In what has largely been a lost year for player development, outfielder Brennen Davis had gotten more than 100 live at-bats at the Cubs’ alternate training site in South Bend, Ind. Davis returned to the same facility where he played low Class A ball last season, but he isn’t exactly repeating a level.
The Cubs wanted Davis, 20, in their 60-man player pool so he could maintain a strength and conditioning program, develop a routine and learn from others who had already reached the majors. The same logic applied with Christopher Morel, 21, who played with Davis in South Bend last year. Davis isn’t on the big league radar for this season, but he could be the future center fielder at Wrigley Field.
“We always say let the game teach you,” Cubs senior director of player development Matt Dorey said. “That’s the best teaching, and he’s had that.
"He’s faced major league, up-down, upper-level arms every time out. They’ve faced him a lot as well, so they know where to attack him. That’s the beautiful part of hitting, just trying to make consistent adjustments, and knowing how guys are trying to get you out, and how do you counterbalance that with your approach?”
Davis—a 2018 second-rounder from Basha High in Gilbert, Ariz.—opened eyes with his athleticism and performance in 50 Midwest League games (.907 OPS) last season. In a normal year he might have made it to Double-A Tennessee by now.
The Cubs have a strong track record with young hitters and believe the 6-foot-4, 175-pound Davis will benefit from the exposure to their coaches on the ground in South Bend.
“This is a grind,” Dorey said. “Just worry about the things you can control, and try to flush bad at-bats or a lack of performance, and really focus in on the next pitch you see or the next drill that we prescribe. Try to control that—and dominate that—and not worry so much about failure and other things you can’t control.”
— Righthander Adbert Alzolay impressed club officials with the way he trained during baseball’s shutdown. He reported to camp in great shape and embraced all the resources the Cubs offered at the South Bend site. Alzolay, once a highly regarded pitching prospect who hadn’t put it all together yet, took advantage of the opportunity when the Cubs needed a starter for an Aug. 19 doubleheader at Wrigley Field. Alzolay gave up one unearned run in five innings against the Cardinals, showing that he could be an X-factor in September.
Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein put it this way: “We told him, ‘You should be really proud of yourself. In the middle of a global pandemic, you added a different fastball variant. You firmed up your breaking ball. You’re now essentially a five-pitch guy after being like a two-and-a-half-pitch guy last year.’ ”
— The Cubs have used the South Bend training camp as a kind of laboratory for a pitching program that had already undergone an offseason overhaul. Righthander Tyson Miller, who bought into the organization’s analytics movement last year, used the alternate site as a springboard to make his big league debut in 2020 and better position himself for the future, which is clouded by all the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19.
“Tyson (has) very unique movement to his pitches,” Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy said. “But everything for the most part moved glove side. His cutter, curveball, slider, cut-changeup—all those things were moving away from a righthanded hitter. One thing we wanted to just keep in mind and work on to round out his repertoire was to have things that could actually move arm side—a two-seam fastball and more of a two-seam changeup—(to) make him a little less predictable.”