Chicago Cubs

Cubs prospect Beeler well-versed in humility

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Cubs prospect Beeler well-versed in humility

"I've never been good at much besides throwing a baseball," Cubs prospect Dallas Beeler said last Saturday at the 2013 Cubs Convention.

If that sounds overly humble, especially at a panel put together to celebrate Cubs prospects, its because Beeler has been humbled. He tore the ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow when he was still in junior college in 2009. The injury required Tommy John surgery, and when Beeler transferred to Oral Roberts, he needed a work-study job in order to pay his way through school as he worked out and rehabbed with the team.

The Cubs noticed his progress and selected Beeler in the 41st round of the 2010, but that was four rounds later than he was picked coming out of high school two years earlier. When the topic of his draft round came up, Beelers eager nature subsided a bit.

"The way I thought of it was 'I'm not getting drafted as a number, I'm getting drafted to have an opportunity to play,'" Beeler said.

But then he brightened up, and embraced his humble beginnings all over again.

"I'm happy that I signed in the 41st round. I'd rather be the underdog than be that guy that's in a high place and comes down. I'd rather be the guy that comes from behind, but shines through and everyone says 'Oh my God, he's the 41st round pick, but he's here.'"

Beeler is almost here.

2012 saw the 6-foot-5 right-hander complete his first full season at Double-A Tennessee, as he tossed 136 innings (a professional career-high) across 27 starts, while holding his own with a 4.24 ERA. If Beeler makes it, it will be on the strength of his control. He's not overpowering, but he's averaged only 2.3 walks per nine innings over the course of his entire minor league career.

While each level in the minors bring a more intense challenge, one constant for Beeler has been the presence of pitching coach Jeff Fassero.

"He's been my pitching coach all three years I've been in pro ball, I think. I signed, and was in Arizona for about a week. He was pitching coach there, but I didn't get to know him. But then my first full year he was in Peoria, and I love him, he's a great guy."

Beeler was promoted to Double-A Tennessee at the end of 2011, and at the start of 2012, Fassero joined him there.

"We get into arguments on the mound," Beeler said, "He'll say this, and I'll say 'Well, I dont want to do that.' But he's one of those guys you can come to a common ground with and realize why he's wanting you to do that."

Listening to advice is something Beeler got used to during his recovery from Tommy John surgery, when he would look for insight and help from anyone who could relate to his experience.

"I talked to Josh Johnson before I had Tommy John surgery," said Beeler, "And I asked him 'any tips or tricks that you can give me?' He said 'Go with a positive attitude. Go in with the attitude of 'alright, this is going to fix me.'"

Focusing on the positive worked for Beeler, and now that he's all the way out and only steps away from realizing his major league dreams, he's all about spreading it around. When fellow Cubs pitching prospect Robert Whitenack went down with the same injury, Beeler was quick to offer an encouraging word.

"I saw Whitenack about three months after he had the surgery in Arizona and I asked him, 'How are you doing?'

"He said 'it gets tight,' and I just tried to give him my experience from it, and let him know 'You may hit a few bumps in the road -- I hit a few bumps in the road, and had a few setbacks. There's going to be pain there, but know that you have to push through the pain. There's going to be scar tissue that's going to pop and you're going to feel like you tore your ligament again, when really all you're doing is stretching it out -- getting that extension back, and getting that range of motion back.'

"Whenever he's got a question for me, I want to be there for him. With everyone who's had Tommy John surgery, it's almost like a family."

Family, humility; both are good things to fall back on for someone who's only good at throwing a baseball.

Cubs can live with Javy Baez being out of control

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AP

Cubs can live with Javy Baez being out of control

Even after a five-strikeout game, the Cubs have no intentions of toning down the Javy Baez roller coaster.

It's just the latest chapter in the Javy being Javy story.

On Tuesday, Baez became the first Cubs player to whiff five times in a game since Ted Lilly in 2008 and first position player to do so since Geovany Soto (also in '08):

After the game, Joe Maddon just laughed, compared Baez to golfer John Daly again and said, "Javy must've tied some sort of record today."

The Cubs know this is part of the package with Baez.

Even with that albatross of a game, Baez's strikeout percentage of 27.8 is still slightly below his career average (29.3 percent). That number is bloated a bit since Baez struck out 41.5 percent of the time during his rookie season in 2014.

Baez is striking out more in 2017 than he did last year (24 percent), but is also walking more (5 percent compared to 3.3 percent in 2016).

When Maddon was filling out Wednesday's lineup before Tuesday's game, he had already penciled in a day off for Baez, even before the five-strikeout game made it apparent a day of mental and physical rest was needed for the 24-year-old.

