Canzler was selected as a 30th-round Cubs draft pick from Hazleton (Pa.) Area High School in 2004. After spending his first two summers with the Cubs in the Arizona Rookie League, Canzler earned his way onto the Class Low-A Boise roster last summer and took the Northwest League by surprise, clubbing 16 home runs with 61 RBIs in 73 games.
The plight from Arizona to Boise (and now to Peoria) was something of a long wait for Canzler, but it's been worth his time and patience.
"There were definitely times the first couple of years where I would have an 0-for-3 game and it would affect my next two or three games," Canzler says in retrospect. "Coming up as an 18-year-old, that's something that you have to learn and I feel like that was why it was a good idea for me to be in Rookie Ball or Extended (Spring Training) for three years. Not letting a bad day affect your next day or your next week was a good lesson for me."
Talk about the jump from short-season to full-season ball. How different has it been not just from a performance standpoint, but from the everyday grind?
Russ Canzler: It's definitely an adjustment playing full-season ball. You start out in April and it's freezing cold, so that was a tough adjustment. I think when you start out in short-season, you know that right when you get started, you have to put up some numbers and get after it.
Now, throughout the season here, they keep telling us to relax and that it's a long year and not to panic; to keep working on things and keep improving yourself every single day. I think that is what's important. It's really not how you start; it's how you finish. That's what you take with you into the off-season in preparation for the next year.
It seems your season has been a little hot and cold at times. Overall, are you satisfied with the year you've had in Peoria?
Russ Canzler: I think to a certain extent, you're never going to be satisfied. I'm pretty tough on myself and I expect a lot out of myself for the amount of hard work I put in. To say that I'm really satisfied, there are things I feel I could improve upon and there are things I feel that I have improved upon from last season. I feel like I have a better, more consistent approach at the plate everyday. I try to keep the same approach and I feel I'm growing as a hitter at the plate because of that.
Like you put it, it has been a little hot and cold, but I feel I'm maturing as a man and trying to learn some more things about myself. I think that's what the long season does for you. You have to really grind it out and you have to be in there every single day mentally and physically prepared. I feel good right now and feel I'm ready to make a nice push at the end of the year here. We're making a playoff push, so that's definitely an added bonus.
Last year, we won at Boise and we're pretty much the same core group of guys with a few added guys from the draft. We're winning here, too, and I think that's what really impresses the Cubs organization. The guys that are kind of together, we're winning as a group and hopefully we can all move up together and win as a group, and bring that to Chicago.
When you say there are things you could improve on, what would those things be? Also, what things have you improved on from last year?
Russ Canzler: One of the things I feel I really could improve on at the plate is working my two-strike approach a little better. Sometimes I think with two strikes at the plate, you can get a little anxious. Realistically, you're just trying to calm down and work the other side of the field and work the opposite way. I think I can improve on that.
(Of) the things that I feel I have improved upon, last year I felt the only pitch I was really capable of driving was the fastball. I feel I've learned to jump on my aggressiveness at the plate early in the count. That's something that (Peoria hitting coach) Julio Garcia and [manager Ryne Sandberg] have talked to me about, and us about as a team: jumping on the first pitch that you like, and I think that's something I wasn't very good at. (In the past), I would like to take a strike and then I would be in the hole.
Now, I'm jumping on the first thing that I like and usually what you get is a guy throwing you a BP fastball down the plate or he's just flipping a hanging curveball over for a strike. I think just learning to jump on the first thing I like and being aggressive at the plate, putting the pressure on the pitcher, setting the tone at the plate and not really letting the pitcher set the tone, all of that has really helped me out a lot.
Early on in your career, at least a couple of different people in the organization said that they saw you as a power hitter. Are power and power numbers something you're really thinking about at this point?
Russ Canzler: Honestly, I'm not trying to think about it. I know the type of year I had last year in Boise with the home runs. The thing that I've realized is that if I get caught up thinking about home runs, there's a real good chance that I'm not going to (hit many). I'd be lying if I said there wasn't a point this year when I said, "Why aren't I hitting as many home runs as last year?" And then you start to press and you really don't have a chance.
What I try to do is get in there every single day and try to hit the ball hard. If I can hit the ball hard three out of four times, I'm happy. I think the home runs are going to take care of themselves. I have seven right now and I know what I'm capable of. Like I said, if I think about doing it, it's really not going to happen. It's the type of thing that as I get older and stronger, the home runs will come more.
You've played some left field this year in addition to first base. Have you enjoyed your reps in the outfield, and had you logged any playing time there in the past?
Russ Canzler: No, actually I hadn't. At the All-Star break this year, Ryno sat me down and said they wanted to try working me out in left a little bit. He said that he thought it was something that I could use to really benefit my career and only add to my arsenal. I don't want to be labeled as a guy that's strictly a first baseman. If there's an opportunity to move up to another level where there's an opening in the outfield, first base or third base, I want the Cubs to know that they can count on me in those positions.
Getting used to the adjustments there (outfield), it was different. I never really played there before. I worked on it a little bit in the Instructional League last year with (Cubs Minor League Field Coordinator) Dave Bialas, so I had some background on it. But as far as game experience, it was pretty nerve-wracking (laughs). They threw me in there a few days later and there were about 6,000 fans there in Peoria. I do like it and hopefully it's something I can keep pursuing.
Was the mid-season change in hitting coaches from Kevin Green to Julio Garcia at all confusing or difficult for you to adjust to?
Russ Canzler: Not really. We were really fortunate with both guys. They are really concerned about our careers and our developments. Every hitting coach has a different approach or style. But with Julio, he didn't come in and try to change a bunch of things; he tried to keep it simple.
Like I spoke of earlier, the one thing he preached a lot was setting the tone, not letting the pitcher set the tone, and you putting pressure on them right away. I think that's shown in our play as a team.
Considering you spent three years in short-season ball, are you happy with where you are right now? A lot of 30th-round guys don't always make it to Peoria and show the kind of potential that you have.
Russ Canzler: Definitely. I played with a bunch of guys back home and I know they would give anything to have an opportunity to play in pro ball anywhere. I can't really know what's going to happen in the future, but I'm just going to control my attitude and my work ethic, and try to work hard every single day. I know what I can do and what I'm capable of, and I'm going to keep pursuing that.
As far as where I am right now, I'm happy. We're winning and we have a great manager in Ryne Sandberg. There are not too many guys that can say they play for a Hall of Famer every day. Even the attention we get from that, it's like a home game wherever we are on the road because there are so many Cubs fans wherever you go. It's unbelievable to see that kind of support wherever we go.
We talked about what you were looking to improve on from here on out. What about "goals" goals?
Russ Canzler: I can't really say that I have any as far as numbers because it's tough to tell. You can go 0-for-4 and hit four line drives and your average drops. So I can't really say I have any numbers-wise; I just want to have a good feeling at the end of the year. I want to finish strong and would love to get into the playoffs. If I can have a good push the last week of the season and take that with me into the off-season, it would be great for me.