The Mental Side of the Game, Jed Hoyer … and Other Notes from Cubs Camp

Thursday is the Cubs final day of the spring at Fitch Park. After Thursday’s workout, the big league team moves down the street to HoHoKam Park and the minor league players take over Fitch Park.

The Cubs announced the pitching match-ups for the Intrasquad games on Friday and Saturday. Both five to six inning contests begin at 1:00pm MT (local time) and are open to the public. Randy Wells and Travis Wood will square off on Friday with Jay Jackson and Chris Rusin starting Saturday’s game … Rodrigo Lopez starts the Cubs’ first Cactus League game Sunday against the Oakland A’s at HoHoKam Park.

The bunting tournament continued Wednesday. Steve Clevenger, Casey Coleman, Chris Rusin and Welington Castillo joined Adrian Cardenas, Blake Lalli, Jeff Beliveau and Trey McNutt in the ‘Sweet 16‘. There are still eight second round matchups, including Dale Sveum versus Ryan Dempster.

Jed Hoyer spent time on MLB Network Radio (XM Radio) Wednesday afternoon. The Cubs’ GM covered a variety of topics during the in depth interview … including the PTBNL swap with the Red Sox.

On the first day of March, here is the update …

The Mental Game
Yogi Berra once said, “Ninety percent of this game is half mental.” And apparently the Cubs believe that statement is true.

According to a report from the Tribune, “the Cubs are not only working overtime on fundamentals in Camp Sveum, but also looking to improve the mental side of the game.”

The Cubs’ psychologist Marc Strickland “is in camp trying some techniques the Cubs hope will lead to more wins.” Strickland has worked with Cubs’ minor leaguers since 2009 and with the big league team since 2010. Strickland does not speak with the media “and has been criticized for suiting up in practice and acting like a player instead of a doctor.”

Jed Hoyer believes team psychologists help and said having someone for the guys to talk to is invaluable … and Dale Sveum is a believer as well.

Jed Hoyer on Inside Pitch
The Cubs’ GM joined Casey Stern and Jim Bowden during Inside Pitch (MLB Network Radio/XM Radio) Wednesday afternoon. Jed Hoyer discussed a variety of topics and was very open with his answers.

Jim Bowden led off the interview by asking him which Spring Training complex Hoyer likes best since he’s been with three organizations in a short amount of time. Hoyer admitted he likes the Padres’ complex the most of the three. He likes the fact it is bigger (due to the fact the Peoria Sports Complex is the Spring Training home of both the San Diego Padres and Seattle Mariners) and is able to house both the Major League team and all of the minor league players.

Hoyer feels it is good to have all of the players in an organization on the same property and not spread over two sites. It helps breed comradery with the players at all of the levels.

The Cubs are schedule to open their new facility in a couple of years (2014) and Hoyer is sure the Cubs’ new complex will surpass the Padres’ site … and even Boston’s new facility.

There is a lot of energy around the Cubs this spring and Hoyer thinks Dale Sveum and his staff has done a wonderful job. The workouts are long but with high energy and the players seem to be responding. Hoyer explained the importance of setting a tone and an energy level early and Sveum has.

Jed Hoyer’s relationship with Theo Epstein has not changed much over the years. The two years Hoyer spent running the Padres was good for him. Hoyer was able to gain valuable experience that will allow Epstein to be much more hands off than when they were together in Boston.

Hoyer explained that when he was with Epstein in Boston he was clearly the assistant general manager. Hoyer had to run everything by Epstein. Hoyer said that Theo has always given him more authority than he probably deserved but being away from Epstein for the two years really helped him.

The Cubs’ goal is to have both Bryan LaHair and Anthony Rizzo on the field together. The hope is they both play well when the season starts and one will have to move to the outfield in order to find at bats. Hoyer raved about the calendar year (2011) that LaHair had. Players develop at different times and LaHair has looked great so far this spring. LaHair is excited about his opportunity. Hoyer said, “He is out first baseman.”

The Cubs are sending Anthony Rizzo to Triple-A to begin the season and Rizzo has already been told.

When asked about building blocks in the organization, Hoyer spoke highly of Starlin Castro and said he is the cornerstone of the Cubs. Hoyer pointed out how easy it is to forget how young Castro actually is and they hope he continues to improve. It is hard to find a talent like Castro and they see him getting better and better each year.

Casey Stern asked Hoyer about the Cubs’ third base situation and Ian Stewart. Hoyer explained that guys have down years but sometimes it is good for a player to “break-up” with an organization. Hoyer used Cameron Maybin as an example of how a good player that did not perform to expectations with one organization (Marlins) can move to another (Padres) and play at a high level.

