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.

Who is Victor Caratini? Breaking down the Cubs' new catcher

Who is Victor Caratini? Breaking down the Cubs' new catcher

Miguel Montero is out and Victor Caratini is in.

The Cubs made a shakeup at catcher Wednesday and will have to forge the last half of the 2017 season without the presence of veteran Montero, who has 1,149 MLB games under his belt and was hitting .286 with an .805 OPS this year.

But Montero talked his way out of town and Caratini is the immediate choice for a replacement behind starting backstop Willson Contreras.

[Where it all went wrong with Miguel Montero and the Cubs]

Caratini is a 23-year-old switch-hitter whom the Cubs acquired from the Atlanta Braves in 2014 as part of the Emilio Bonifacio/James Russell deadline deal. The Braves initially selected Caratini in the second round of the 2013 MLB Draft out of Miami-Dade College.

The Puerto Rican native has mostly played catcher (297 games) in his minor-league career, but has also seen time at first base (76 games) and third base (57 games). 

Caratini got his first taste of big-league spring training action this season, impressing with a .379 average and 1.175 OPS in 16 games (29 at-bats).

He is enjoying the best offensive season of his career in Triple-A Iowa, hitting .343 with a .384 on-base percentage and .923 OPS.

Caratini has already set a career high with eight home runs while clubbing 20 doubles and driving in 54 runs in 68 games. He also has only 40 strikeouts in 245 at-bats.

The Cubs named Caratini the organization's minor league player of the month in May after he drove in 17 runs in 24 games while hitting .366 with a .573 slugging percentage.

Caratini also should help the Cubs running game — an area where Montero was 0-for-31 in throwing out baserunners. Caratini has nabbed 28 percent of would-be basestealers in Iowa, a mark that is directly even with the MLB average.

Contreras is throwing out 34 percent of would-be basestealers in 2017.

Caratini figures to be the short-term answer for the Cubs at catcher given the organzation doesn't have many other options. Kyle Schwarber has not been a viable option behind the plate after recovering from major knee surgery that sapped almost his entire 2016 season. Taylor Davis — a 27-year-old catcher/infielder — is currently on the disabled list and has yet to make his MLB debut.

Where it all went wrong for Cubs and Miguel Montero

Where it all went wrong for Cubs and Miguel Montero

WASHINGTON – The Cubs swiftly reacted to Miguel Montero’s jaw-dropping criticism of Jake Arrieta, dumping the veteran catcher the day after the Washington Nationals ran wild with seven stolen bases and exposed some of the issues within the visiting clubhouse.

You could read the writing on the wall Wednesday morning when Anthony Rizzo’s comments on his weekly WMVP-AM 1000 appearance went viral. An All-Star first baseman who is tight with management and picky about when he decides to speak up called out Montero as a “selfish player.”

In designating Montero for assignment – a source confirmed catcher Victor Caratini will also be promoted from Triple-A Iowa – the Cubs will have to eat roughly half of his $14 million salary in the final year of his contract. 

Montero’s biggest sin is that he no longer produces like the two-time All-Star he had been with the Arizona Diamondbacks, where he developed a reputation for blunt honesty and a willingness to mentor young players. The Cubs wanted that edge when they traded for Montero at the 2014 winter meetings, part of a dramatic makeover that included signing ace pitcher Jon Lester to a $155 million megadeal.

Montero’s goofy “#WeAreGood” hashtag on Twitter became a symbol for a rising franchise and a loose team that didn’t care about the weight of history. 

But where Montero could be the spokesman in Arizona and wear the target on his back, a backup catcher can’t torch a Cy Young Award winner and the team’s running-game strategy when he is 0-for-31 and Contreras is throwing guys out 34 percent of the time.     

Montero welcomed Contreras and Kyle Schwarber to the big leagues, generously trying to help with their learning curve, even as they kept taking his playing time. Montero didn’t exactly have the same reaction to David Ross becoming a media darling and a crossover celebrity.

[RELATED: Miguel Montero sends classy goodbye to Cubs players and fans]

Montero already put himself in jeopardy in the immediate World Series aftermath, ripping manager Joe Maddon in a radio interview on the same day as the championship parade and Grant Park rally.  

Montero couldn’t help himself, even after delivering a pinch-hit grand slam against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series, and driving in what turned out to be the winning run in the 10th inning against the Cleveland Indians in a World Series Game 7.

Montero wouldn’t bite his tongue late Tuesday night after a sloppy, frustrating 6-1 loss at Nationals Park. With a 39-38 record, several key players on the disabled list and a clubhouse far more complex than Maddon’s Woodstock visions, the Cubs are in crisis mode.   

“It really sucks because the stolen bases go on me,” Montero said. “When you really look at it, the pitcher doesn’t give me any time. It’s just like: ‘Yeah, OK, Miggy can’t throw nobody out.’ Yeah, but my pitchers don’t hold anybody on. It’s tough, because it doesn’t matter how much work I put in.

“If I don’t get a chance to throw, that’s the reason why they were running left and right today, because they know he was slow to the plate. Simple as that. It’s a shame that it’s my fault because I didn’t throw anybody out.”