Gonzales: Will new voices be the impetus Cubs hitters need?

During one of his first days in a Cubs uniform nearly seven years ago, then-catcher David Ross scolded Anthony Rizzo for not properly executing a rundown drill.

Because Ross already had the distinction of handling Jon Lester in Boston and earning leaguewide respect during his six previous stops, no one was ready to challenge his authority.

That occurred during the start of the Cubs' ascent in the National League, but the landscape and personnel have changed radically to the point where adaptation and execution of fundamentals will carry as much weight as their raw talent unless a high-caliber free agent like Carlos Correa signs.

The reset button on the offense was pushed too late to shield the blame from former hitting coaches John Mallee, Chili Davis and Anthony Iapoce. Former President Theo Epstein admitted after the second-half slide in 2018 that the offense "broke," but the all-or-nothing approach and lack of clutch hitting persisted.

It was a collective failure, but at least now there are legitimate reasons to fix the lingering problems.

The background of new hitting coach Greg Brown is fascinating but has a chance to connect with the younger and less established batters. Brown has served as an amateur scout (signing Kiké Hernandez and J.D. Martinez for Houston in the 2009 draft), served nine seasons as head coach at Nova Southeastern University in Florida and was Tampa Bay's minor league hitting coordinator for the last two seasons.

The Cubs have scouted the Rays' system throughly over the last three years, particularly their middle infield prospects that included 2001 American League rookie of the year runner-up Wander Franco and Vidal Brujan (the Rays' third top prospect by Baseball America).

Instructors like Brown have helped putting the finishing touches on their prospects.

New assistant hitting coach Johnny Washington doesn't possess the history that predecessor Chris Valaika (now the hitting coach at Cleveland) with the Cubs pupils, but Washington has worked for more than a decade in various hitting roles in the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego organizations.

From Ian Happ, who resurrected a miserable four months with an impressive finish, to Patrick Wisdom, who hit 28 home runs but struck out 153 times in 338 at-bats, there's plenty to prove.

It's a stark contrast from last summer, when two-time All-Star shortstop Javier Baez struck out 131 times and walked only 15 times in 361 plate appearances before he was dealt to the Mets and increased his on-base percentage by 79 points and batting average by 51 points.

On NBC Sports Chicago's recent telecast of "Being Guillen," Ozzie Guillen concurred with sons Ozzie Jr. and Oney that Baez could improve by listening to 11-time All-Star and new Detroit teammate Miguel Cabrera.

"Please, I don't want to see you again to be the Puerto Rican Adam Dunn," the elder Guillen said, in reference to Dunn, the prolific strikeout-prone slugger. "You're better than that, buddy. And you know that. Listen to Miguel Cabrera."

Cubs executives didn't need additional data to address the need for more impact pitching, a weakness they believe they fulfilled with the signing of free agent Marcus Stroman.

The rotation still needs help, as the average velocity of four-seam fastballs by Cubs starters in 2021 was 91.2 mph, which was second-slowest in the National League (according to FanGraphs) and resulted in the second-fewest strikeouts per nine innings (7.40).

Many of the Cubs' hardest throwers are in the lower minor leagues, but the hiring of Daniel Moskos as assistant pitching coach could help supplement the efforts of Tommy Hottovy.

Moskos, 35, who didn't fulfill expectation as the fourth overall pick of Pittsburgh in the 2007 draft, found his niche in coaching and became well-rounded after spending 2019 with the Driveline training staff and its holistic approach.

A fresh set of eyes can't hurt Adbert Alzolay, who allowed 20 of his 25 homers to left-handed batters, who had a .924 OPS against him.

The Cubs are far from a playoff contender, as questions about a full-time replacement at shortstop, the composition of the outfield and rotation depth persist.

In the meantime, new voices should at least combine to deliver a solid, singular message similar to what Ross implored to Rizzo before the Cubs embarked on three consecutive NL Championship Series appearances.


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