Cubs Convention LIVE: Dale Sveum and His Coaching Staff

With the Cubs prospects having just wrapped up, we pick up the panel with the big league coaching staff already in progress. Refresh for updates.

12:30 Jamie Quirk is answering a fan question about advance scouting and preparation. The hitters go over opposing pitchers each series, with hitting coach James Rowson and other coaches walking through each one. The pitching coaches go over all the hitters from the opposing hitters. And players look at video on their own. For relievers who warm up, bullpen coach Lester Strode uses his binder to walk through upcoming hitters once again.

12:33 Dave McKay says that, despite having been with the Cardinals organization for over a decade, he’s never been in a clubhouse that is so prepared. There’s an incredible amount of background, behind-the-scenes work that goes into this. But you have to break down what’s important and what’s just noise.

12:34 On advanced stats that the coaching staff uses, Sveum says they do have access to and utilize some—but he jokingly adds that the front office has some so advanced they don’t even share it with them. Bottom-line stats that he uses: OPS on the offensive side. Anything over .800 is good, over .750 in the middle infield. Pitcher WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched) and to strike out more and walk less. But ultimately it comes down to players playing and executing.

12:38 Rob Deer, the Cubs’ new assistant hitting coach, tells players, “Do I say, not as I did.” He has always had a passion for hitting. He preaches to hitters about their two-strike approach and using the whole field. You will not hear him talk about hitting a home run—that’s the product of the right approach and situation. Their motto is to be “selectively aggressive.” And Deer adds he is very grateful to be on the coaching staff.

Len Kasper jumps in to defender Deer’s hitting record. He rejects the idea that he was “all or nothing,” listing off a series of high-walk seasons. He ends by saying Deer was an underappreciated, ahead-of-his-time Adam Dunn. Great defense by Kasper and an example of why he’s one of the best play-by-play men in the game. The crowd erupts in applause too.

12:42 Sveum explains a bit of his lineup method. He says he’d plan based on pitcher type—some of his hitters were more successful against velocity, sinkers, etc. So he plans ahead based on the opponent’s starting rotation, trying to create good matchups at the plate.

12:46 Kasper asks the staff about new addition David Bell, the former big leaguer who will be third base coach and infield instructor this season. He in fact played for Sveum, who tells a story about Bell’s professionalism. Apparently, even when he was due up eighth in an inning, he’d return to the dugout and get his batting helmet and gloves prepared—as though he needed to, Sveum says with a giggle.

Bell’s very knowledgeable—a third-generation big leaguer—with a passion to teach. He’s also not afraid to coach big leaguers, something that Sveum says is his goal. Surprisingly, many coaches—according to Sveum—are afraid to talk to big leaguers, even if they’re great at talking to minor leaguers. One of the key things the Cubs manager was told back when he was in player development: “Never assume these guys [players] know anything.”

12:49 A fan asks about the “contact play,” which is when a runner on third goes home on contact. Sveum says that it’s something only used with one out, never with none. The runner gets a walking start and goes when the bat enters the hitting zone. It helps with a guy who has average speed—he says Joe Mather pulled off the play three times on routine grounders last year. But he says he has to pick and choose the right guys and spots to do it, as it’s obviously a risky play.

12:51 Defensive positioning: The coaching staff has the systems in place to look at spray charts for each hitter, broken down by pitch type and counts. That’s the kind of information the staff uses to determine when to use shifts. Bell follows by saying that the information is the base, and the coaching staff then has to be flexible and use some of their intuition based on what they’ve seen that day. “As a defensive and infield player, that’s a fun part of the game—to be thinking about all this.” He says positioning is a great part of the game. Bell will be responsible for a lot of that with the infielders this year, while Dave McKay once again is in charge of the outfielders.

12:54 Sveum praises David DeJesus’ job in the leadoff spot, saying there were only three players in all of baseball who had an on-base percentage above .330 from the leadoff spot.

12:55 A fan asks about Tony Campana’s offseason training program. Jamie Quirk says that the team doesn’t want to add weight to Campana, but they want him to add strength so that he can hit a ball through the infield and keep the outfielders honest. Otherwise, the field’s going to be too small for him to utilize his speed.

12:58 On catcher defense, particularly with young backstops like Welington Castillo: Quirk says that Castillo’s come light years from where he was last year. Quirk and Mike Borzello (not present) are the ones who work with him. He has power, a great arm, good defensive tools—but “calling a game is the last tool that comes.” Quirk says he has all the physical tools to be a Yadier Molina. He’ll get more familiar with umpires this year—something the coaching staff does instruct on.

The fan follows up by asking if umpires “disrespect” young catchers. Quirk says it’s not that, but more that they will “test” a player to see how he reacts. That’s an important part of learning the game at the big league level.

And that’s a wrap! There was a slight overlap with the previous live blog, so this one was kept a bit short. But we’ll have the very exciting presentation with the business folks in a half hour—breaking news to come. It’s the one you absolutely won’t want to miss!

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