Ignoring distractions, Wells focused on rotation

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Ignoring distractions, Wells focused on rotation

Thursday, Feb. 24, 2011Posted: 9:20 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

MESA, Ariz. Randy Wells was never the hot prospect and he does not have a big contract. He can be his own worst critic. He would be perfectly content with not being noticed until his next start.

Wells is young, single and speaks his mind. He grew up in downstate Belleville, wears trucker hats and listens to country music. He got prescription glasses last year that kind of made him look like Ricky Wild Thing Vaughn from Major League.

Wells never wore them in a game and didnt find it nearly as amusing as the beat writers. He wants the focus to be on his game, which is why he considered shutting down his Twitter account. Instead he blocks his updates to a mass audience.

I just dont want it to be a distraction, Wells said. I dont want it to be like, Oh, I hear Wells Tweeted (this or that). For me to enjoy it personally is one thing and to have reporters ask me about it (is another). Its kind of like the glasses thing and the band thing and the songwriting thing last year. Its just like: How about you ask me about baseball?

Wells uses it to promote his favorite bands and read Chad Ochocinco. One list compiled by MLB.com has more than 100 major-league players with verified accounts.

Ryan Dempster uses it to promote his charitable foundation. Casey Coleman recently created one out of curiosity, but has backed off because he felt like too many people were trying to bait him into making a mistake.

Blue Jays manager John Farrell told Toronto reporters that ideally his players wouldnt use Twitter, though he wouldnt go so far as to ban it outright.

My own opinion is that for a player to get involved in that, they set themselves up for another distraction, Farrell was quoted as saying in the National Post. I cant mandate anything to them, but (would) probably advise them to just let it be.

Were not going to say they cant do it. But I think theyve got to be careful. If theyre going to engage in it, then they really need to be able to follow through on some of the things that might be put out there.

Farrells comments rippled through cyberspace this week. Thats just the way it works. Twitter unfairly made Jay Cutler and the Bears look bad, and it caused enough tension between Ozzie Guillen and the White Sox.

The Cubs will address this as part of their annual media-relations workshop with players. But theres no prohibition, just a reminder that you are representing the organization.

The Cubs have an official Twitter account with more than 11,000 followers. Several employees in the front office use the service to monitor the news.

In his first speech to the entire team last week, manager Mike Quade felt compelled to tell his players to look reporters in the eye and take the responsibility seriously because the medias a monster.

Wells feels like the media zoomed in on some of his struggles in the first inning and sometimes lost sight of his overall 2010 season.

Either way, the 28-year-old is trying to hang on to his spot in the rotation. Hell have to fend off 2008 first-round pick Andrew Cashner. And the Cubs are on the hook for 6 million of Carlos Silvas 11.5 million salary.

I like when you got to earn your keep, Wells said. Ive never been the kind of guy in my whole career thats had a spot to lose. Nobody goes into camp being like: Im going to be a starter at Triple-A.

Wells went 8-14 last season, but also made 32 starts and posted a respectable 4.26 ERA. It should not be discounted that he finished at 12-10 with a 3.05 ERA the year before, when he was the rookie success story.

The ending is unwritten. In a world of Twitter and Facebook, you can change the narrative very quickly.

When I say I lost a little focus last year, its nothing from a personal standpoint, Wells said. I meant that when things started tumbling, I didnt know how to step back and look inside myself and dig deeper.

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

Did Cubs start the tailspin by making Kyle Schwarber their leadoff guy?

Did Cubs start the tailspin by making Kyle Schwarber their leadoff guy?

MIAMI – Everything aligned for the Cubs to make Kyle Schwarber their leadoff hitter. Joe Maddon’s gut instincts told him to do it – so the manager asked the Geek Department to run the numbers – and the projections backed him up. A front office raised on Bill James principles endorsed the idea after Dexter Fowler took an offer he couldn’t refuse – five years and $82.5 million – from the St. Louis Cardinals.
   
It all looked good on paper and sounded reasonable in theory. But by the time the Cubs made the Schwarber-to-Iowa move official before Thursday’s game at Marlins Park, the slugger once compared to Babe Ruth in a pre-draft scouting report had devolved into the qualified hitter with the lowest batting average in the majors (.171) and an .OPS 75 points below the league average.  

If Schwarber had been batting, say, sixth since Opening Day, would the Cubs be in a different spot right now?   

“Obviously, I can’t answer that,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “It’s an impossible question to answer. We put him in a leadoff position and he struggled. We obviously moved him out of that position (and) that didn’t work either. I know that’s what people are going to point to, because that’s a variable in his career. 