The Cubs have a bunch of guys coming off down years and they are hoping Stewart, Travis Wood and David DeJesus flourish with the Cubs.

The Cubs would like to sit down with Matt Garza and his representatives soon. Hoyer said, “The Cubs need more Matt Garzas, not fewer Matt Garzas.” The Cubs feel with better defense and run support that Garza’s overall performance last year would have looked better than it was. Garza has proven he can win a big game and has said all of the right things about wanting to stay with the Cubs. Garza loves Chicago, the fan base and the energy at Wrigley Field.

The Cubs need guys to step up in the pen in order to be successful this year. Carlos Marmol has had great seasons in the past but blew ten saves last year. The Cubs need Marmol to bounce back and to do his job.

Kerry Wood is good in the late innings when he’s been healthy and another late inning spot could be filled by one of the pitchers competing for a spot in the rotation (like Jeff Samardzija). There is a lot of competition for a starting job and those that do not stick in the rotation or end up in the pen could find themselves in Triple-A to start the season.

Bowden asked about the players to be named later in the Theo Epstein compensation issue. Hoyer admitted that when the two teams exchange the PTBNL that Boston will receive a slightly better prospect than what the Cubs receive in return. Contrary to reports, the prospects the Cubs and Sox exchange will not be equal.

Marlon Byrd and Alfonso Soriano will be with the Cubs on Opening Day. Hoyer explained that they are looking for both players to have bounce-back years. Byrd and Soriano were not happy with their performance last year. Both players put in extra work over the off-season and came to camp in great shape.

The extra Wild Card team in both leagues will change how teams approach the July 31 trade deadline and Hoyer thinks there will be less player movement. Hoyer seemed to be on board with the additional team and pointed out the new format will give the division winners a leg-up.

Hoyer confirmed that alcohol has been banned in the Cubs clubhouse and on return flights. The decision to ban alcohol was made before they took over the Cubs. Hoyer thinks it was (and is) the right decision.

What would it take for the Cubs to consider the 2012 season a success? Hoyer said the goal every year is to win the World Series and that is what they are trying to do. They never want to say they would be satisfied with anything else. Hoyer explained that for the Cubs they would like to improve their starting pitching and are looking for good years from Travis Wood, Paul Maholm and Chris Volstad. It would add an element to the organization if Travis Wood, Maholm and Volstad could realize their potential. It is hard to find controllable starters and all of those guys are controllable … and none of them had their best years last season. Hoyer said, “If they [T. Wood, Maholm and Volstad] can put it together then we are a different club.”

The Bunting Tournament
Bryan LaHair was the first player to be hit by a pitch in the bunting tournament … and Brett Jackson was the first player to land a 100-point bunt . But both players were eliminated from the tournament Wednesday.

The bunting tournament continued Wednesday. Steve Clevenger (beat Bryan LaHair), Casey Coleman (beat Scott Maine), Chris Rusin (beat Dae-Eun Rhee) and Welington Castillo (beat Brett Jackson) joined Adrian Cardenas, Blake Lalli, Jeff Beliveau and Trey McNutt in the ‘Sweet 16‘.

There are still eight second round matchups … Travis Wood vs. Jeff Samardzija; Randy Wells vs. Andy Sonnanstine; Carlos Marmol vs. Paul Maholm; Dale Sveum vs. Ryan Dempster; Joe Mather vs. Darwin Barney; Starlin Castro vs. Ian Stewart, Geovany Soto vs. Jeff Baker and Marlon Byrd vs. David DeJesus.

Notes from Cubs Camp

According to a report from the Tribune, Geovany Soto is not concerned with his sore groin. Soto said it is not a big deal and he just wants to make sure he is ready to go and there is no timetable for his return.

Geovany Soto complimented Welington Castillo, Steve Clevenger and Jason Jaramillo on the job they are doing with the pitchers. Dale Sveum said the back-up catcher’s job will come down to which player handles the pitchers better not necessarily if he hits left-handed or right-handed … but Welington Castillo is hoping to catch on as the Cubs’ backup.

For openers, Matt Garza is up for anything.

Andy Sonnanstine and Casey Coleman will pitch in relief in Friday’s intrasquad game.

Trey McNutt and Alberto Cabrera are scheduled to pitch out of the pen in Saturday’s intrasquad game.

