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Cubs Spring Training Notebook: A new signing, a new pitch and a new position for Marcus Stroman?

1 year agoAndy Martinez

MESA, Ariz. — Mere moments after Jameson Taillon fired the final pitch of his first live batting practice session as a Cub, he looked back at Yan Gomes and asked him to stay for another pitch.

He threw his new-look, sweeping slider to Nico Hoerner and the pitch missed — such is life when learning and implementing a new weapon — that he wanted to end the session on a good note.

So, Taillon threw one more pitch with no one in the batter’s box and threw a slider in the zone that wrapped up his day.

“It depends what day you catch me on,” Taillon said on Thursday. “Right now, there’s some days where I’m like this is easy, this is gonna be a weapon. There’s other days where I’m like ‘I gotta go fix this thing and figure it out.’”

Taillon has started to use a new grip on his slider, so it creates more horizontal movement and gives it that “sweeping” motion. He’s thrown it enough that he can start to feel when he’s fired a good one and when there’s a bad one — hence why he needed one more pitch in his live BP. The feel is getting there, and when he’s uncertain, he turns to the data to back up what he’s feeling.

“Obviously you want the horizontal break to be significant and that’s the reason you’re adding it,” Taillon said. “But also, I can see it with my eyes. I can feel it when a good one comes out. I can feel when I’m in the right release spot. I’m encouraged by both. Kinda the eye test and how it feels personally and also the numbers and the metrics behind it.”

Friday was an important next step in the development of the pitch for Taillon. You can try out a new pitch off flat ground and in a bullpen session, but nothing can replicate facing a hitter.

“I think there’s still more that we can continue to unlock as Spring Training goes on,” pitching coach Tommy Hottovy said.

The sweeping slider was a pitch Taillon has been wanting to add for a few years now, but the last two offseasons — the COVID-19 pandemic and the lockout — have affected his ability to add it. His previous slider was effective (in 2022, hitters hit .233 off it), but he knew the grip change could take improve him as a pitcher.

Soon after the ink dried on his contract with the Cubs, Hottovy and the Cubs’ pitching brass were talking to him about implementing the pitch, knowing it could unlock a whole new level for him.

“I think you’re just gonna continue to round out that total package and repertoire,” Hottovy said. “He’s been awesome to work with to this point. He’s been very open about a lot of the things that we wanted to introduce, and he’s taken it and run with. He’s been fun to work with so far.”

He had just thrown his new-look, sweeping slider to Nico Hoerner and the pitch missed the strike zone — such is life when learning and implementing a new weapon — and he wanted to end the session on a good note.

So, Taillon threw one more pitch with no one in the batter’s box and dropped a slider in the zone that wrapped up his day.

“It depends what day you catch me on,” Taillon said on Thursday. “Right now, there’s some days where I’m like this is easy, this is gonna be a weapon. There’s other days where I’m like ‘I gotta go fix this thing and figure it out.’”

Taillon has been throwing the new-look pitch enough that he can start to feel when he’s fired a good one and when there’s a bad one — hence why he needed one more pitch in his live BP. The feel is getting there, and when he’s uncertain, he turns to the data to back up what he’s feeling.

“Obviously you want the horizontal break to be significant and that’s the reason you’re adding it,” Taillon said. “But also, I can see it with my eyes. I can feel it when a good one comes out. I can feel when I’m in the right release spot. I’m encouraged by both. Kinda the eye test and how it feels personally and also the numbers and the metrics behind it.”

Friday was an important next step in the development of the pitch for Taillon. You can try out a new pitch off flat ground and in a bullpen session, but nothing can replicate facing a hitter.

“I think there’s still more that we can continue to unlock as Spring Training goes on,” pitching coach Tommy Hottovy said.

The sweeping slider was a pitch Taillon has been wanting to add for a few years now, but the last two offseasons — the COVID-19 pandemic and the lockout — have affected his ability to add it. Soon after the ink dried on his contract with the Cubs, Hottovy and the Cubs’ pitching brass were talking to him about implementing the pitch, knowing it could unlock a whole new level for him.

“I think you’re just gonna continue to round out that total package and repertoire,” Hottovy said. “He’s been awesome to work with to this point. He’s been very open about a lot of the things that we wanted to introduce, and he’s taken it and run with. He’s been fun to work with so far.”

Cubs add infielder

The Cubs signed third baseman Edwin Ríos to a one-year, major-league contract. To make room on the 40-man roster, right-handed pitcher Ethan Roberts was placed on the 60-day IL. 

Ríos, 28, debuted in the majors in 2018 with the Dodgers and is a lifetime .219/.299/.492 hitter with 20 home runs in 112 big-league games. The lefty has hit .291/.347/.534 with 102 home runs in the minors for Los Angeles.

Roberts underwent Tommy John surgery last June and is continuing to rehab. He’s throwing on flat ground at 75 feet in his recovery process. 

Young players learning

Just being in big-league camp is an advantage for a plethora of Cubs prospects like Ben Brown, Ryan Jensen, Brennen Davis and others.

The Cubs added plenty of veterans to their roster and being around them every day, seeing how they work and what they do to prepare can benefit those younger players on the Cubs’ 40-man roster.

“That is the value of having these experienced guys come in and help those young guys out that have been here,” David Ross said. “Seeing the work ethics of a Marcus Stroman or Kyle Hendricks and being around big leaguers and in big league camp, that’s a privilege. Being on the 40-man, you earned that. Those guys earned that, but there’s still a long way to go and just continue to evolve.”

[MORE: ‘Give them a tough choice’: How top prospect Brennen Davis hopes to deliver for Cubs]

Many of the veterans that were brought in have had successful big-league careers and are known for being strong and helpful clubhouse presences, like Trey Mancini and Dansby Swanson.

“I try to treat everybody the same, offer advice and try to help out cause experience matters at this level,” Mancini said at his opening press conference last month. “When you’re older you gain experience, you wanna give the knowledge that you’ve gained from those before you and from playing to the younger players. So, I just try to be approachable and treat everybody the same.”

Moment of the day

As pitcher fielding practice kicked off at the half diamond behind the agility field at Sloan Park Friday, Marcus Stroman was the first one in line for drills.

The first ball was a roller to the mound, which he fielded smoothly, firing a strike to first base with swagger.

“The hands don’t sleep!” Ross yelled at Stroman.

Stroman confidently fired back to his skipper.

“Four out of five days, I’m free!” he said with a smile.

Stroman is one of the better fielding pitchers in the game and won a Gold Glove in 2017. He’s occasionally took grounders in the infield last season before games.

 

 

 

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