Cubs Still Plenty High on Pie

Felix Pie figured to be a solid fixture in the Chicago Cubs' outfield by now. Instead he has continued to see the bulk of his playing time in the minor leagues at Class AAA Iowa.

Whether he's been labeled a five-tool talent, a major-league bust or a little of both, by the time the 2008 season rolled around, most had assumed that the 23-year-old Pie -- for years the crown jewel of the farm system, the one player said to be "untouchable" in any trade discussions -- would have found a permanent home in the Chicago Cubs' outfield.

Coming into Spring Training this year, Pie's only real competition for the starting job in center appeared to be OF Sam Fuld, a scrappy but far less exciting player.

As Fuld fizzled in spring training, Pie only sizzled, batting .338 with eight extra-base hits in 22 Cactus League games. But once the regular season started, Pie got off to a slow start, batting below the Mendoza Line through the first two weeks.

He lost playing time in favor of Reed Johnson, whom the Cubs had signed late in Spring Training after his deposal from Toronto, and Pie was often used in limited situations such as a late-inning defensive replacement and/or a pinch-runner.

That clearly was not what the Cubs had in mind when they envisioned Pie's long-term future, so when the club signed veteran outfielder Jim Edmonds a month into the season, Pie was sent down to Iowa. Cubs General Manager Jim Hendry cited the need to get Pie consistent at-bats and increased playing time to work on things that the organization were trying to implement.

Specifically, Pie was ordered to employ a higher front step designed to shorten him up. He wasn't getting his foot down in time, and as a result, Iowa hitting coach Von Joshua said that Pie was "doing the pitcher's work for them."

Four months later, Pie is back with the big league team as a September call-up, and the Cubs say they're still as high on the flashy outfielder as ever before.

In fact, that's part of their job, said Cubs Vice President of Player Personnel and Farm Director Oneri Fleita.

"Our job is to continue to stay persistent and to stay confident," says Fleita. "In this game, it's easy to say that somebody can't do something, and anything in life it's easy to say that somebody can't do something. Our job is to continue to tell them that they can, and believe in them and hopefully get them to believe in themselves.

"When you're talking about guys that have talent like Felix Pie, boy, you can't give up on that kind of talent."

The Cubs are hoping Pie hasn't given up, either.

Pie told this summer that he knew he could still hit, and that the primary reason for his struggles was because he was trying new things.

But on an emotional level, Pie seemed more withdrawn after being sent down, said Joshua, who remarked that Pie showed the "least amount of confidence I've ever seen him have."

Pie eventually dug himself out of the emotional rut and regained his confidence. After picking up just three hits in his first 40 at-bats following the demotion to Iowa, he batted .282 in June, .373 in July and .284 in August to earn his way back to Chicago.

"When you get your back against the wall, so to speak, and you get sent down to the minors, that's what you're supposed to do," said Fleita. "You're supposed to get back out there and get back to work. It was an opportunity for him to play regularly. He wasn't going to get a chance to play every day here (Chicago) and at his age, he's still too young to be put in a position where he's (just) an extra outfielder. He's got too much talent (for you) to say that that's what he's going to be.

"So he took advantage of the opportunity and did a lot of work with Von Joshua and (Iowa manager) Pat Listach, and he continues to make himself better."

Fleita said that the bottom line is the Cubs want Pie to be more patient at the plate. In his first stint with the big league club this year, over one-third of Pie's at-bats resulted in a strikeout. He fanned 21 times in 59 at-bats and batted .222 in 29 games.

But upon making the necessary adjustments and receiving the consistent playing time he needed at Iowa, Pie struck out only 54 times in 335 at-bats. He batted .287.

"You can get into the hitting techniques, but the bottom line is we all know we want him to be a little more patient at the plate and give us consistent at-bats, swing at strikes, and keep it simple," said Fleita. "He's too talented to not be able to just do that. If he does that, I think he's going to be very successful."

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