Cubs Front Office Spring Press Conference: Player's Recovering, Extension Talks, Prioritizing Defense, Big Seasons for Suzuki and Bellinger, Rules, More

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Cubs Front Office Spring Press Conference: Player’s Recovering, Extension Talks, Prioritizing Defense, Big Seasons for Suzuki and Bellinger, Rules, More

Chicago Cubs

There are a few different ways to mark the start of baseball season. The end of Super Bowl is the fun way to think about. The day pitchers and catchers report is probably the most official (that’s today!). But the annual President/GM press conference is my personal preference. I like to think the offseason begins with the end of season press conference in October and ends with the Spring Training press conference in February.

Today, Chicago Cubs President of Baseball Operations Jed Hoyer and General Manger Carter Hawkins took the mic in Mesa, Arizona. These aren’t exact quotes, but I did my best to jot down what they said in real time as I watched.

  • Jed: Spring Training is an audition for a lot of guys. There are a lot of non-roster invitees here to win jobs, to set themselves up for a really good summer. And it’s our job to put them in the best position to succeed. It’s a job interview.
  • Carter: I’m really encouraged by the guys we brought in this offseason, it’s a good mix of players, and the vibe here has been outstanding. There were a lot of guys out early, and there’s an edge here that’s a little more (palpable) than last year.
  • Jed: So far all but 8 or 10 guys are already here in Spring Training. He’s not surprised, because Spring Training has really changed over the years. It’s no longer a time to get ready. Now, you show up in shape, ready to go. And that speaks to the expectations and excitement for the season. Players are excited about the (non COVID, non lockout) normalcy.
  • Jed: Because of the lockout, we can’t use anything we learned about signing players last spring training as a lesson for anything this year (like the relief market). Everything was way more crunched last season, it was almost like another trade deadline.
  • Jed: The new rules add an element to spring training practice this season – base running, pitch clock. I’m sure there’ll be some struggles, especially pitchers struggling with the clock. We’ll also have to test our boundaries with base running here to be better prepared for the season.
  • Jed: David Ross and Tommy Hottovy will help the pitchers with their plans/workouts. It’s hard to change routines, but they’ll have to use this spring to do that.
  • Carter: Watching these guys take ground balls and taking fly balls, it’s encouraging to see the experience and talent level of the defense, in particular. The pitchers are really excited, we’re really excited. I know are pitching staff is “over the moon” (about the quality of the defense).
  • Carter (On similarities to his time in Cleveland): Pitching and defense is a similarity, having defense up the middle, having guys that can throw strikes. We’re gonna have to score runs, but you don’t have to score as many when you have good pitching and defense.
  • Jed: Codi Heuer is going to be delayed into the season, 60-day IL is a possibility. And we’ll be talking about his workload and limiting his back-to-back appearances all year. Kyle Hendricks will throw off the mound soon, but he’ll be delayed. We’re prepared to start the season without him. Most important thing is to get him back to pitching like Kyle Hendricks.
  • Jed (on whether extension negotiations will end now that we’re in Spring Training): No definitely not a hardline thing. We’ve definitely had discussions, though won’t talk about them. We’ve had good dialogue with both sides (seemed to imply Nico Hoerner and Ian Happ). My preference is not to get into it at the end of spring training, where it’s affecting the preparation and mentality. That’s something we’ll be aware of. We’ve talked to “both camps” about them (again, Happ and Hoerner implied). There’ve been positive conversations for sure.
  • Jed: External projections … they have their methodologies, ultimately our job is to prove those wrong. Every year there’s going to be +/- 10 wins on those systems. Our goal is to be one of those +10 teams. I won’t question someone’s methodologies. And we certainly have our own internal projections.
  • Jed (on internal evaluation of starting pitching): Throw strikes, good command, good defense run prevention in general. We don’t have a strikeout pitching staff but we’ll limit walks.
  • Jed (on adding another reliever externally): The bullpen is always in flux. Our hope is to add more young options out of our farm system. That’s the dream, a bullpen almost entirely fueled internally, but it’ll always be a work in progress. We have a lot of confidence in pitching.(executives/coaches/infrastructure). We’ve also looked strategically to limit long-term deals in bullpen and that’s worked for us.
  • Carter: There are different buckets of spring training players: (1) Guys that know they have a roster spot, just preparing for the season. (2) Bubble guys fighting spots, like the NRIs, guys not clear they’re going to be on the team, the “audition” players Jed talked about earlier. And then there are (3) Exposure guys. Guys getting used to big leagues, the routines, the long spring ramp up, etc, like Pete Crow-Armstrong and Matt Mervis. Just the opportunity to experience those full six weeks (sounded like Matt Mervis is not making the team, by the way). On Mervis, specifically, this spring is only about exposure, it won’t be evaluative.
