The Rundown: Counsell Refreshing Managerial Change, Horton Gets Spring Breakout Assignment, Cease Traded to Padres

Craig Counsell is a refreshing change as the Cubs’ manager after a decade of Joe Maddon and David Ross. Maddon holds his place in team history for ending a 108-year championship drought, while Ross will probably be remembered more for his leadership as a player than as the guy calling the shots. Those two had similar personalities, though Counsell sits at the opposite end of that spectrum. His work ethic and attention to detail are outstanding, if not a bit geeky.

There’s much more to Counsell than hard work and an affinity for analytics, however. His ability to further the development of young players at the major league level is among the best in baseball. Chicago’s new skipper is also known for his leadership skills and his keen ability to motivate and communicate effectively with his players.

In fact, he’s already fostering solid relationships with several of Chicago’s key players, including Michael Busch. First base was the black hole of the team’s lineup last season, and though Busch won’t win any Gold Glove awards, he should produce at a better clip than the 92 wRC+ the Cubs got from their first sackers last year. Counsell is a big believer in Busch, which is part of why Pete Crow-Armstrong was dispatched to minor league camp. Cody Bellinger will play center field until Crow-Armstrong is ready, and then Counsell will lean on his adaptability skills to get all three in his lineup.

Counsell is often praised for his willingness to try unconventional strategies and isn’t afraid to make bold moves when necessary. That’s a crucial quality of being a good manager and a precursor to creating a positive clubhouse atmosphere. Knowing when and where to position his players or deploy his relievers arguably makes Counsell eight wins better than Ross with comparable rosters. That’s also the difference between winning and losing one-run games. That said, the addition of Hector Neris plus potential full seasons from Daniel Palencia and Luke Little gives this year’s team a deeper bullpen.

Counsell has been a big part of Cubs’ Cactus League broadcasts and provides refreshing insight while mic’d up. His love for analytics shows, but you can tell he truly cares about the development side just as much. That will benefit Busch, Miguel Amaya, Alexander Canario, and Jordan Wicks. It also bodes well for Crow-Armstrong’s eventual recall and a bevy of pitching prospects knocking on the door.

Cubs News & Notes

Odds & Sods

Happy Pi Day to those who celebrate.

Climbing the Ladder

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Owen Caissie is going to play in the bigs at some point this season. I also wouldn’t be surprised if he’s the organization’s top prospect once the midseason rankings drop. The kid raked in Cactus League play before being assigned to minor league camp. Yes, he’s young, but he’s only eight months younger than Matt Shaw, who many expect to arrive this season. Both players impressed Counsell in their short time with the major leaguers.

“I don’t know if a player should agree with me on [being reassigned],” Counsell said. “It’s a disagreement we should have. He should be always pushing me and he should be trying to change our minds. That’s the knocking the door down — just try to change our minds. That’s kind of their job, and that’s what great players do. They make you go faster because they just keep proving, ‘Give me more, give me another challenge.’”

Central Intelligence

Spring Training News & Notes

The White Sox traded No. 1 starter Dylan Cease to the Padres for RHP Drew Thorpe, OF Samuel Zavala, RHP Jairo Iriarte, and right-handed reliever Steven Wilson. San Diego didn’t part with any of its top four prospects to acquire Cease, and while the cost beyond that group was high, the Padres’ core prospects are still in place to build around.

The Yankees were also pursuing a trade for Cease.

The South Siders also announced that Michael Kopech will be transitioned to the bullpen.

With Cease off the market and Gerrit Cole injured, New York could pivot to Blake Snell or Jordan Montgomery.

Cole could miss 1-2 months with an elbow injury that may be worse than initially feared.

The Braves announced on Thursday that they are signing outfielder Adam Duvall to a one-year contract worth $3 million, bringing back a key piece from their 2021 World Series-winning team.

Would you rather have Shohei Ohtani or Juan Soto hitting in your lineup this season?

Extra Innings

Breakout candidate alert!

They Said It

  • “I’ve seen the same thing with Michael [Busch] at first base as in the box. He’s just steady and consistent. That’s what it’s felt like. Probably the thing you notice is there is athleticism. This is a guy who has played more difficult infield positions. First base, movement-wise, isn’t as challenging. It’s more challenging instinctually. There’s a man on second and there’s a ground ball hit hard up the middle. That’s the play you gotta bust to be the cutoff man. What if the shortstop makes a great play? Setups, footwork, holding a guy on, not holding him on and keeping him close but gaining depth as the defender. Score situations, bunt situations.” – Counsell
  • “From across the way, I’ve always admired [Suzuki’s] swing. It’s a really pretty baseball swing. [Being such ]a good athlete is probably what surprised me a little bit. I think he’s had a fascinating couple of years. He’s learning the league and we saw what he’s capable of on the high end the last couple months of the season. That’s pretty exciting.” – Counsell
  • “Just seeing [Swanson] now for a couple of weeks, it’s impressive watching him pick up a ground ball. I know he won the Gold Glove and everything so I knew he was good and now I’m watching it and I’m like, ‘Oh my God, could you make it look any easier?’ It’s really impressive. It’s fun to watch.” – Counsell

Thursday Walk-Up Song

No lip-synching in this fabulous performance by the Jackson 5, and I dearly want a pair of those trousers.

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