SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. Alfonso Soriano is back, watching his shots ricochet off HoHoKam Stadiums scoreboard in left field, and one explanation is how he has shortened his leg kick.
Rudy Jaramillo didnt completely dismiss the idea, but the Cubs hitting coach also doesnt like to view things one-dimensionally.
Thats something that weve been working on, really, for the last couple years, making a really good pivot, Jaramillo said Tuesday. But basically it comes down to trusting yourself, slowing your mind down.
The day before, Soriano had blasted his fourth home run in his fifth game this spring. Jaramillo credited team psychologist Marc Strickland.
We had a visualization session, Jaramillo said. It has to be part of your preparation. I ask these guys every night to visualize for five minutes their swing, the feel and seeing the pitchers release point and seeing yourself having success.
When Cubs fans look at Soriano, all they see are dollar signs. They will be skeptical of numbers seven extra-base hits in 17 at-bats that look like one of his hot streaks.
But Jaramillo who stands up straight and makes direct eye contact when he speaks is relentlessly positive.
The Cubs Way wont be about 136 million designated hitters. But the abstract idea is that when Soriano yells Hey, babe! on the way to the batting cage, hell be walking into the same program written for some teenage prospect in Boise, Idaho.
It came into focus at the organizational meetings Theo Epstein ran last month at a hotel in Mesa, where front-office personnel, scouts and coaches gathered to hash it out.
Epstein doesnt believe players are robots. The president of baseball operations wants athletes with the emotional intelligence to handle failure.
Epstein has made significant investments in statistical analysis, advanced scouting and video technology, which is in Jaramillos wheelhouse.
(Its) kind of like Vegas, Jaramillo said, putting the odds in your favor at (a) certain count or certain situation. Its a great thing and Im really a believer in it. Theres a mechanical part that coincides with the mental part of it.
No doubt, thats going to be done from the Dominican all the way up to the big leagues. Thats going to help us get more kids to the big leagues quicker and everybodys going to be on the same page.
Thats The Cubs Way. These people came in here and organized and established a plan. Thats what it takes for us to go to the next level.
To be clear, Jaramillo felt like the Cubs were making progress implementing his program throughout the minor-league system. It just wasnt to this level of detail, where the hitting coaches at each affiliate will be using the same vocabulary.
Jaramillo developed his reputation as a great teacher what Epstein might call an impact coach with the Texas Rangers. When Jaramillo signed a three-year deal in October 2009, it was heralded like a free-agent acquisition. Hes now working for his third manager in the past three seasons.
I dont even think about that, Jaramillo said. I got a job to do. I dont look back. I just look to the future. I look at today: What can we do to win a ballgame? How can we get better today?
Aramis Ramirez once declared I am my own hitting coach. But overall the clubhouse swears by Jaramillo, pointing not just to the All-Stars he worked with in Texas, but guys like Mark DeRosa, who turned his career around there.
After being traded from the Colorado Rockies this winter, Ian Stewart made a point to get Jaramillos phone number and traveled to Arizona for a minicamp, hoping to rediscover the hitter Baseball America fell in love with and the swing that generated 25 homers in 2009.
Hes not big into trying to come in and change me or put his stamp on me, Stewart said. He just wanted to give me the best chance.
The Cubs let Ramirez and Carlos Pena walk as free agents, putting their faith in Stewart and Bryan LaHair, and gearing up for when polished prospects Brett Jackson and Anthony Rizzo are ready to play Clark and Addison.
Epstein envisions a lineup that will grind out at-bats like the Boston Red Sox. Jaramillo played down that comparison the American League has the designated hitter but even if the Cubs dont have four-hour games, they are supposed to become more patient.
Jaramillo likes the tone set in camp by new manager Dale Sveum, who used to be the hitting coach for Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun and the Milwaukee Brewers. So much has changed around the Cubs, but their hitting coach only knows one way.
I came here to make a difference, Jaramillo said. Im going to continue working hard and being positive with these kids (every day and become) their support system. The more you encourage somebodythe more they believe in you. (Its) winning their respect and thats a big key in (our relationships). You go at different times with different guys to get to that point, but (theres) no doubt that I will.