  • Jed: Seiya Suzuki looks “great,” after working really hard all winter. We knew he was working hard, as we were in communication. He wasn’t kidding about coming in stronger. He talks so much about what he learned last year, about hitting fastballs, wearing down during the season, etc. So coming in stronger, that’s the transition we talked about last year. It was a three part season (for Suzuki) in 2022. He started off hot, got hurt, and then finished strong. I think he learned from each part of that. He learned he can compete at this level, that he can translate his Japanese performance here really well. But also here’s what he needs to fix to do it. Hoyer specifically called out changes to his diet, working on hitting different pitches, and how he’ll keep on assimilating better and better. Jed also learned what Cubs can do to help that process, not just for Suzuki, but other players, as well.
  • Jed: We added some power this winter but it’s not our strength, so Suzuki turning into a power bat would be very big for the 2023 Cubs.
  • Jed: Trey Mancini will get some work in corner outfield, but the majority of his at-bats will come at 1B and DH. He’ll be in the lineup almost every day. Wrigley is well-suited for him (spray charts fit Wrigley well), he should thrive at Wrigley. Eric Hosmer will play a lot of 1B against RHP. I don’t want to make out David Ross’ lineups for him, but Hosmer at 1B, Mancini at DH against RHP seems likely.
  • Jed: I love the group of guys we brought in, they’ve won, they’re hard working, their supportive, a lot of good teammates, with great reputations. They’ll help the young guys. And I think they’ll be a group that comes together exceptionally well.
  • Carter: We’re supportive of players competing in the WBC — Matt Mervis (Israel), Owen Caissie (Canada), Marcus Stroman (Puerto Rico), Seiya Suzuki (Japan), etc. We have no concerns about their ramp up, they may just have more advanced work early on. Don’t know the exact date they’ll head out for World Baseball Classic events.
  • Carter: The WBC can be good for a guy like Matt Mervis to see more advanced pitching and more intensity. The WBC is as close to MLB intensity as you’ll get, more than AFL and Triple-A. That’ll be huge for those guys. Lot of upside for us there.
  • Jed: Ross helped bring this team together, and was a big part of recruiting process this offseason. He’s got a great connection with players, and is probably one of the main themes of our recruitment. Recruiting players is not always about the most money. Ross, Wrigley, and Chicago sell themselves.
  • Jed: We have a lot of players that have potential to breakout to exceed their projections this season. With every guy, that has to be the goal; How do i take it to another level? Categories of those players: Guys that bounce back from down seasons, young guys that take the next step, someone like Seiya Suzuki in his next year. We’ll need (them to take a step forward) to a certain extent in order to get where we want.
  • Jed (on who will be the closer): I think that’ll be Rossy’s decision, we have a number of guys that are capable of doing it. I think Ross did a fantastic job at the end of last season after trading David Robertson. Ross mixed and matched really well. And in a way, I think that was educational for him. He never had that option, he normally had a set closer. I would expect some of that (mixing and matching), though it is nice to have that certainty of role. I’m sure that’ll be part of his thinking, as well. It’ll play out this spring/season.
  • Carter (on Cody Bellinger): He’s got experience with the coaching staff. He’s been here almost every day since he’s signed, that’s been extremely encouraging to see him in the weight room, with our coaches and resources. And we just want to help him to be himself. That’s our goal have him reemerge as the guy he was.
  • Jed: Love that guys are showing up early, that was the hope of building a really nice new complex. But it’s also totally fine for guys that like spending time in their hometown, with their own gym and own trainers/hitting coaches, etc.
  • Jed (strength of rotation): We have a lot of strike throwers, I don’t expect free passes, the ball will be in play, but the quality of strikes will be good and our guys will limit hard contact. Also a lot of veteran guys with expectations, but guys that can take a step forward like Justin Steele and Hayden Wesneski. They can take it to the next level.
  • Jed: Certainly I think our game planning infrastructure has been good for a long time, and that’s a competitive advantage. But the ball will be in play a lot, and that’s why you have to have a good defense. We’re going to have to rely on good defense and pitch mix and that’s something that we’re good at, but it’s also the big challenge.
  • Jed: Certainly wish we had Kyle Hendricks right away. Early in the season last year we weren’t ready when we had injuries, so that’s been a huge emphasis for us this year (depth). We will have injuries, things will go wrong. So we planned to overcome those this year. Certainly, we have much better depth than a year ago. Goal is to continue to build farm system out so we don’t have to do that externally. We’re better equipped than last year, but not where we want to be yet.

Author: Michael Cerami

Michael Cerami covers the Chicago Cubs, Bears, and Bulls at Bleacher Nation. You can find him on Twitter @Michael_Cerami