Can Dale Sveum see the future?
Sveum spent two years as Cubs manager, waiting for the wave of big-time prospects to become big-time major leaguers. But the Cubs kept losing, and Sveum was fired. Now he’s the hitting coach with the Royals, and he’s seeing first hand what a young core of hitters can do at the big league level.
Call it a warning.
The Cubs are hoping their top draft picks get off the ground sooner than the Royals’. Kansas City uber-prospects like Eric Hosmer (.259 batting average this season) and Mike Moustakas (.164) have yet to truly become the sluggers they were once projected to be. Moustakas even was temporarily sent down to the minors earlier this season.
It’s a reality the Cubs hope doesn’t come true for them. But it’s a possibility. And Sveum had an indirect message to those expecting the Kris Bryants, Javier Baezes and Albert Almoras of the world to be All Stars on Day 1 of their big league careers.
“It takes time, too,” Sveum said in a press gathering before Friday’s White Sox-Royals game at U.S. Cellular Field. “There’s a lot more to it than just coming up and producing. Can you produce when it all happens on an everyday basis at the big leagues when the third deck gets put on the stadium? There’s a lot more to it than just playing and producing in the minor leagues. You just don’t really know when it’s all said and done when they get to the big leagues. It’s the hardest thing to evaluate.”
That’s not frustration you’re hearing from the former Cubs manager, though. He knew the situation when he took the job before the 2011 season, and he was ready to wait on prospects to develop, ready to wait for renovations to transform Wrigley Field, ready to wait for the Cubs to be a contender. Sveum knew the job was dangerous when he took it, he just hoped he’d be around long enough to see it through. Turns out, he wouldn’t be.
“We knew where we were as an organization, so that was a big part of it,” he said. “We had some big prospects that were going to be there in two, three years down the road. Obviously Kris Bryant is pushing himself to get there quicker than anyone else. But we knew all that going in. It was nice to hear about all the new changes that were going to happen, but still the odds — when it was all finished, were we going to be there 10 years when the whole thing was done anyway?”
While Rizzo and Castro sputtered in poor campaigns last season — enough to send many Cubs fans into panic mode — Sveum is having a positive effect in Kansas City. Starting off as the Royals’ third-base coach, he took over as hitting coach a couple weeks ago. Since May 29, the Royals have won nine of their last 13, including four straight entering Friday’s game on the South Side.
Royals center fielder Lorenzo Cain, who was a past pupil of Sveum with the Brewers, said the team was bound to get hot after struggling through much of the first two months. But he also lauded Sveum and what he’s been telling Kansas City hitters.
“Dale’s a big addition,” Cain said. “I had a chance to work with him in Milwaukee, so I knew what kind of hitting coach he was, what kind of guy he was. He’s been very helpful to this team. He’s a great third-base coach, as well. So he’s an overall guy, he kind of does it all. To have him with us has been great. We feel like we’re coming together as a team, as a unit. He’s pushing us, and we’re striving to be the best we can.”
What’s Sveum been saying?
“It’s more of an aggressive approach,” Cain said. “We’re jumping on first pitches lately. Just trying to lay off the ball in the dirt, that’s the biggest thing. Swing at balls that are belt-high and be very aggressive on them. I think that’s what we have been doing lately. Keep it going and try to lay off the pitches in the dirt.”
The Royals might take Sveum’s advice and go on a summer-long tear. Or they might see their one-time top prospects continue to not live up to the hype. That’s a future the Cubs definitely don’t want to see on the North Side. But even if a few of the Cubs’ prospects struggle on their initial arrival to the majors, Sveum knows that’s the case for most hitters.
“Hitting is hard,” he said. “And it’s hard to be that guy that’s going to have six straight really good months. The guys that have six straight good months and 15 good years, they’re in the Hall of Fame. The rest of the guys, it’s a big battle month to month. You hope your everyday guys carry you one month, two months and somebody else carries you the other two months. That’s kind of the way hitting works. It’s hard to have everybody on the same page all season long. It’s too difficult of a thing to do.”