Influx of information a boon for Cubs prospects

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Influx of information a boon for Cubs prospects

When a team has a front office friendly to advanced statistics like the Cubs have, the benefits of such a perspective are expected to come in the form of savvy trade and free agent signings.

But as a pair of the team's pitching prospects discussed at a panel at the 2013 Cubs Convention, the data-reliant approach goes well beyond the GM chair.

For right-hander Dallas Beeler, a 2010 draft pick, the differences in the scouting information made available to him before and after Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer took the reigns of the organization were undeniable.

RELATED: Cubs prospect Beeler well versed in humility

"In 2011, I was in Peoria and Tennessee," began Beeler, "We would go into games and look at a guy's stats and say 'He's hitting this average, or he's hitting this average over the last 10 games, or this many home runs, or had this many stolen bases."

But when 2012 rolled around, Beeler and other Cubs hurlers found themselves with a lot more information to digest.

"This past year, we'd have a guy -- a video guy -- who would come and go over the opposing team's entire lineup, go through their last 10 games and would find their strengths, their weaknesses, where you should pitch them and in what counts, their stats, if they like steal early, etc. It was a lot more in-depth."

2011 fourth round pick and right-handed relief prospect Tony Zych hardly had any time to get used to the old Cubs way of doing things, but was still struck by the amount of scouting information available under the new regime.

RELATED: Cubs prospect Zych on the fast track to big leagues

"There's so much that goes into everything," said Zych, who claimed that he spent so much time reviewing video that he was eventually instructed to step back from it entirely for a while to regain his focus.

With that information in hand, the level of familiarity with opposing hitters that Cubs minor league arms enter into each at-bat with is a lot more extensive than it was prior to Epstein's arrival in Chicago.

"It helps me a lot because I can know what to throw in certain situations," said Beeler, "Last year it would be like 'I know this guy can hit, he's hitting .310, but I don't know what he does with this count. If I get in this count with him, what does he look for?' Now, we get all the pitch-tracking, so we get the percentages."

As Zych can testify to, the sheer volume of data, video and reports can be a bit much. But as these pitchers try to work their way toward realizing their major league dreams, the extra assistance is appreciated.

"I try to use everything they give to me," said Beeler, "If they give it to me, why not use it? It not going to hurt me."

Cubs Talk Podcast: Patrick Mooney goes one-on-one with Jed Hoyer

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Patrick Mooney goes one-on-one with Jed Hoyer

On the latest edition of the Cubs Talk Podcast, Kelly Crull and Luke Stuckmeyer talk about the first week of spring training. 

The two discuss ace contracts, leadoff intimidation and give their thoughts on the Sammy Sosa saga. 

Plus CSNChicago.com Cubs Insider Patrick Mooney goes one-on-one with general manager Jed Hoyer. 

Listen to the Cubs Talk Podcast below. 

Cubs eager to see the Jason Heyward relaunch in Cactus League

Cubs eager to see the Jason Heyward relaunch in Cactus League

MESA, Ariz. — Cactus League stats are supposed to be irrelevant, especially for the guy with the biggest contract in franchise history. Jason Heyward already built up a reservoir of goodwill as a former All Star, three-time Gold Glove defender and World Series champion. The intangibles got Heyward $184 million guaranteed, and the Cubs are hoping a new comfort level will lead to a Jon Lester effect in Year 2 of that megadeal.

But Heyward will still be one of the most scrutinized players in Mesa after an offseason overhaul that tried to recapture the rhythm and timing he felt with the 2012 Braves (27 homers) and break some of the bad habits that had slowly crept into his high-maintenance left-handed swing.

"If there's ever any doubt," Heyward said, "then you probably shouldn't be here."

Heyward will be batting leadoff and starting in right field on Saturday afternoon when the Cubs open their exhibition schedule with a split-squad game against the A's at Sloan Park. If Heyward has anything to prove this spring, it's "probably to himself, not to us," general manager Jed Hoyer said, backing a player who does the little things so well and commands respect throughout the clubhouse.

"There's going to be growing pains with making adjustments," Hoyer said. "He'll probably have some good days and some bad days. But I think the most important thing is that he feels comfortable and uses these five weeks to lock in and get ready for the Cardinals."

The Cubs are betting on Heyward's age (27), track record (three seasons where he showed up in the National League MVP voting), understanding of the strike zone (.346 career on-base percentage) and willingness to break down his swing this winter at the team's Arizona complex.

At the same time, Heyward realizes "it's just the offseason" and "a never-ending process in baseball." There are no sweeping conclusions to be made when the opposing starting pitcher showers, talks to the media and leaves the stadium before the game ends.

"I'm not sitting here telling you: 'Oh, I know for sure what's going to happen,'" Heyward said. "I don't know how it's going to go. But I know I did a damn good job of preparing for it."

[MORE CUBS: No hard feelings: Cubs and Pedro Strop look to future with contract extension]

Manager Joe Maddon — who gave Heyward nearly 600 plate appearances to figure it out during the regular season (.631 OPS) before turning him into a part-time outfielder in the playoffs (5-for-48) — usually thinks batting practice is overrated or a waste of time. But at 6-foot-5 — and with so much riding on an offensive resurgence — Heyward is hard to miss.

"I can see it's a lot freer and the ball's coming off hotter," Maddon said. "But it's all about game. I'm really eager for him, because everybody just talks about all the work he's done all winter.

"Conversationally with him, I sense or feel like he feels good about it and that he's kind of at a nice peaceful moment with himself. So it will be really fun to watch."

A 103-win season, an American League-style lineup that scored 808 runs, a new appreciation for defensive metrics and a professional attitude helped provide cover for Heyward, who largely escaped the wrath of Cubs fans with little patience for big-ticket free agents.

"Baseball is a game that's going to humble you every day," Heyward said. "You're going to fail more times than you succeed, so it's all about how you handle it, as an individual and as a group. We handled it the best out of anyone last year as a team. And that's why we were able to win the World Series.

"There's always things you feel like you need to work on. You can ask guys who had the best years — there's always something they're trying to improve on and something they don't feel great about at a certain point in time during the year.

"I just happened to have a little bit more breaking down to do. A lot of things allowed me to just kind of pause (and) look forward and not really think about trying to compete and win a game. Let's just get some work done."