Cubs’ Trey Mancini carrying lessons from last year into spring-training adjustments

The Cubs signed Mancini after his World Series run with the Astros in 2022.

SHARE Cubs’ Trey Mancini carrying lessons from last year into spring-training adjustments
Cubs first baseman Trey Mancini high-fives teammates during a spring training game at Sloan Park.

Cubs first baseman Trey Mancini high-fives teammates during a spring training game at Sloan Park.

John Antonoff/For the Sun-Times

MESA, Ariz. — The Cubs’ Trey Mancini could tell he was in a good spot with his swing to start spring training. Even when he was getting jammed, he was eking out soft line drives and bloopers that would fall in.

‘‘I was staying through the ball really well and getting hits on those,’’ Mancini told the Sun-Times. ‘‘And that can be the difference between you getting close to .300 or hitting .230 or .240 in a year.’’

Lately, Mancini’s timing has been a little off, which he sees as the root of his strikeouts. Still, Mancini had only one multiple-strikeout game in a little more than a week, when he punched out three times March 12 against the Brewers. But he also has rolled over on some of the pitches he had been poking into the outfield for hits.

‘‘We all always want to analyze our swing and see what’s going wrong,’’ Mancini said. ‘‘Normally, it’s going to be something with your timing.’’

Spring training comes with less pressure than September, but the difference in Mancini’s mindset now is far different from his approach to a slump late last season. He’s among the Cubs’ offensive bounce-back candidates who might help them exceed projections.

Mancini signed with the Cubs after a unique 2022 season. He was hitting .268 with 10 home runs for the Orioles, the only organization he had played for, when the Astros traded for him as a difference-making power hitter in the second half.

At first, all went according to plan. Mancini hit three homers in his first eight at-bats with the Astros and was batting .296 in the first couple of weeks of August.

But as the month wound down, he sunk into a rut and remained there through the postseason. He made one mechanical tweak after another.

‘‘I was looking for an epiphany, almost,’’ he said.

After the World Series, in which he made a sparkling defensive play at first base to save Game 5 against the Phillies, Mancini took two months off from hitting.

‘‘I just wanted my body to forget what I was doing at that point,’’ he said.

The rest of his offseason centered on simplifying his mindset and his cues.

Mancini’s best swing generates a lot of opposite-field power. When he hit a career-high 35 homers in 2019, more than half of them were up the middle or to right field. He wants to get back to ‘‘hitting the ball with authority that way.’’

He went through old video of his best offensive seasons, 2017 and 2019, and tried to remember what his mindset was at the plate.

‘‘I was very, very focused on one thing, and that was the baseball,’’ he said. ‘‘I wasn’t thinking about anything I was doing.’’

Mancini’s swing starts with his legs, and everything else follows. But when he thinks about replicating his mechanics that way, his hands lag too far behind.

Instead, he has found that if he thinks about starting with his hands, ‘‘Everything else [falls] into place. It’s a little unorthodox, but that’s what works for me.’’

Mancini sums up his mentality in two words: ‘‘Try easier.’’

He’s putting it into practice now that he has hit his first rough patch of the spring.

‘‘Trey’s really smart, and he understands his swing,’’ hitting coach Dustin Kelly said. ‘‘So he knows when something is just a tick off. And he’s the type of guy, when it’s a tick off, he wants to address it right away and not let it snowball.’’

This time, Mancini isn’t trying a series of mechanical fixes. He knows the issue is the timing of his load. He wants to be recognizing the pitch while his weight is on his back leg, almost ‘‘hanging’’ in that split-second before shifting forward.

Mancini has been just slightly ahead of that mark, but that can be the difference between laying off an inside pitch and chasing it or between hitting a soft line drive and rolling over into a grounder.

‘‘You don’t want to go through all spring and have it be a breeze, and then you go into the season and face your first set of adversity there,’’ Mancini said. ‘‘It’s good in spring to feel a little uncomfortable. You want it to simulate the season because the season is going to have its ebbs and flows.’’

In the Cubs’ 5-2 walk-off victory Sunday against the Padres, Mancini struck out in his first at-bat and grounded out in his second.

He then stepped up to the plate with the bases empty and one out in the fifth inning. He almost was charged with an automatic strike when he lost track of the time, but he asked for time before the clock hit eight seconds.

‘‘I was able to gather myself and reset,’’ he said. ‘‘And it felt really good to hit that back-side line drive there.’’

Padres right fielder David Dahl deflected the ball, and it fell in for a double.

‘‘The thought process is, you want to be feeling like that from the first at-bat,’’ Mancini said. ‘‘So always trying to get better but . . . not worrying too much if it’s not a great game.’’

CUBS 6, ROYALS 2 (6½ inn.)

Jameson Taillon made quick work of the Royals’ lineup in the first two innings, but he gave up a two-run home run to MJ Melendez in the third. He struck out nine in five innings.

Christopher Morel hit his third homer of the spring in the second inning, tying Yan Gomes and Edwin Rios for the team lead.

• Before the game, outfielder Seiya Suzuki (strained left oblique) progressed to long toss in his throwing program.

On deck: Cubs at Athletics, 3:05 p.m. Wednesday, Mesa, Marquee, Adbert Alzolay vs. James Kaprielian.

The Latest
Two years after Roe v. Wade was overturned, Illinois takes in more out-of-state abortion patients than any other state. Reproductive rights and abortion access remain constantly under threat.
Phil Grenchik landed a big walleye while trolling for steelhead last week.
She was shot in the leg while in a car in the 2500 block of West Divison Street about 11 p.m.
The Bears are rising, but they aren’t the only ones. There are still plenty of hurdles in their path to contending.
Foxx “was forced to step off of the road onto the parkway grass due to her fear of being struck,” according to court documents.