DeJesus reflects on first season in Chicago

941101.png

DeJesus reflects on first season in Chicago

When Theo Epstein and the rebuilt front office entered free agency last November, David DeJesus was exactly the type of player they were targeting.

The veteran outfielder didn't earn a 100 million contract, but he brought solid defense, an ability to work the count and a professional approach to the 2012 Cubs.

DeJesus's deal -- 4.25 million a year for two seasons with a 6.5 million option or a 1.5 million buyout -- has provided the framework for free agents during Epstein's second offseason.

The Cubs don't plan on making a splash this winter and kicked free agency off with a one-year deal worth 5.5 million (with 1.5 million in incentives) with right-handed pitcher Scott Baker Tuesday morning.

Baker began his career in the American League Central, where DeJesus played for the Royals from 2003-10.

"He's a quality guy," DeJesus said before appearing on Chicago Tribune Live Wednesday evening. "I faced him a lot in Minnesota. He's one of those guys that's gonna throw strikes and be able to move the ball around the plate. I'm excited to see what he does."

DeJesus didn't exactly "own" Baker over the years, but he collected seven hits in 24 at-bats against Baker with three extra-base hits and a pair of walks.

DeJesus entered free agency last season coming off his worst year in the big leagues, hitting just .240 in 506 plate appearances. He turned things around in 2012, boasting a .350 on-base percentage while playing all three outfield spots and spending most of the year in the leadoff spot in the lineup.

But the Cubs still endured their first 100-loss season since 1966 and the roster was turned upside down as Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer determined which players were pieces for the future.

Still, DeJesus, who has a house in Wheaton, Ill., enjoyed his first season in Chicago.

"It's been awesome being able to live in my offseason home," he said. "It's great to call this my home town. The fans have been great. We had a tough year on the ball field, but everything else has been great.

"I've been through a couple 100-loss seasons already, but we're professionals. We have to take every game for what it is. You don't want to be a part of a season like that, but we were and we're just going to keep moving forward and not looking back."

By the end of the season, the Cubs' roster featured a heap of players getting their first taste of major-league action and DeJesus -- who will turn 33 next month -- said he tried to lead by example.

"I just try to be the guy so the young players understand that he's going to prepare himself the same every day," DeJesus said. "It doesn't matter if we're losing on the field. It doesn't matter if we're super high or super low. Our job is to go out there and be professionals. Prepare ourselves mentally and physically everyday for the next day."

Brett Jackson entered 2012 as the Cubs' top outfield prospect and made his MLB debut late in the season, striking out 59 times in 120 at-bats.

"He has to do a little work in the offseason," DeJesus said. "I talked to him a lot. He just has to get his confidence up and he has so many tools out there. I think he's going to be a good player."

DeJesus knows the Cubs are still a ways off from contention, but with almost the entire winter left, the 10-year veteran is staying positive.

"I'm hoping Theo does his thing," he said. "We need some pitching. Everybody knows that. Guys that are going to throw strikes and can eat up innings. That's really what our focus should be right now."

Connor McDavid believes Blackhawks prospect Alex DeBrincat will succeed in NHL: 'He's a special player'

Connor McDavid believes Blackhawks prospect Alex DeBrincat will succeed in NHL: 'He's a special player'

Blackhawks prospect Alex DeBrincat is putting up video-game numbers in the Ontario Hockey League.

He ranks first among all players with 49 goals and 104 points, and has done so in only 50 games. That's an average of more than two points per game.

DeBrincat, the Blackhawks' second-round draft pick (No. 39 overall) in 2015 thanks to the Andrew Shaw trade, became the Erie Otters' all-time leading goal scorer earlier this year and on Saturday, he tied Brad Boyes for second on the team's all-time points list with 309. The only player he's chasing now is teammate Dylan Strome, who has 329 and counting.

Connor McDavid, who ranks fourth in Otters history with 285 points, was there for DeBrincat's rookie season when he scored 51 goals and 50 assists. The 20-year-old Oilers captain very much still pays attention to the Otters, and isn't surprised by the heightened success of his former teammate.

"He’s having another amazing season," McDavid said. "No surprise there."

It was easy to suggest DeBrincat's numbers were inflated because he benefited from having a player like McDavid centering his line. But McDavid insists that wasn't the case.

"Honestly, we helped each other," McDavid said. "It was not a one-way street by any means. He finds a way to score goals. My year they were saying, 'Oh, he was just playing with me.' Then the other year, he’s playing with (Strome). He’s playing with Stromer again. To score 50 three seasons in a row is absolutely incredible no matter who you’re playing with or what you’re doing. Absolute credit to him."

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

The numbers back it up, too.

DeBrincat's points per game average has increased in each of the last three seasons: 1.53, 1.68 and 2.08, a significant jump from his second to third season. It's especially impressive when you factor in that he's scored only eight of his 49 goals on the power play this year after combining for 34 goals on the man advantage in his first two. 

Initially, McDavid was a little skeptical when informed that newly-signed winger DeBrincat, who's now listed as 5-7, 170 pounds, would be his new linemate. It didn't take long for that to change.

"He kind of just came out of nowhere," McDavid said. "I remember us signing (him) and looking, and it said he was 5-2, 140 pounds, whatever. The GM at the time, Sherry Bassin, said 'I found you a new winger.' I’m like, ‘That guy is going to play with me?’ Sure enough, he comes in and we kind of have that chemistry right away.

"He knows where the net is. He finds a way to score basically every night. He’s got a great shot. He’s one of the feistiest guys I’ve ever played with. It’s really remarkable about what he’s been able to do."

Size is surely to be the biggest concern for DeBrincat at the NHL level, but players such as Cam Atkinson (5-7), Johnny Gaudreau (5-8) and Mats Zuccarello (5-7) are proving that you can be among the league's best despite being undersized. And the game is evolving into more of an up-tempo style where teams built on speed is becoming the new norm.

DeBrincat's willingness to stick his nose into dirty areas combined with his offensively-gifted ability is a big reason why McDavid believes his former linemate will succeed at the highest level.

"I think well," McDavid said when asked how DeBrincat's game will translate into the NHL. "He’s just got such a drive and such a nose for the net that I don’t think he’s going to be stopped. He takes on guys much bigger. I don’t really know how he does it.

"Especially when he was a rookie and I was playing with him, he’s going into scrums against guys that are 6-5, and you’re on the ice thinking, ‘How the hell am I going to help you?’ He definitely picks his fights. He’s a special person and special player."

CSN's Dan Hayes meets the White Sox Dan Hayes

CSN's Dan Hayes meets the White Sox Dan Hayes

Is the White Sox clubhouse big enough for two Dan Hayeses?

We're about to find out this spring training as CSN White Sox Insider Dan Hayes covers the team, which includes first base prospect Danny Hayes.

The Sox prospect Hayes battled .250 with 10 homers and 42 RBIs in 55 games for Charlotte last season.

The big-league hopeful and White Sox beat reporter spoke with CSN's Chuck Garfien about the similarities the two (don't) have.

No word yet on whether they'll battle the two Rougned Odors and Geovani/Geovany Sotos to an Anchoman-style duel.

Check it all out in the hilarious video above.