“Obviously, hitting him leadoff in 2017 didn’t work. Whether or not it caused the tailspin, I have no way to answer that question.”   

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The Cubs also deserve credit for: drafting Schwarber when the industry viewed him as a reach with the No. 4 overall pick in 2014; fast-tracking his development to the point where he could help the 2015 team win 97 games and two playoff rounds; and overseeing a rehab process that allowed him to be a World Series designated hitter less than seven months after reconstructive surgery on his left knee.    
 
The Cubs will have their hitting instructors give Schwarber subtle suggestions, focusing on how he starts his swing and where he finishes, trying to reestablish his balance and confidence during this Triple-A timeout.
    
But deep down, this is a 24-year-old player who never experienced a full season in the big leagues before and wanted so bad to be a huge part of The Cubs Way.

“I do think a lot of the problems are mental,” Hoyer said. “These struggles have kind of beaten him up a little bit. Like anyone would, he’s lost a little bit of his swagger, and I think he needs to get that back. But I think when you look at what a great fastball hitter he’s been – how good he was in ’15, how good he was last year in the World Series – the fact that he hasn’t been pounding fastballs this year is a mechanical/physical issue that we’ll be looking to tweak. 

“This is a guy that has always murdered fastballs and he’s not there right now.”

How Cubs reached the breaking point with Kyle Schwarber

How Cubs reached the breaking point with Kyle Schwarber

MIAMI – Theo Epstein scoffed at the possibility of sending a World Series hero down to the minors on May 16, writing the headline with this money quote: “If anyone wants to sell their Kyle Schwarber stock, we’re buying.”

If the Cubs aren’t dumping their Schwarber stock, they’re definitely reassessing their investment strategy, trying to figure out how such a dangerous postseason hitter had become one of the least productive players in the majors.

The overall portfolio hasn’t changed that much since the team president’s vote of confidence, Schwarber batting .179 for the defending champs then and .171 when the Cubs finally made the decision to demote him to Triple-A Iowa. That 18-19 team is now 36-35 and still waiting for that hot streak. 

What took so long?

“The honest answer is we believe in him so much,” general manager Jed Hoyer said Thursday. “He’s never struggled like this. We kept thinking that he was going to come out of it. We got to a point where we felt like mentally he probably needed a break before he could come out of this. 

“The honest answer is patience. We’ve got a guy who’s never really struggled. He was the best hitter in college baseball. He blew through the minor leagues. Last year in the World Series, he performed. We just felt like he was going to turn himself around.

“It just got to a place where we felt like the right way for this to come together was to allow him to get away from the team, to take a deep breath and be able to work on some things in a lower-pressure environment.”   

The Cubs plan to give Schwarber a few days off before he reports to Iowa, an idea that would have seemed unthinkable after watching his shocking recovery from knee surgery and legendary performance (.971 OPS) against the Cleveland Indians in last year’s World Series.

But preparing for one opponent and running on adrenaline through 20 plate appearances is completely different from handling the great expectations and newfound level of fame and doing it for an entire 162-game season.   

This might actually be the most normal part of Schwarber’s career after his meteoric rise from No. 4 overall pick in the 2014 draft to breakout star in the 2015 playoffs to injured and untouchable during last year’s trade talks with the New York Yankees. 

“There’s been a long and illustrious list of guys that have gone through this,” manager Joe Maddon said. “When a guy’s good, he’s good. Sometimes – especially when they’re this young – you just got to hit that reset button. It’s hard for a young player who’s never really struggled before to struggle on this stage and work his way through it.

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“There’s no scarlet letter attached to this. It’s just the way it happens sometimes. You have to do what you think is best. We think this is best for him right now. We know he’s going to be back.” 

When? The Cubs say they don’t have a certain number of Pacific Coast League at-bats in mind for a guy who’s played only 17 career games at the Triple-A level.

Maddon pointed out how Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee needed minor-league sabbaticals/refresher courses before becoming Cy Young Award winners and two of the best pitchers of their generation.

New York Mets outfielder Michael Conforto – another college hitter the Cubs closely scouted before taking Schwarber in the 2014 draft – has gone from the 2015 World Series to Triple-A Las Vegas for parts of last season to potential All-Star this year.

The Cubs fully expect their Schwarber stock to rebound – whether or not the turnaround happens in time to impact the 2017 bottom line.    

“I’m still sticking by him,” Maddon said. “But at some point, you have to be pragmatic. You have to do what’s best for everybody. We thought at this point that we weren’t going to necessarily get him back to where we need him to be just by continuing this same path.

“It’s not a matter of us not sticking with him anymore. We just thought this was the best way to go to really get him well, so that we could utilize the best side of Kyle moving forward.”