"He was just swinging a bit too hard," Maddon said. "...Most of the time, for me, when a guy comes out of his zone a lot, it's because he's a little bit mentally fatigued. So let's get him off his feet."

Maddon said before the game he wouldn't shy away from using Baez in Wednesday's contest if the need arose. The Cubs manager also was not worried about the five-strikeout game getting the enigmatic young infielder down.

"He's fine," Maddon said. "He's done that a lot in his career. So he knows how to bounce back. It's not gonna impact him. I watch him run out to defense after the strikeouts, and he's running out there. I love that about him. He's ready to play.

"A lot of guys have that moment, historically, but the difference with Javy — two things — he'll play his defense and he'll bounce back.

"He's his own toughest critic, also. I have a lot of faith in him, I have a lot of faith in hitting coaches. He'll be fine. I really am not concerned. ... He's young, he's done it before, he'll do it again. I promise you — that's gonna happen again. In the mean time, just continue to support him."

Including Tuesday and Baez's recent 1-for-11 stretch, he's still hitting .321 with an .863 OPS in July and is on pace for 20 homers, 28 doubles and 64 RBI in addition to his usual highlight reel of defensive plays.

Baez will always come with ups and downs and the Cubs know that. They aren't trying to coach that out of him.

They'll take the five strikeout games along with the hot stretch, like when he hit .415 with seven extra-base hits in a 13-game stretch from July 2-21.

After all, this is the guy who was named co-NLCS MVP last fall.

"Javy continues to show a lot of improvement," Maddon said. "In spite of the John Daly hack on occasion, you look at his two-strike numbers, they're outstanding. [Baez is hitting .215 with a .568 OPS with two strikes, but does have five homers and 22 RBI.]

"So it's like, you gotta be careful what you wish for. I've already talked to [Cubs hitting coach] Johnny Mallee about this. You wanna tone somebody down, but then if you do, does this good thing go away? You wanna morph into it more slowly here as he gradually understands and creates a different method as he gts into the latter part of counts, runner on third base, just try to score one, not two or three."

In 15 at-bats with a runner on third and less than two outs, Baez has 11 RBI, but he's also struck out six times.

Maddon and the Cubs coaching staff are working on a lot of the same things with both Baez and 23-year-old shortstop Addison Russell, who has also had an up-and-down offensive season.

"That takes time," Maddon said. "I know that sounds crazy, but it does. And so, be careful what you wish for, be careful how you approach a young player. 'Cause you could absolutely — I've talked about not coaching instinctiveness out of a player.

"Javy's got his own way. I think you're eventually going to see him settle into it, but yes, they're being developed. They both have to adjust to game situations.

"Next year, you're gonna see an improvement. Two years from now, you're gonna see a pretty nice finished product."

Why the Bears are feeling optimistic about their 2017 defense

Why the Bears are feeling optimistic about their 2017 defense

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- The general vibe given off by defensive end Akiem Hicks and linebacker Jerrell Freeman -- the two Bears defenders made available to the media on Wednesday -- was of low-key optimism. 

A Bears defense beset by injuries last year ranked 24th in points allowed and only managed 11 turnovers in 2016. But Hicks and Freeman both see bigger things for this defense after general manager Ryan Pace retooled it with a number of veteran free agent signings. 

Specifically, Hicks believes the Bears' defense has enough been-there, done-that players to be the catalyst for victories. 

“Sometimes, it’s like a second nature, something that you have inside you,” Hicks said. “You just want to be in that situation. But it’s also something you can develop through a lot of reps. You know what I mean? A guy who comes in and has 5,000 reps over his career, he’s going to be able to get in that situation and play it with just a little bit more confidence than a guy in his first, second or even third year. 

“Because once you’ve gotten to a point where you’ve gotten enough snaps, you’ve seen everything. You felt disappointment, you’ve felt that feeling of victory at the end of the game when you’re walking off. I think that’s what bringing veteran guys to a team does. They’ve seen it all already.”

The Bears added four possible-to-likely starters to their defense in free agency: defensive end Jaye Howard, safety Quintin Demps and cornerbacks Prince Amukamara and Marcus Cooper. Those four players have a combined 24 years of NFL experience, and the Bears only have one rookie (safety Eddie Jackson) competing for a starting role. 

Couple the expected Year 1 to Year 2 growth of Leonard Floyd and the potential for a healthy Eddie Goldman with those veterans, and the Bears see enough players with the right mindset to build a sturdy defense. 

“I hope everyone on my defense wants to be the best player at their position,” Freeman said. “That’s the mentality I would want, and that’s the mentality I would want the rest of my defense to have. Getting better, lead a defense to one of the top defenses, just help my team in any kind of way to get some wins.”