Mooney: Marlon Byrd refuses to slow down

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Mooney: Marlon Byrd refuses to slow down

Tuesday, March 22, 2011
Posted: 9:06 p.m.

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

GLENDALE, Ariz. Marlon Byrd started boxing this winter as a way to stay in shape and reduce the stress on his legs. His career shows that he knows how to take a punch.

This used to be the time of year where Byrd had to prove himself all over again, to fight for a roster spot or at-bats as the fourth outfielder. He was once the gym rat who needed odd jobs in the offseason to make money working at a golf resort, as a bouncer at a bar, delivering cabinets up and down Floridas Gulf coast.

You name it, I probably did it, Byrd said, other than (pumping) gas.

Byrd can flash a big smile, but he also brings a hard edge to the clubhouse, and maybe thats something the Cubs need. Finally, at the age of 33, he doesnt have to worry about the depth chart or introduce himself to a new city and a different group of teammates.

As Byrd said, This is the first year knowing, Hey, youre our center fielder and youre going to play every day.

Maybe thats why Byrd doesnt take much for granted. He vows to go hard for all nine innings. He trains as if hes going to play in all 162 games and into October.

It has to be reassuring for a player who spent parts of seven consecutive seasons on the Triple-A level before having a breakout year with the Texas Rangers in 2009. That earned him a three-year, 15 million contract and the platform he used to become an All-Star in 2010.

Thats not what drives me, Byrd said. What drives me is trying to get better every year. You pick apart (the) season that you had. Everybody knows my second half I wasnt happy with it.

Byrds batting average dropped 56 points to .261 and he generated only three homers and 26 RBI after the first half. He also points to his homeroad splits (.271.315) and says he needs to play better at Wrigley Field and be more prepared for all the day games.

Byrd has dropped around 15 pounds and plans to play at 225. Hes hitting .478 this spring and understands that will come with suspicions because of his association with Victor Conte. He already addressed it with the media and Major League Baseball in 2009. He hasnt ducked the topic ever since.

In a recent group interview, Byrd called out a beat writer by name, jokingpredicting that the reporter will bring it up if he has 20 homers by the All-Star break.

You guys are going to ask me questions about it all the time, Byrd said. Its always going to be scrutinized. Victors the black cloud over baseball, so everybody knows about the BALCO issues. Everybody knows that I work with him.

We try to move forward. Again, when I put up good numbers some people are going to say certain things. But that happens with any guy that comes out of the woodwork.

Byrd is obsessed with his routine and ways to improve. Young players often seek him out for advice on how to prepare.

He is someone who didnt truly enjoy success until relatively late in his career. He wants to play until the age of 38, which would take him through the 2015 season, or three years beyond his current contract.

Byrd never wants to sit on the bench. If that caused any friction with manager Mike Quade late last season, he didnt let it show too much. They came to an understanding.

He knows I was one of those guys that he didnt have to worry about, Byrd said. There were certain days Id walk in, hed look at me and hed shake his head.

I shook my head (back) at him and I wouldnt be in the lineup, but Q knows the type of player I am. Im his type of guy.

Byrd still has friends in the Rangers clubhouse and he keeps a home near Philadelphia, where he first broke into the big leagues. He went to playoff games at Citizens Bank Park last year, and watched the Rangers on television, right up to the point they started celebrating.

It was a little sad seeing what he missed out on, but also time to get back to work.

Every year Im going to try to keep finding out whats going to make me better as I get older, Byrd said. You dont know what it takes at 23. You know what it takes at 33 to get ready for a season.

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

Cubs, White Sox react to tragic deaths of Yordano Ventura and Andy Marte

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AP

Cubs, White Sox react to tragic deaths of Yordano Ventura and Andy Marte

The sports world woke up to some tragic news on Sunday morning.

Former major leaguer Andy Marte and Kansas City Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura were both killed in separate car accidents in the Dominican Republic within an hour of each other, according to multiple reports. A Royals representative confirmed the death of 25-year-old Ventura.

