Pie Finding Confidence Along with his Swing

DES MOINES – The mechanics of Felix Pie's swing were flawed, and his confidence was shaken. As a result, Pie lasted just 30 games on the Chicago Cubs' roster earlier this season before he was sent back to Class AAA Iowa in mid-May.

Over a month later, Pie is making the necessary adjustments and is beginning to see some of the success that made him the Cubs' top prospect for several years.

Entering play Saturday, the 23-year-old outfielder had reached base safely in his last seven starts, hitting 12-for-27 (.444) over that stretch.

"I was struggling a little bit, but I'm OK," says Pie. "I keep working, because I know myself. I know I can hit. I know I'm struggling because I'm working on something different."

Pie was the Cubs' opening day starter in centerfield, but poor mechanics doomed a prolonged stay.

Cubs manager Lou Piniella told Pie to implement a higher front step into his swing to quicken and shorten him up. But Pie wasn't getting his foot down in time, and with the higher step tended to drop his hands too early. As a result, Iowa hitting coach Von Joshua said Pie was doing the pitchers work for them.

"Just think of trying to throw a baseball before your foot gets down," explained Joshua. "You can't do it ... If you're not creating a wall with your front side, your swing is going to be long, uppercut, loopy or whatever."

After hitting .338 in Spring Training, Pie had a .222 average through April and half of May, managing just 14 hits in 63 at-bats before getting sent down. He then struggled heavily upon his return to the minors and was batting under .200 until a 3-for-4, four-RBI performance against Nashville on Monday, in which he hit his fourth home run.

Joshua, who has worked with Pie the last four seasons, saw the young outfielder with "the least amount of confidence I've seen him have" when he was sent down.

That was part of an overall personality change Joshua believes Pie experienced during his struggles in Chicago.

"I think he became a little bit more withdrawn, but that's not Felix," said Joshua. "He's a happy-go-lucky type of kid, and when his confidence is high, he really rides that. Every place he's gone, he's been the guy … the best guy, head and shoulders above everybody else in the league. And now he's with the best of the best, so it's a whole different mindset."

Recently, Joshua said he has seen Pie getting his "swerve back, so to speak," referring to a return to his normal demeanor. He is beginning to build consistency in his new approach, which Pie says comes from practice.

"I get it now, so I feel comfortable," Pie said. "I'm doing everything right now… My front foot, I put it in the ground on time. I'm working on it a lot now."

Pie said that he's not worried about his average, but instead about "working every day to get it." With success at every minor league level, he hadn't had to worry about his average until he was called up for the first time by Chicago last year.

Pie batted .288 in his first 22 games with Chicago last season but tailed off from there on out, closing out the regular season with a .215 average in 87 games. He was sent down twice, called back up and then was left off of the playoff roster.

Joshua said that young hitters often struggle to adjust when major league pitchers begin to figure them out. The 60-year-old hitting coach hit .273 over a 10-year major league career as an outfielder during the 70s, but needed three seasons after his first call-up before he permanently established himself on the Los Angeles Dodgers' big league roster.

Pie was signed by the Cubs out of the Dominican Republic in 2001 when he was 16 years old. For the past several years, he has been touted as a five-tool threat that would be the long-term solution for Chicago in the outfield.

"My players always get on me, because we always talk about [the] ‘old school.' But years ago, guys didn't get called up until they were 25, 26 years old. Nowadays, we're rushing some of these kids up there, and it's not that easy," Joshua said.

"Performing in the major leagues is different … you've got to learn how to do it. Wrigley Field only adds to that pressure, so it's a pressure-packed atmosphere."

Pie said that he thinks he'll be called up "very soon" and he'll also be ready "very soon." But he seemed content to spend time in the minors refining his swing for now.

"This place is like my home, you know," Pie said. "Everybody here is like my family. But I'm not worried about when they give the opportunity."

Pie said he understood the situation – "the Chicago Cubs have to win this year," he said – and that since he's spent time in the big leagues, he now understands the pressure.

Joshua thinks Pie will learn from his failure and will be ready when called up.

"He won't be the first young kid, young player to go to the big leagues and struggle," Joshua said. "There is a long, long list of great, great players. Willie Mays was 0-for-20-something, and he cried and wanted to go back to the minor leagues, but Leo Durocher wouldn't let him.

"These things happen. [Pie] is still a baby, you know, he is still learning. There are a lot of things they've been throwing at him."

He said he believes Pie needed to learn from experience.

"I've been telling him for years, ‘Hey man, this is what you're going to need to expect up there. This is what you're going to see,'" said Joshua. "And he's seen that. [But] listening to me isn't going to do it. You've got to get up there and experience it, and he's gotten up there and experienced it for a little bit, and hopefully the next time around he will be a little bit more ready for the situation."

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