Anthony Iapoce

Now that David Ross is in the manager's chair, Cubs turn their attention to coaching staff

Now that David Ross is in the manager's chair, Cubs turn their attention to coaching staff

David Ross' boxes are all (presumably) moved into the manager's office at Wrigley Field and the introductory press conference is in the rearview mirror.

Now the Cubs turn their attention to the rest of the coaching staff.

With the search for Joe Maddon's replacement dominating the focus for Theo Epstein's front office this month, the rest of the coaching staff has been waiting. 

The Cubs have not publicly stated their intentions with the remaining coaches, but there will be some changes coming to the staff. Ross has been around the team as a front office executive for the last three years, so he already has familiarity with a lot of the Cubs coaches, plus he worked closely with catching/strategy coach Mike Borzello and pitching coach Tommy Hottovy (who was then the run prevention coordinator) back when he was playing. 

Ross said Monday he had not yet reached out to the coaches, but was planning to do so very soon. Even though he already has a rapport with the current staff, changes will still be coming. 

"Ultimately, it's his decision and that's the way it was for Joe, too, and everybody before him — the manager's gotta have his coaches," Epstein said. "Rossy knows a lot of these guys having been around and I know he plans on keeping a number of coaches. But there are also some guys outside the organization that he feels will make him better and make us better, so it will be a combination."

The World Series will end Tuesday or Wednesday and then Major League Baseball's offseason will ramp up. Four organizations still have to hire managers and those that have found their new skipper have to finalize their coaching staffs.

The clock is ticking for the Cubs if they're going to make any outside hires — and to let the current coaches know where they stand.

"We need to get on that immediately," Epstein admitted. "There's gonna be a lot of competition for coaches out there, so it's important to strike quickly. We've had a lot of conversations even during the interview process getting a feel for [Ross] on what types of coaches he was looking for and then specific names — guys he thought would make us better."

The big key will be the bench coach, as that could be someone who helps make up for Ross' inexperience as a manager. Mark Loretta served in that capacity for Maddon in 2019, but it was Loretta's first year as a coach of any kind and he interviewed for the Cubs' managerial job as well as the Padres opening.

Ross feels confident about how he will handle the communication aspect of the job, but admitted he will likely experience a learning curve with the in-game situations and decision-making. 

"It's going to be important that my bench coach is one step ahead of me until I get that feel back," Ross said. "I've sat in the dugout, I've managed from the seat as a player, but doing it and calling shots and being a step ahead, being aware of the bullpen, how guys are used — all those things are going to be a learned task. I've done it in my mind, now I've got to put it into practice."

Epstein confirmed the Cubs would ideally like a bench coach with a lot of experience — either as a manager or as the right-hand man. 

Beyond that, it's hard to see Ross or the team getting rid of Borzello given his invaluable contributions behind the scenes and Hottovy is a young pitching coach that showed a lot of promise and did a lot well in his first year on the job. Bullpen coach Lester Strode has been with the Cubs for three decades and has served in his current role since 2007. 

The Cubs have been changing out hitting coaches almost as often as leadoff hitters, so it would make sense to see them stick with Anthony Iapoce in that capacity for 2020, especially since he is well-liked by the position players. 

Brian Butterfield is affable and popular, but he dealt with health issues in 2019 and his two main areas of focus (baserunning and infield defense) were major issues for the Cubs last season. Like Loretta, first-base coach Will Venable also interviewed for the Cubs managerial opening before Ross got the job.

The Confidence Conundrum: How Albert Almora Jr. turned his season around

The Confidence Conundrum: How Albert Almora Jr. turned his season around

What's the secret behind Albert Almora Jr.'s recent offensive resurgence?

It wasn't switching to an axe bat like Kris Bryant. It wasn't even a mechanical adjustment of any kind.

No, Almora has turned things around at the plate just because he has more of a belief in himself right now.

"This game is all about confidence," the Cubs centerfielder said. "It's a game of ups and downs. It's tough mentally, but the quicker you could get back to having that confidence, the better. It's kinda like tricking yourself."

Having 39,246 people demand a curtain call has to do wonders for your confidence.

Almora hit his first career grand slam in the bottom of the fifth inning Wednesday night and was none too happy to oblige the packed house at Wrigley Field.

That blast was his fifth homer of the season, which ties the total he reached in all of last season.

Over the first 21 games of 2019, Almora was hitting just .182 with a .432 OPS and 0 extra-base hits in 61 plate appearances.

Then he pinch hit against Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen on April 25 and smacked his first homer of the season. Since then, he's hitting .341 with a .966 OPS and 12 extra-base hits in 87 plate appearances. 

