Young Cubs can improve small-ball skills

MILWAUKEE -- Darwin Barney, Starlin Castro and Tony Campana give the Chicago Cubs something they haven’t had for a long time --players that can run, get on base, and create runs.

The question at this point is: How do they improve on the run-production skills they already have?

In 2002, then Cubs general manager Jim Hendry sent Corey Patterson, one of the fastest players in the majors, to Arizona in the offseason with the sole purpose of spending time with former leadoff man extraordinaire Brett Butler. Hendry hoped Patterson would learn the nuances of getting on base, stealing bases and developing a philosophy to utilize his speed.

Things never panned out for Patterson with the Cubs, but maybe a similar effort would help the Cubs’ current young talent.

Campana has the highest stolen base percentage in baseball with 17 steals in 18 attempts and both Castro and Barney have improved in that category as well. In 2010, Castro stole 10 bases in 20 attempts and this year he has been successful 17 out of 26 times. Barney has eight steals in 10 attempts.

“I do think that our base stealing and base running has improved quite a bit,” said Cubs first base coach Bob Dernier, who is in charge of the club’s base running.

Another area the Cubs could improve on is showing the bunt to bring the fielders in while manipulating the defense with a small-ball attack.

Campana shows bunt often, maybe more so than any player in baseball, but Castro and Barney could follow his lead more often.

“No doubt about it, it helps your hitting when you can show a bunt and bring those infielders in,” Dernier said. “It gives you the opportunity to drive balls by infielders and have some monster angles and holes to hit the ball into. I’d like to see Castro show bunt a little more, because he doesn’t do it very often. And Barney as well, although he shows it more than Castro does.”

While the Cubs do have base running instructors at the minor and major league levels, maybe it’s time for another concentrated small-ball camp this winter in Mesa.

“I think the point is well taken,” Dernier said when asked about that possibility. “I’m going to talk to some people in our own organization who make those decisions and see what they have to say.”