Post-season Q&A: Russ Canzler

After two years in the Arizona Rookie League, Russ Canzler finally earned his ticket to Boise on the Cubs' short-season, Low-A circuit. In his first genuine splash of pro ball two years after being drafted out of high school, he led the Northwest League with 17 home runs in 2006.

Factoring in the post-season, the 20-year-old Hawks first baseman batted .268 in 77 games. He hit 23 doubles and drove in a league-high 64 runs. We visited with the Cubs' up and coming first base prospect and got his thoughts on the 2006 season and more.

Inside The Ivy: You led the league in home runs and RBIs this year. How do you sum up the year you had?

Russ Canzler: It was a really exciting year for myself individually and the team aspect as well. Obviously, you have goals as an individual and I just wanted to go out and show the Cubs what I could do. I got my chance to play in Boise, and I really wanted to take advantage of it. I wanted to show that I could play every day and that I didn't need a day off, ever. I felt pretty good, even though everybody gets pretty tired at the end of the year when your body is breaking down. I still felt I was able to fight through that stuff and finish strong. From the team's point of view, it was a great year for a lot of guys in their first years in pro ball. There we were being competitive every night, and every single night we had a chance to win. We won our division and lost the championship series unfortunately, but I think it was a great year for our team and nothing to be ashamed about at all.

Inside The Ivy: You're obviously still very young, but being that you were drafted in '04, did you feel you should have gotten a chance with the Boise team a year ago as opposed to playing in Arizona?

Russ Canzler: Not really. If you had talked to me last year, I would have said that I didn't understand why I wasn't moving up. But I think that it helped me develop more from a mental aspect. I'm sure I would have been able to handle myself if I could have gone up last year. Maybe I wouldn't have had the same year I had this year, but I think I would have been able to do well in Boise last year. At the time, I still had more of a high school attitude. From my aspect of it, you have to go through some stuff to develop as a baseball player. If everything is just handed to you, you're not going to go through any adversity. It strengthens you not only as a baseball player, but as a human being. You learn how to get through stuff. When you say that you don't understand what's going on and that this is your second year in rookie ball and, "Do they even think I can play?" there's a lot of stuff going through your mind, but you learn how to fight through that. Going through adversity like that makes you a stronger person.

Inside The Ivy: That's a great way to look at it.

Russ Canzler: It's tough, because when you're in that situation, you ask yourself what's going on and say that you deserve to be there because you work hard. But I just don't think I was mentally ready. Looking at it now and the type of baseball player I was a year ago and being in rookie ball, it just gave me more motivation to work harder in the off-season and helped me get mentally sound. Going through that strengthened me a lot. It even made me appreciate being in Boise that much more. I talked to some of my buddies and they asked why I was just happy being in Boise. [They said] "You should want to be in Peoria." My dad said, "You should be aiming for Daytona." It makes you appreciate being able to play pro baseball. When I came to Boise this year, I was like a little kid. I said, "Oh, man, they have fans here. We're taking bus trips. We have our own clubhouse. We're wearing different jerseys!" It was good for me. It really was.

Inside The Ivy: When we first talked to you, you said you didn't like to think of yourself as a home run hitter, but Steve McFarland told us the Cubs had always expected you to develop into more of a power hitter. Did you ever hope the home runs would come around?

Russ Canzler: Yeah, you always hope they will. When I was in high school, I hit some home runs and I heard the same things that Steve said: "Hey, you're going to be the type of guy that develops power." I just didn't really understand how you were supposed to develop power! You either hit the ball out or you don't! I never in a thousand years would have expected this type of home run output that I've had. Once they started flying out, you get a little more confidence in yourself. Like I said before, I don't like being considered a home run hitter, because you tend to get your mind set on that; like you've got to hit a home run. If I'm swinging really hard and trying to yank one out, you might as well not be in the lineup that day. When I'm not trying and just having fun, that's when I hit the home runs. The guys all had a good time with it, saying, "Come on, hit one out!" You're just like, "Stop!" (laughs)

Inside The Ivy: One thing that's always brought up with first basemen is their defense. With all the offense you put up, how much time did you have to focus on your ‘D?'

Russ Canzler: I've been able to work at it, but not as much as I would have liked. That's something that I really have to focus on in the off-season, because I know I could get a lot better on defense. There are certain things I need to get better on. For instance, that ball that gets hit in between first and second base, I have a tough time judging it. Sometimes I'll go after it when the second baseman is right behind it. Or, they hit it really hard and I think the second baseman has it and it goes right through the hole and I think I could have went after it. There are certain things like being able to pick the ball a little better. This was my first full year of playing first base, so it's understandable that there are some things that I don't get right away. But I know that it's going to be one of the main things the Cubs will be working with me on in Instructional Leagues. I know I'll be able to handle it.

Inside The Ivy: That's one of the things we wanted to ask you about: Instructs.

Russ Canzler: I think it's really going to put the defensive aspect into my game. I'll also try and cut down on some strikeouts. With two strikes, I'd like to be able to put the ball in play with runners on base and runners in scoring position. I'm trying to have a solid approach at the plate. Dave Keller (Minor League Hitting Coordinator) really likes working with a plan. I'd like to develop a plan at the plate no matter what the situation is. There are times when you go up and before you know it, your at-bat is over and you're asking yourself, "What was I thinking?" It will be a good time for us to do this kind of thing with the season over.

Inside The Ivy: Lastly, we got this funny picture of you wearing a fake mustache before one of the playoff games against Salem-Keizer. What was that all about?

Russ Canzler: (laughs) In the playoff series, we all grew mustaches, or at least we all tried to. Mine came in OK and some of the guys did one. We all had fun with it and the fans started catching on to it. We won the first game and that (the photo) was when we were warming up for the second game. One of the people that worked with the Hawks came down into the locker room and said, "You've got to wear this." It was funny. There were a couple of little girls that came to the game with painted-on mustaches. We were having a good time with it. Some of our guys painted it on their faces and I had that fake one on. The guys that painted it on actually wore it for the game. It was pretty wild.

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