So if the difference is confidence, is there a way to manufacture confidence? Like a "fake it until you make it" kind of thing?

"No, it's tough," Almora said. "It really is. Maybe some guys are really good at it. Defensively, it's a different type of confidence, because you can control more, but you can be confident at the plate and not have the results."

When Bryant started turning things around at the end of April, much was made about his switch to an axe bat. There's no doubt that change in weaponry perfectly correlated with Bryant's red-hot production at the plate over the last month, but even he downplayed the whole thing, using the idiom, "it's not the arrow, it's the Indian" on the Cubs' last homestand.

In talking about Bryant Tuesday night, all Joe Maddon discussed was the star player's confidence, saying he is "unconsciously confident" in every aspect of his game right now.

"It's just who I am — I feel like this is me as a baseball player," Bryant said. "I'm working counts, getting on base, baserunning, playing all over. When I'm doing that, I feel pretty confident, so I hope I can continue that."

Cubs hitting coach Anthony Iapoce echoed Almora's sentiment that baseball is all about confidence and while mechanical changes can certainly help breed that confidence, the only real way to build it is with positive results on the field. 

Obviously mechanics come into play all the time in professional baseball and there's no doubt Almora's and Bryant's physical mechanics are locked in at the moment.   

But there's no substitute for confidence and there's no drill to work on something that isn't tangible and can't even be quantified. 

"I don't know [how to build confidence]," Almora said. "I wish I had the answer. That's why this game is so hard. You just gotta battle and try to not ride that huge up-and-down roller coaster. Try to stay the same. I feel like just having a good attitude is a good part of it and I think it's something I'm trying to feed off of my teammates. I think I've been doing a really good job of just being happy no matter what."

This is Almora's fourth year in the big leagues and he's closing in on 1,100 plate appearances at this level. But he still doesn't feel like he's come anywhere close to mastering the Confidence Conundrum.

"No, because you wanna perform every year, so every year's different no matter what," Almora said. "I've had success hitting at the big-league level, but every year's a new challenge and every year you have challenges for yourself and for your team to win, obviously. It never gets easier."

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Report: Theo Epstein faced pressure from Bryzzo to fire Chili Davis

Report: Theo Epstein faced pressure from Bryzzo to fire Chili Davis

It's been 99 days since the Cubs fired Chili Davis, but we're still hearing new reports on the reasoning behind the decision. 

The latest comes from SNY's John Harper, who explained why the New York Mets were so quick to hire Davis after he was fired from the Red Sox and Cubs in successive winters. 

The reasoning? According to Harper, Cubs president Theo Epstein was pressured to fire Davis by two of the team's most notable hitters — Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant:

Secondly, Cubs president Theo Epstein didn't really want to fire Davis, according to multiple sources, yet felt he had no choice but to give in to the wishes of at least a few of his star hitters, most notably Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo.

"He caved," was the way one person close to the situation put it. "He's not happy about it. He thinks it's BS that the players complained about Chili, but he wasn't going to stick with his hitting coach just to make a point."

That is one strong quote on the matter by the "person close to the situation." 

While Davis himself admitted he didn't connect with a lot of the "millennial" players, it's tough to blame his departure solely on that drama.

The simple fact of the matter is Davis was brought in to limit the roller coaster nature of the Cubs lineup (by improving situational hitting, using the whole field, cutting down on strikeouts, etc.) yet the team still wound up leading baseball with 40 games of scoring 1 or fewer runs. It was the quiet offense that led to the Cubs' demise down the stretch in 2018 more than anything else.

Davis deserves credit for helping Javy Baez realize his potential and become an MVP candidate and the hitting coach also helped unlock a bit more offense out of Jason Heyward while overseeing a strong bounceback season from Ben Zobrist.

Rizzo got off to a very slow start to 2018, but he rebounded from May on and wound up having a season that looks very similar to the rest of his career. At this point, Rizzo is his own hitting coach in a lot of ways and he continues to fine-tune his approach at the plate regardless of who is in the position on the Cubs staff.

The Bryant inclusion here is interesting in that the main reason the former MVP had a down season was the shoulder injury that limited him to only 102 games and diminished his power. However, Bryant has always had a "launch angle" type approach instilled in him at a young age from his dad, and Davis wasn't exactly "anti-launch angle," but he prioritized contact over power at times.

In Davis' stead, the Cubs opted for Anthony Iapoce as the new hitting coach. He has a rapport with guys like Bryant, Baez and Willson Contreras dating back years to their time in the minor leagues, so it's a familiar face who already knows how to communicate effectively with the current roster.

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