The Cubs and White Sox took to Twitter to give their condolences:

Ventura was a member of the Royals from 2013-16 and won a World Series title in 2015 with Ben Zobrist and Wade Davis, who the Cubs acquired this offseason for Jorge Soler. Ventura also played with White Sox pitcher James Shields in 2013-14.

Marte, 33, played a majority of his seven-year career with the Cleveland Indians. He was teammates with Todd Hollandsworth (Atlanta 2005), Kerry Wood (Cleveland 2009-10), and Miguel Montero (Arizona 2014).

Why Cubs are excited for pitching prospect Dylan Cease: He's 'throwing lightning bolts'

Why Cubs are excited for pitching prospect Dylan Cease: He's 'throwing lightning bolts'

Theo Epstein's front office is heading into Year 6 with the Cubs and they're finally talking about a pitcher as one of the organization's most exciting prospects.

That's how senior vice president of scouting and player development Jason McLeod framed his Dylan Cease report to fans at the Cubs Convention at the Sheraton Grand Chicago last weekend.

It was a tongue-in-cheek summation from McLeod after he spent the previous few minutes fawning over Cease, the Cubs' sixth round pick in 2014.

Of course, McLeod and the Cubs can poke fun at the lack of impact pitching the farm system has developed when the homegrown position players like Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber just helped lead the franchise to its first World Series championship in over a century.

Cease, however, has been one of the more intriguing Cubs prospects for years — a right-handed pitcher capable of touching 101 mph on the radar gun.

"This guy is throwing lightning bolts out of his arm," McLeod said. "It's really exciting. But we also understaned he's only in Low-A this year, so he's far away."

The Cubs expect Cease to pitch for Class-A South Bend in 2017 after spending last season pitching for short-season Eugene and the 2015 campaign working in the rookie league in Arizona.

Cease — who just turned 21 in late December — put up some impressive numbers at both stops in the Cubs system, posting a 2.36 ERA and 1.165 WHIP to go along with a whopping 91 strikeouts in 68.2 innings. He also only surrendered one homer and walked more batters (41) than reached via a basehit (39).

Control is obviously an issue for Cease, but the upside is evident.

"He's so far away," McLeod said. "He's gonna go into 2017 as a starter. As with a lot of young guys, it's gonna come down to command and depend on that third pitch and the ability to land them for strikes.

"It's a special arm. He can pitch 95-100 mph with a big power curveball. He's unlike anyone else we have in our system since we've been here in terms of pure stuff."

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One fan compared Cease to Carl Edwards Jr. in terms of their lanky build and high velocity, setting McLeod up for a layup joke.

"Well, Dylan is much stronger physically than CJ is...as is everybody in this room," McLeod said as the ballroom filled with laugher. "Don't tell [CJ] I said that. 

"They have different body types, obviously. Carl is long and lanky and Dylan has probably put on 20 pounds since we drafted him, so he's more like 6-foot-2, 190."

By comparison, Edwards — who goes by "The String Bean Slinger" for his slight build — is listed at 6-foot-3, 170 pounds.

Edwards was drafted in the 48th round in 2011 and spent his whole minor-league career as a starting pitcher until the Cubs converted him to a reliever in 2015.

Cease may eventually go down the same path, but the Cubs are going to give him every opportunity to make it as a starter first.

Cease was one of the top pitchers available in the 2014 draft, but his stock took a hit when he was forced to undergo Tommy John surgery on his pitching elbow while at Milton High School in Georgia.

That scared off a lot of teams — as did the potential signability issues with college offers looming — but the Cubs took a chance and have now watched Cease soar to a top prospect in the system (No. 4 by Baseball America; No. 7 by FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus) despite the cautious approach and lack of innings in professional ball.

"We have to thank Kyle Schwarber, actually, as one of the main reasons we got to sign Dylan Cease," McLeod said. "Because we took Kyle fourth overall, we were able to save money on the selection with him, which gave us the resources to go get Dylan Cease.

"He was a Top 10 pick in the draft — a high school arm that got hurt, fell down to the fifth round and he had a commitment to Vanderbilt, I think it was, and we were able to use the money we saved from Kyle.

"Just another reason to love Kyle Schwarber."