Paul Maholm threw his first live batting practice since he returned from battling the flu. Ryan Dempster, Casey Coleman and Blake Parker also faced batters Wednesday.

Ryan Flaherty has a golden opportunity but the Baltimore Sun is not sure he can stick with the Orioles … and he is likely to be offered back to the Cubs.

Brett Jackson and Anthony Rizzo could be reality soon for the Cubs.

Jeff Samardzija might be most valuable in the pen.

Tim Sheridan posted another excellent update from Fitch Park. Not only did Sheridan provide more photos, he also talked about the bond Brett Jackson and Anthony Rizzo appear to be forming. Good Vibes, Free Games, it’s Cubs World

Well, there’s the update … and it’s almost time for the games to begin.

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  • http://chicagocubsonline.com/ Neil

    Three days …

  • Tony_Hall

    Can’t wait for the games to begin, and get a chance to see all the new guys to the organization and a chance to see our young guys, some for the first time in camp.

    Lahair and Rizzo, plus Castro and BJAX…that could be a reality later this year….the future is looking good!

  • Anthony

    The Mental Game?

    Does this relate to guy in the NY Knights locker room quoted saying “losing is a disease”?

    Does this relate to someone reminding players that baseball is a game based on failure?

    My view on mental preparation goes something like this. Know the situation in advance. See it before it happens.

    On defense, between every pitch, play out the scenarios in your mind, the “what ifs”

    On offense, observe the pitcher while on deck. Get your mental timing down. Know the situation. Get your signs from 3B, look at the defensive positioning, zone in.

    Stripe the baseball, accept the results as positive regardless of the outcome. Mishit the baseball, process why, move on from it. If a stat failure, accept, if a lucky hit, tip your cap to the law of averages, then move on.

    Make a bad throw. Analyze why, Visualize why and the corrective measure in your mind for when that throw comes up again.

    Mental errors, the ones that don’t show up in the “E” column in a boxscore are usually hidden in the “R” column, and are caused by daydreaming, or a lack of focus on the situation.

    In my opinion, the most important part of baseball practice is situational play. It is no different than preparing for say, a broadway show, high school play. The more times you do it, the more it comes naturally, or automatic.

    How many times have you heard a coach tell a player after a poor plate appearance “don’t take it on the field with you”?

    How many times do you recall a player making a great defensive play, then comes to the plate right after and rakes?

    How many times have you heard the quote “you don’t have to be a great player to play MLB, you need to be a good one every day”?

    Just a few thoughts

    • roguesqr09

      “On defense, between every pitch, play out the scenarios in your mind, the “what ifs” – I like what you said here. In my little league, we would always be told that between each pitch to play it out in your mind, ‘What do I do if it’s hit to me’. 

    • paulcatanese

      I thought all players did those things automaticly, or at least they should.
      You took the words right out of my mouth, as I instantly thought of “The Natural” and Redford walking out of the room.
      One thing I don’t think you mentioned (actualy two),
      “I want the ball hit to me”, and “I want men on when I come up”.
      You are correct with the players thinking ahead, they should always feel what they should do with the ball in a given situation.

      • Anthony

        paul, you are right, I remember when playing that I always wanted it hit to me because I was prepared to make the play, and I am pretty sure they are prepared also as professionals

        The other aspect is knowing what your role is when it is not hit to you

        • paulcatanese

          Also, sitting on the bench is not always a bad thing if a player can take advantage of that and watch(you know what I mean) and take those lessons with you as a player.
          As a young player Little League was not available and I learned from photo’s and going to the games and watching the Cubs,(could be why I wasn’t a great player:). And a lot of repitition of fundementals.

  • paulcatanese

    Don’t know how this “mental aspect of the game” will help.
    Personal experience with group therapy following several surgerys
    worked the reverse for me. Found out I wasnt interested with the general problems and wasn’t getting the one on one that I desired.
    It was as if I was with a “group of loonies”.
    Then again it looks like Theo is leaving no stone unturned, but really depends about the individual makeup of the players.

    • Tony_Hall

      Paul – I don’t believe they are doing group sessions.  He is just available to the players to talk to him as they wish.

      • paulcatanese

        Thats a little different than I imagined, that could work.

  • http://chicagocubsonline.com/ Neil

    Bunt Tournament results from Thursday: Mather, Samardzija, Castro, Wells advance. Barney, T. Wood, Stewart, Sonnanstine eliminated

  • Cory

    With Sizemore out, does Cleveland gain interest in Byrd?

    • http://chicagocubsonline.com/ Neil

       That is a possibility …