By John Jackson
CHICAGO — Spring training starts next month, and new Chicago Cubs hitting coach Chili Davis is already hard at work.
“We started off in early November one day a week and we’ve graduated to Tuesdays and Thursdays,” Davis said Saturday during the team’s annual fan convention. “I think last Tuesday was our first on-the-field live BP. We’ve been in the cage most of the time.”
Davis was hired in October to replace John Mallee, who spent three seasons as Chicago’s hitting coach. Davis played in the majors for 19 years and served as the hitting coach in Oakland and Boston for the previous six seasons, including the last three with the Red Sox.
“As far as I’m concerned, Mallee I look at as a really good hitting coach,” Davis said. “It was surprising to me that a team that had been to the playoffs three years in a row and had won a World Series with him here was gonna make a change. But for me, all I can say is the opportunity came up and I couldn’t have had a better opportunity.”
One of Davis’ most important projects is Heyward, who also worked on his swing last winter, but only experienced modest improvements. He batted .259 with 11 homers and 59 RBIs in 126 games after hitting .230 with seven homers and 49 RBIs in 2016.
The 28-year-old Heyward is heading into the third season of a $184 million, eight-year contract. Davis said he would like to see Heyward return to the power numbers from early in his career with the Atlanta Braves, including 27 homers in 2012.
What Davis doesn’t plan on doing is totally remaking Heyward’s swing.
“I try to bring a mentality and not as much a philosophy,” he said. “Everybody has a philosophy and to me a lot of them match. I try to bring a mentality in how we approach the games day in and day out. Trust is huge.”
Davis hit .274 with 350 homers for his major league career. He tries to convey to players the approach he took to the plate.
“I understand how good you are, but I also believe in how good I am, too,” he said. “This is not gonna be easy — it’s gonna be a fight. You’re gonna have to bring your best to get me out.
“I’ve been on three World Series teams as a player. To me, the common denominator with those teams is how we approached games day in and day out as an offense. We just kept applying pressure until eventually the right guy comes to the plate.”
Also Saturday at the Cubs’ convention:
• Cubs owner Tom Ricketts was asked by a fan during a question-and-answer session whether former Cubs slugger Sammy Sosa will be welcomed back to Wrigley Field during the upcoming season.
“I really believe all the players from that era, I think we owe them a lot of understanding and should put ourselves in their shoes,” Ricketts said. “But I feel like the only way to turn this page is to put everything on the table.”
Later, in a session with reporters, Ricketts was asked if he meant Sosa — the franchise’s all-time leader with 545 home runs — had to admit to using steroids.
“I’m not going to talk about Sammy in specific,” he said. “I’m just going to talk about the whole era. I just think we need to put everything on the table and move forward. Full stop.”
• Manager Joe Maddon was asked by a fan if he felt he deserved a contract extension.
“I always work off this premise: I don’t try to strike up those conversations,” Maddon said. “I have two years left on my contract. I’m not concerned about that right now. I am a Cub right now and I want to remain a Cub.”