Carlos Penas ready to make an impact

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Carlos Penas ready to make an impact

Friday, March 18, 2011Posted: 8:45 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

MESA, Ariz. There are players who can block everything out and break it down like this: See the ball, hit the ball. Carlos Pena is not one of them.

Even two months from his 33rd birthday, Pena can still come across as the engineering student from Northeastern University. There he became a first-round pick of the Texas Rangers, but his career didnt play out like he was some spoiled bonus baby.

Traded to the Oakland As and Detroit Tigers, released by the New York Yankees and a nonfactor for the Boston Red Sox, Pena had to struggle and learn from his mistakes.

Anyone who zooms in on Penas .196 average last year in Tampa Bay misses the overall picture, and not just because his 28 homers and 84 RBI would have led the Cubs in both categories. Hes always had to make adjustments.

So when Pena flew down to Dallas this winter to work with hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo someone hes known since coming up through the Rangers system he considered it an investment. There were no major mechanical changes or breakthrough moments just some positive reinforcement.

Sometimes we stray away from the simplest form, Pena said. Thats when the talent can actually express itself without any limitations. Sometimes you can over-think things and it could really damage us in many ways, not only if youre a baseball player, but in anything you do.

Over-thinking things cripples your talent. (Rudy) just wanted to bring things back to basics, keep it as simple as possible, so that way natural talent can go out and blossom.

Flowery language aside, Pena is being paid 10 million this year to drive balls into the seats and onto Sheffield Avenue. By his second Cactus League game as a Cub, the Milwaukee Brewers were already putting the defensive shift on him.

The most harm you can do is to allow things like that to all of a sudden change your approach, Pena said. The moment you start trying to mold yourself to be beat the shift and you start trying to push balls that you should be driving to right-center or hitting up the middle (then) youre taking away from your strength.

You have to be willing to quote-unquote sacrifice a couple of hits here and there for the greater good, for the long haul.

There is a kind of Zen philosophy to Penas explanations, and he certainly didnt obsess over results early this spring, when he went 1-for-14 through his first six games.

After going 3-for-4 during Fridays 14-13 loss to the Cincinnati Reds, he raised his average to .297. It will be interesting to see if teams shade off him, and how he plays the chess game.

The moment that I let that shift get in my mind, Pena said, they have won.

And maybe it is about the journey. Mike Quade briefly crossed paths with Pena in 2002 as the As first-base coach. The manager senses that Pena is in a better place, where most of this becomes second nature.

He was always one of those guys that took a very thoughtful approach to his game, Quade said. Some guys just come out and wing it. He was never (like) that.

Being a scientist isnt the best thing, but (thats not him). It seems like a real constructive approach to what he wants to get accomplished.

Pena remembers his brief time as a Red Sox near the end of the 2006 season. Joe Maddon his future manager in Tampa Bay brought the shift to the American League East as a tactic to mess with David Ortiz.

(Ortiz) just hit a bullet into right field, right at the second baseman, Pena recalled. Im like: Dude, thats not fair. He (goes): Dont worry about it, youll get it one day. And sure enough, a couple years later, I have like 40 people playing in right.

Now Pena is the established All-Star, the clubhouse leader Carlos Zambrano calls a great guy. Pena didnt have to completely overhaul his game. The .196 label is nothing compared to where hes been.

Theres no feeling your way through it, Pena said. I dont feel like I have a distance to travel to where I want to get.

PatrickMooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. FollowPatrick on Twitter @CSNMooneyfor up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

[PHOTO] Joe Maddon, Miguel Montero patch things up over a drink

[PHOTO] Joe Maddon, Miguel Montero patch things up over a drink

Despite the Cubs ending their 108-year World Series drought, Miguel Montero made offseason headlines for all the wrong reasons when he complained about his role in the Cubs' 2017 championship campaign.

Montero criticized Maddon's communication skills, catching rotation and bullpen decision-making after the team's Grant Park celebration. Maddon brushed off the criticism, and last week at spring training Montero said he hadn't spoke with the Cubs' skipper.

That tension appears to be all but a thing of the past, as Montero posted this picture of him and his manager sharing a drink together sporting nothing but smiles.

It's safe to say Montero would describe his relationship with Maddon now as: #WeAreGood.

Addison Russell planning to become next Cubs superstar

Addison Russell planning to become next Cubs superstar

MESA, Ariz. – Addison Russell earned his manager’s trust by playing “boring” defense, always making the routine plays at shortstop with textbook fundamentals. Even Russell’s agent called him an “old soul,” already serious about his craft and driven by quiet determination and husband-and-father responsibilities.

But the Cubs also know Russell as a moonwalking showman with the freaky athleticism to do Ozzie Smith backflips and make spectacular highlight-reel plays. And you could see the vroom-vroom, fist-pumping celebrations after yet another clutch hit.

“Ever since I was a little kid,” Russell said, “I always wanted to be on the big screen.”

Now Russell will try to make the leap to superstar, as one of the many personalities on a Cubs team that can crossover nationally and live forever in Chicago, just like the ’85 Bears, the way Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo have built their brands.

“We got great ballplayers, beautiful faces on this team,” Russell said. “Just talent galore in this clubhouse, and that’s really cool to see, because these guys handle themselves like real, true professionals.”

The start of spring training is a reminder that Russell has still only spent one wire-to-wire season in The Show. He turned 23 last month and has already become a World Series champion, the youngest player in franchise history to start an All-Star Game and the first Cub shortstop to reach 95 RBI since Ernie Banks in 1960.

Russell’s World Series grand slam helped him accumulate the most postseason RBI (14) in club history – after putting up 11 game-winning RBI for a 103-win team. FanGraphs also had Russell tying San Francisco’s Brandon Crawford for the major-league lead with 19 defensive runs saved at shortstop.

“Really, the sky’s the limit,” manager Joe Maddon said. “This guy is scratching the surface. He is that good. Know thyself – I think that’s what’s happening with a lot of our young guys. They’re understanding themselves better. And as they do, their game’s going to continue to improve.

“So with Addie, listen, he could be an annual All-Star, there’s no question. Beyond that, he’s just such a gifted athlete, so quick, and he cares so much. And he’s really turned out to be a good self-evaluator, so all those are components to creating a superstar.”

Russell said he’s working with Boras Corp. on potential endorsements with Pepsi and Audi. He visited a Nike headquarters in Oregon to help design his custom cleats and custom glove. He also posted images from the White House on his social-media accounts, which have nearly 549,000 followers combined between Twitter and Instagram.

“The opportunities are coming, which is great,” Russell said. “It’s a whole new playing field. I’m glad that I’m getting to see a different side of baseball, where I can actually find a couple talents off the baseball field. It’s all interesting stuff.”

It’s also taken some getting used to, as he almost had trouble remembering how many “Addison Russell Days” there were in Florida, between events at Pace High School and with the Santa Rosa Board of County Commissioners.

“This whole fame thing is really new to me,” Russell said. “Walking everywhere, people want autographs and stuff. Different airports, different cities, it’s very humbling. It’s a great blessing. I’m just a small-town guy, so it hit me pretty hard.”

Like the moment Russell realized what the Cubs just did, after the whirlwind of riding in the championship parade down Lake Shore Drive and Michigan Avenue, standing on stage in front of millions at the Grant Park rally and going to Disney World.

“I remember this past offseason, going into my mom’s room and laying down on her bed,” Russell said. “That’s when all the memories of this past year – all the way from spring training (to) the All-Star Game and then the World Series run – it all hit me at once. It was overbearing, kind of, and I started crying.

“That’s when it sunk in. It was just a magical moment.”