Offseason Work is About to Begin, and It Starts With Very Specific Focuses for Each Player

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Offseason Work is About to Begin, and It Starts With Very Specific Focuses for Each Player

Chicago Cubs

We talk a lot about players knowing “what they need to work on” in a given offseason, and the value of seeing first-hand in the big leagues exactly what those needs are. The Chicago Cubs have a ton of players who are (1) still in development mode, and (2) could contribute to the big league team in meaningful ways in 2023. Thus, it seems like it’s a pretty darn important time for players to know precisely what they need to work on this offseason.

To that end, I liked the way David Ross talked about exit interviews with his players – which have already been underway – and how to set them up for a successful offseason.

“We got a long way to go to get better to be competing for a World Series,” Ross said this weekend, per the Sun-Times. “But these guys are on a mission to do that. And as long as we keep that mindset, we’ll be fine.”

The focus is on specific ways to improve for next season.

“I’m not a big fan of ‘let’s sit down and see how your season went,’ ’’ said Ross, who’s more curious to hear from players about areas they want to improve and how the team can assist them in the offseason.

“One player asked me, ‘What do you think I need to work on?’ I’m not going to say, ‘You need to get on base more.’ ’’

Instead, the dialogue is more work-specific, whether it’s improving strength or speed or sharpening a pitch.

“Instead of macro things we have to work on, there will be small details to work on to make us better,” said Ross, who liked the eagerness of his players.

That seems so much more likely to bear fruit. Instead of trying to start from the widest lens – dude, you need to hit for more power but not spike your strikeout rate – the Cubs are focused on getting those needs down to the granular, so that there are very specific actionable focuses for the players in the offseason. If the goal is more power without losing contact, maybe the micro focuses are in the weight room. Or in nutrition. Or in this part of the swing. Whatever.

I also like that the players are being included in the conversation, because the reality is that even if you know the guy could be his best if he would just improve on Thing X, that isn’t going to max out if you don’t have full buy-in from the player. So you might have to work together to decide that Thing Y will instead be the focus, because that’s where you’ll get maximum effort from the player. In other words, a 30% improvement in Thing Y might actually be more valuable than a 10% improvement in Thing X. And the only way to do that math is to have tremendous communication between the player and the organization before the offseason begins.

It’s worth remembering, too, that the Cubs underwent a pretty significant overhaul of the big league coaching staff the last couple years, which had a CLEAR developmental focus. For example, remember that the Cubs brought in the Rays’ minor league hitting coordinator Greg Brown to be their big league hitting coach. Sure, that means action within the season, but I’d bet there was also a substantial focus on using this year to gather information for specific improvements in this coming offseason. There was a lockout last offseason, after all!

This whole conversation reminds me of something we heard about when the Cubs were overhauling the pitching development infrastructure a couple years ago. Instead of a generalized plan for player development, it’s more focused. From a write-up last year at The Athletic:

Breslow’s vision is for the Cubs to concentrate on one area at a time. Through what they call a “DNA test” — a Developmental Needs Analysis — the Cubs determine high-performance goals and outline a specific plan for each player. For pitchers, they divide pitching into three pillars: velocity, shape/movement and command. The staff looks at how many standard deviations off of the major-league average a pitcher is in each category independent of the other two. Instructors see which one is furthest off course, and usually, that is the focus until the issue is rectified (or it’s determined no more can be done and it’s time to move on to the next task). The process is more intricate, but that’s the overview.

So, one primary “pillar” of focus at a time, and you stay on that until it improves or you decide it’s maxed out for the time being. And within those pillars, I’d imagine there are specific day-to-day things to work on to achieved the desired improvement.

I hope we hear a bit on what kinds of things various players are going to be focused on this offseason. Some are easy enough to speculate on – or discern from analysis – but others might be surprising and interesting.

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Author: Brett Taylor

Brett Taylor is the Editor and Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and @Brett_A_Taylor.