Continuing from where I ended the preceding post, Larry Rothschild was the sole coach to survive the months following the end of the season. The Piniella 101 session, then, was more "Guess Who?" than anything else. After all, I'd never heard of, much less even seen, new first base coach Matt Sinatro before the session.
Piniella, with his new coaching staff assembled around him, fielded questions both serious and facetious. The winner for funniest comment: Steve from The Heckler, who asked not a question, but made a demand: "Give Carlos Zambrano whatever he wants." Piniella and his staff simply looked at Steve and each other, as if they expected something more. But that was it, and Steve walked away from the microphone to cheers and applause.
Of significant interest to fans was the addition of Gerald Perry as the team's new hitting coach. A former Oakland coach with a reputed love for on-base percentage, Perry, too, was unknown to me before the Convention (perhaps Toastmaster Ken Arneson can give an evaluation...). But from Jim Hendry's comments about Perry, and his own words in the 101 session, I did pick up quite a bit.
Hendry made sure to mention the A's and what they have done to "set on-base percentage standards." Said Assistant GM Randy Bush: "[Plate discipline] is very important. Lou and his staff will take care of it, doing things like running pitch counts up and working the count."
Those last two items mentioned by Bush must be improved in '07. OBP aside, last year's team collectively seemed to lack the ability to professionally approach an at-bat. From poor plate discipline to failed bunt attempts, the Cubs were downright offensive on offense. While one man certainly won't change everything in a year I'm not expecting any miracles it's at least a start. Piniella made mention of .345 as an acceptable team OBP, a number I'd take in an instant, given the Cubs' pitiful .319 last year.
Perry himself didn't seem too focused on OBP, instead echoing Bush's earlier statements about working the count, swinging at good pitches, and just being a smart hitter in general. Sounds good to me.
For all the good work Hendry has done as GM, however, he still seems a bit backwards when it comes to statistics. Said Hendry: "OBP isn't everything. You still have to knock runners in. Scoring runs is still most important. Our goal is to maximize everyone's potential, and this year we have a good balance of speed, power and talent. Experience is still important, too, not just numbers."
Hendry also made mention of Juan Pierre, excusing the center fielder's low OBP with his 200+ hits. Just when I thought he had it all figured out with the hiring of Perry and the A's connection, Hendry throws these statements out there. Yes, driving runs in is important, but, you know, actually having men on-base makes doing so a much easier task. The Pierre comment was just ludicrous, and I'm just glad Hendry, or someone close to him, had enough sense to let Pierre go. Good luck with him, Jon, and I guarantee you'll see him ground out weakly to second or short at least three times a game.
On the topic of Pierre, Goatrider Kurt asked Hendry earlier in the day about the speedy outfielder, specifically as to why he was not traded at the All-Star break. Hendry's answer: "Pierre was a tough decision. We didn't know if we would bring Juan back, and we considered a short-term deal. We really didn't decide until after Lou was hired. Pierre was also the only guy we considered trading."
Spiraling off on another tangent, Hendry, Piniella, and, later, Mike Quade, commented about prospect Felix Pie. As was clearly evident by their comments, Pie is their center fielder of the future. "We won't block his path in center," said Hendry. "He's outstanding defensively, and [in regard to whether he makes the team out of spring training], Lou will figure out what's best for his career. When he's ready, he'll get a chance to play."
Piniella added that Pie will see plenty of spring training at-bats.
Quade, who managed Pie at Triple-A Iowa last season, made clear that Pie is not ready for the majors, and if he had the choice, would spend another year in the minors. "Right now, he's very raw and immature. He's an incredible athlete, and you can put up with a few mistakes in the outfield because of the number of balls he will run down. But major league pitchers would eat him alive right now because of how they execute their pitches. Lou and Gerald talked earlier about plate discipline, and Pie needs to spend some time working on that aspect of his game."
Not exactly the most positive review of Pie, but honest nonetheless. And remember, as Hendry mentioned, "he's only a 21-year-old kid."
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That's all for now. I haven't even quite finished covering Saturday yet, so it looks like the rest, including Sunday's events, will be spread out over this week. And more pictures, too. I've got some good ones.