It’s a short offseason for Cubs minor leaguers


(Photo by Stephen Green)

Earlier this month, the Cubs named 22 players as non-roster invitees to Spring Training in Mesa, Ariz. Among them was 26-year-old catcher Mike Brenly—son of former broadcaster Bob Brenly—who is hoping to land a spot on the club’s 25-man Opening Day roster. In the February issue of Vine Line, we caught up with the minor leaguer, who talked about what it takes to stay in top shape during the offseason. The issue is on newsstands now, with single issues available by calling 800-618-8377.

Spring Training games might look like leisurely affairs, with the starters gone to play golf by the fourth or fifth inning. But fans should stick around for the end. That’s when things really get interesting.

Minor league players trickle into the lineup, striving to prove themselves to the big league staff. Meanwhile, down the road at Fitch Park, the rest of the organization’s prospects are waging an all-out battle for roster spots.

All that intensity is why minor league catcher Mike Brenly said he and his peers will arrive in Arizona in the best shape they’ll be in all year.

“You can really tell who didn’t do a lot of stuff in the offseason,” Brenly said. “You know who’s been getting after it, because every day is a competition. You’re there with one goal—to put yourself ahead of the guy who’s ahead of you.”

Spring Training has been that way for years. The difference today is that players start training shortly after the previous season ends.

“We may see guys come right away when the season wraps up,” said Eric Cressey of Cressey Performance, in Hudson, Mass. “They’ll take a week or so to get their bearings and come in mid-September.”

Ken Bolek, director of baseball at IMG Academy, in Bradenton, Florida, laughs when he remembers how things were when he coached in the Cubs system in the ’90s.

“It used to be you’d take the winter off,” he said. “Then, around the first of the year, you’d start doing something. Now, for the most part, the highest percentage of pro players are taking maybe a month off before they’re at least back to doing weight training.”

Nothing motivates players like job insecurity. Not only are there no guarantees about Opening Day assignments, but players also know any injury can jeopardize their spot on an early-season roster. As a result, offseason training has evolved to be more tailored to the sport and more geared toward injury prevention.

“The old methods of having baseball guys go out and run five miles don’t make sense,” said Phil Wallin, an athletic trainer at IMG. “It’s a game of short bursts of power, so why would you train your body for slow endurance when you can train it to be powerful?”

Brenly does his offseason training at Athletes’ Performance, in Phoenix, where he focuses on drills and exercises specific to the rigors of catching.

“My legs are my livelihood, and I want to make sure they’re strong,” Brenly said. “Flexibility is also a big issue. I want to move and be strong at the same time. I want to be able to use my muscles and be more explosive.”

Brenly said most players want to be in midseason form by the time camp breaks. At that point, it’s off to Opening Day assignments, where they hope to prove all the hard work over the winter was worth it.

—Chris Gigley

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