Poised Tauchman eyes roster spot
Cubs' RF non-roster invitee showing off offensive power during Spring Training
MESA, Ariz. -- Cubs manager David Ross has raved about how Mike Tauchman has approached plate appearances this spring. Ross has lauded the outfielder's ability to control the strike zone, work the count and pounce on the appropriate pitches.
"The poise, the calmness," Ross said recently. "The balance within the swing, within the at-bat, really stands out every time he gets in the box. It's a professional at-bat, and he's done a really nice job this spring of being consistent with that."
That type of first impression as a hitter, combined with the ability to play all three outfield spots and run the bases well, explains why Tauchman finds himself very much in the hunt for an Opening Day roster spot, even as a non-roster invitee.
Right fielder Seiya Suzuki is working his way back from a moderate strain of his left oblique. Good news arrived Thursday, when Ross announced that Suzuki has resumed light catch and non-contact swings, but the right fielder is expected to open the year on the injured list.
That means there is a vacancy among the outfield corps.
"It’s my goal to get back to the big leagues," Tauchman said prior to Thursday's 3-1 loss to the D-backs. "But my goals are a little bit bigger than just filling a roster spot. I think that I have something to offer as somebody that can contribute to a team over the course of the season.”
Asked about Tauchman being in the mix for an Opening Day job, Cubs director of hitting Justin Stone smiled on Thursday morning.
"I'm not surprised," Stone said.
Stone's history with the 32-year-old Tauchman dates back to 2016, when the outfielder had just finished a season at Triple-A Albuquerque in the Rockies' system. An Illinois native, Tauchman was searching for a Chicago-area hitting facility and was pointed to Stone's Elite Baseball Training.
"I felt like I was doing some really good things intent-wise at the end of the year," Tauchman said. "But I felt like I had sort of plateaued with the current swing that I had."
Sean Lyons, one of Tauchman's former coaches at Bradley University, was a college teammate of Stone's at Eastern Illinois. Tauchman chatted with Lyons about Stone -- the Cubs did not hire him until prior to the 2020 season -- and liked what he heard.
"In '16, the analytics in the hitting world was a kind of a new thing," Stone said. "I'd been dipping my toe in that for quite a while. Sean said, ‘He might be able to help you with some things from an analytical perspective that may change your mind about what you're doing with your swing.'"
This spring, Ross has watched Tauchman hit at a .304 clip (7-for-23) with one homer, two doubles and nearly as many walks (five) as strikeouts (seven) in Cactus League play. But the left-handed swing on display now is a far cry from what it looked like when the outfielder first met Stone.
In their early hitting sessions, Stone saw a swing that was centered on Tauchman's quick hands. He described the swing as a "reverse sequence" kinetically, meaning Tauchman was not leading with his lower half. It was a top-down stroke that resulted in good contact, but little power.
"It was a steep swing path," Stone explained. "The lower-body move changes he made allowed his swing path to take an arc that was going to allow him to elevate the ball and take advantage of his already-good exit velocity."
In 2017, Tauchman slashed .331/.386/.555 at Triple-A and hit his way into the Major Leagues with Colorado for the first time. He has since had MLB stints with the Rockies, Yankees and Giants in parts of five seasons. His best year came in '19, when Tauchman recorded an .865 OPS and a 128 OPS+ in 87 games for New York.
"There were some very glaring inefficiencies in my load and my setup," Tauchman said. "When you start moving a little bit more efficiently, you kind of feel that right away. It was like, I'm swinging faster, but with less effort and the ball's coming off easier more consistently."
Last season, Tauchman suited up for the Hanwha Eagles in Korea and slashed .289/.366/.430 with 12 homers and 37 doubles in 144 games. He was weighing whether to play another year overseas.
“We told him, ‘If you have another good year, you can come back over to the United States,’” Stone said. “And he goes, 'You know what? I've never played at Wrigley.'"
Tauchman may soon get that chance.