs can do at this moment is try to learn from it and carry those lessons into 2019. It sounds like they have, heading into Year 2 of a two-year, $21 million deal that also includes a team option for 2020.

"It's the type of injury you can fully recover from with rest," Epstein said. "that said, he has an injury history and we knew that going in. That was part of the calculation when we signed him and that's why it was the length it was and the amount of money it was, given his talent and everything else.

"We were riding pretty high with him for a few months and then we didn't have him for the second half of the season. And again, that's on me. We took an educated gamble on him there and on the 'pen overall, thinking that even if he did get hurt, we had enough talent to cover for it. And look, it was a really good year in the 'pen and he contributed to that greatly in the first half.

"They key is to keep him healthy as much as possible and especially target it for down the stretch and into what we hope will be a full month of October next year."

It's clear the Cubs will be even more cautious with Morrow in 2019, though he also should head into the new campaign with significantly more rest than he received last fall when he appeared in all seven games of the World Series out of the Dodgers bullpen.

Morrow has more than proven his value in this Cubs bullpen as a low-maintenance option when he's on the field who goes right after hitters and permits very few walks or home runs. 

But if the Cubs are going to keep him healthy for the most important time of the season in September and October, they'll need to once again pack the bullpen with at least 7 other arms besides Morrow, affording Maddon plenty of options.

When he is healthy, Morrow will probably get a ton of the closing opportunities, but the world has also seen what Pedro Strop can do in that role and the Cubs will likely add another arm or two this winter for high-leverage situations.