Cubs Convention LIVE: From Draft Day to the Big Leagues

Our second live blog of the day covers the long road to the big leagues with several of the club’s top prospects. Dalles Beeler, Rob Whitenack, Matt Szczur and Tony Zych are on stage and taking questions now! Refresh for updates.

11:28 Szczur is asked about the choice to play baseball instead of football. He says a big part was being able to play the game without a lot of the wear and tear, and injuries, that come with football. In terms of how football helped his game, he says that it’s how he brings an aggressive mentality to the field, while acknowledging that it has had its drawbacks in that area as well.

11:30 Asked about game preparation and advanced information available in the minors, Szczur says he likes to peak at the pitchers’ spreadsheets to understand how pitchers are attacking hitters like him. He says they also have a lot of video available to them, even in the minors.

Whitenack likes to look at opponents’ stats and pitching charts that track each pitch thrown. He also consults video to see what may have gotten a hitter out in a previous confrontation. “You try to expose that until they prove they can hit it.”

Beeler says the pitchers get a packet for each series, with spray charts, tendencies and other information. He says that it’s not really about pitching to hitters’ weaknesses but instead to play your strengths against their weaknesses. It’s a subtle difference that shows how much the player-development staff teaches to these young players.

11:33 Player role models:

Beeler: Roy Halladay, saying that he models his mechanics and style after the veteran righty.
Whitenack: Derek Jeter for always coming to play.
Szczur: Shane Victorino, clarifying that he WAS a Phillies fan.
Zych: Also Derek Jeter, as well as Mariano Rivera for how he pitches and works hard.

11:36 Whitenack is asked an excellent question about his recovery from Tommy John surgery. He says that he had to gather his thoughts for a few days. Getting range of motion back was tough, as was staying mentally strong. He says he’s about 90 percent back and is feeling normal again.

Asked a follow-up question, Whitenack says that he didn’t feel he was far off his game last year but that he’s looking forward to having a season for which he can prepare from day one. He’s also thankful that he can once again pitch every five days.

11:40 Beeler doesn’t shy away from saying he wants to be a Hall of Famer, getting big applause from the crowd. He says his goals are to win 20 games, throw a no-hitter and other lofty ambitions. This is definitely a player who’s sets big goals and doesn’t shy away. Good for him.

11:42 The players are asked about when they knew they wanted to be professional baseball players. Szczur actually wrote an essay in fourth grade about how he wanted to be a major leaguer player when he grew up. Whitenack feels he was born with the desire to be one. Beeler and Zych knew it from the first day they stepped on the field and later during all those days they spent in the cage.

11:44 Zych says that Theo has been clear that he wants to win a World Series. It’s clear that this is the players’ goal too. Whitenack adds that this message was made even more clear during the weeklong Rookie Development Program. They were told that they “are the players that are going to win the World Series here.” One of the speakers at the minicamp got them to visualize what it will be like when the Cubs win the World Series, such as when the U.S. beat the Soviet Union in hockey back in 1980. That seemed to resonate with fans here.

11:48 Mark Prior, a speaker at the minicamp, stressed to players that they should be humble, positive and always appreciate the little things they have when healthy. “Be grateful because at a snap of the fingers, it will be over.”

Kerry Wood made clear that he wants to pass on anything he can to the young pitchers. Zych as that all the big leaguers that came and talked to them made it an incredible and eye-opening week.

11:51 Longest road trips? From Double-A Tennessee, located in Knoxville, it could hit over 11 hours. Jacksonville, Fla., and Mobile, Ala., were cited wistfully. SLEEP appears to be the most important thing to do on those bus rides.

11:54 How about superstitions or rituals? Beeler stays away from anything that can get in his head. Whitenack has a routine, from snack time to workout. Szczur runs out to center field to clear his mind and say a prayer. There was a point this season he was doing terribly and tried stepping on the foul lines — usually a no-no — and it worked. So that’s a keeper. Zych says how you pitch is based on skill and gameplan. No nonsense.

11:57 One fan asks on behalf of his young kids about throwing curve balls and sliders. Zych never threw one until he was 15 or 16. He was a player more than a pitcher, and he’s still working on the breaking ball. (You can read more about the development of his slider in the Minor League Prospectus coming in next month’s Vine Line!)

To a follow-up, Zych says that you still have to learn to pitch of the fastball and to use a change. Pitchers can’t just rely on curveballs at the expense of their development.

12:01 Who’s the hardest thrower on the panel? Szczur gets a nomination, maybe a self-one, but it’s Zych. (He’s a mid-90s guy who touches 98.)

12:05 The Rookie Development Program also counseled players on off-the-field stuff, as alluded to in the previous session. Whitenack says they’ve been made to understand they play for the C on the chest and that they are responsible for that. Being active in the community will make them better people and thus players.

12:07 Szczur talks about being a part of big league camp, as he was last year. He says he’ll keep quiet again, but he’ll find it easier to know what to expect this time around. Whitenack will get his first opportunity, and Zych got the chance to shuttle to big league camp a few times. He found even the brief exposure helpful, learning by example how big leaguers handle themselves. Beeler also takes them as examples on the field, ones he can set standards to.

And it’s a wrap! Great panel. You could tell that, for as young as these players are, they have a lot of passion for baseball and understanding of the tough road to the big leagues. Very engaging panel.

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