There were already going to be plenty of firsts as David Ross navigated his way through Spring Training for the first time as a manager. The Cubs' new skipper could not have imagined the kind of universal intermission that the sports world is currently under due to the coronavirus pandemic.
"There's no standard for this or experience to pull from," Ross said after Major League Baseball canceled the remainder of Spring Training games. "It's unique times. There's unique circumstances and we're trying to protect each other. And the powers that be, the higher-ups, are making tough decisions, but real decisions for what's best for our communities and our sports."
The Cubs did have roughly five weeks of preseason to evaluate players both in workouts and Cactus League games. While the baseball world awaits clarity on when Spring Training will resume, here are five things we learned about Ross and the Cubs over the past several weeks.
1. Camp Rossy is all business
With the exception of occasional morning Pop-A-Shot basketball before workouts, camp under Ross' watch has been extremely structured. Bench coach Andy Green has played a large role in the organization of the daily schedule, and players have enjoyed the crisp, all-business approach to the days. One goal Ross has accomplished in grouping players has been pairing younger players with veterans. Fostering a culture of shared knowledge has been one of the manager's priorities.
2. A leadoff solution?
Since Dexter Fowler had a home atop the order in 2016, the Cubs have cycled through 17 players in the leadoff spot over the past three years combined. The results have been varied, but mostly underwhelming. In '19, the 11 players used in the No. 1 slot combined for a .212/.294/.383 slash line. Early in spring this year, Ross named Kris Bryant the new leadoff man. The manager believes Bryant's combination of power, on-base ability and baserunning skill make him a dynamic table-setter. And the star third baseman was all in on the idea.
3. No playing favorites
Ross has downplayed the thought that his friendships and history as a former teammate with some of his players could be an obstacle in making decisions as the manager. If you wanted Exhibit A along these lines, look no further than Ross' choice for Opening Day starter. The manager is extremely close with veteran Jon Lester, and used to serve as the pitcher's personal catcher. Even with their strong relationship, and Lester's stature as a veteran leader, Ross said his choice for Opening Day will come down to Yu Darvish or Kyle Hendricks.
4. Run prevention a priority
Whether it's discussing the outfield alignment, the options for second base or other facets of the position-player group, Ross has reiterated that a stout defense is a priority. As an example, the manager recently pointed out that turning double plays is an area in need of improving, and that could factor into the decision-making for second. Ross and his coaching staff are also exploring creative ways to best utilize the defense. Early in camp, for instance, shortstop Javier Báez was playing up the third-base line during bunt defense drills.
5. Embracing tech
The pitching and hitting labs continue to play an increasingly important role among Chicago's players (Major Leaguers and Minor Leaguers). Around the clubhouse, multiple pitchers spoke about tweaks they have been making with the help of data collected. Adopting a spike curveball has been a favorite for a pile of relievers, dating back to last year. Outfielder Steven Souza Jr. recently spoke of how the data gathered from hitting on force plates helped reassure him that his recovering left knee was back at full strength.