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Cubs prospect Pie in right frame of mind
03/08/2006 8:00 AM ET
MESA, Ariz. -- Some kids never listen. Felix Pie isn't like that.

Pie, in his first big-league camp this spring, sought out veteran Marquis Grissom in the Chicago Cubs clubhouse early on and asked for some advice.

"He already has the skills," Grissom said of Pie, the slender outfielder who turned 21 on Feb. 8. "You just have to show them the right direction to go, work habits. He has to work hard, which he already does."

Pie does a lot of things right. The left-handed hitter has a .298 career Minor League average and last season slugged 11 homers in 59 games at Double-A West Tenn before a bruised right ankle ended his season.

"When he went down with that injury, you could tell, the heart and soul was gone from that club," said Cubs Minor League hitting coach Von Joshua. "He loves to play and it rubs off. He's not going to go out and hit .400 or .330 right off the bat, but he'll do all the other things and do them very well. He'll bring an energy to the ballclub.

"I don't worry about rushing him. He'll adjust wherever he goes. He isn't going to be scared, that's for sure. A lot of guys have the talent, but they have fear. You won't see that with him. He doesn't lack confidence."

Pie had a tough time adjusting in the Dominican Republic this winter. He played for Licey, one of the league's powerhouse teams, and batted .209 in 29 games with one homer and 10 RBIs. He stole one base and struck out 19 times.

Dave Keller, the Cubs Minor League hitting coordinator, has managed in the Dominican and went down to see Pie play. Keller was told by the Licey manager that Pie was his best center fielder. But Pie sat most of the time Keller was there.

"It's very hard," Keller said of playing in the Dominican. "No. 1, there are a lot of arms pitching in that Dominican Winter League. Everybody on every team throws hard; they have good stuff. The thing with the pitchers is you might see three or four different guys every night.

"I think what Felix went through is in the beginning, is he was playing and doing OK. Then, when you go and only play once or twice a week, you can see eight different pitchers in one week's time. He was trying to perform in that environment in his homeland and with his people in the stands and him wanting to succeed, there might have been a point where he was pressing a little."

The winter ball experience was a chance for Pie to get some at-bats that he missed during the 2005 regular season.

"Missing almost the second half of the season last year really slowed his progress some," Cubs manager Dusty Baker said. "Skill-wise, he has the skill. We know that. It's just a matter of him playing and doing the little things. He works hard."

The Cubs appear set in their outfield, with Matt Murton in left, Juan Pierre in center and Jacque Jones in right. Pie can play center or the corners and likely will open this season at Triple-A Iowa.

"He's got a tremendous upside," Joshua said. "He's one of those kids who come along once in a while. I'm not going to say he's a Ken Griffey Jr. or Barry Bonds. But he certainly has the chance to be a superstar in the Major Leagues. He's exciting, just the energy he brings. He's a baseball player. He knows the game and he wants to learn more about the game.

"Major League coaches came up to me after the first day, saying there's something about this kid," Joshua added. "Whether it's his defense or the way he runs or his hitting -- there's something special. They asked me in the organizational meetings, and I said, 'Put him in center field, let him learn. You can wait a year or two years, but let him play.'"

Joshua admits there are holes in Pie's swing. He did strike out 113 times in 106 games in 2004 at Class A Advanced Daytona. If he's thrown out trying to steal a base, Pie becomes timid. He needs to get over that. Grissom can help.

"The sooner and better they understand themselves, the better baseball player they'll be," Grissom said. "That's the best teacher of all, experience."

Pie has been tested in the Minor Leagues already.

"What I like about Felix is we saw teams loading up left-handers against him," Joshua said. "He'd see a guy once and chase a bad pitch in the dirt, and the next time he's putting good wood on the ball. He adjusts very quickly. Murton is going to struggle, Ronny (Cedeno) is going to struggle. We all struggle when we get to the big leagues. But I wouldn't be afraid to put him out there."

Right now, Pie will be soaking in as much information as he can from the other players in the clubhouse. Pierre will sneak up behind the youngster, give him a bearhug and call him "Sugar Baby." In four Cactus League games, Pie had three hits -- two triples and a double. And he usually has a big smile on his face.

"The best thing about all this is that this guy has come here to Spring Training in exactly the right frame of mind," Keller said. "The frame of mind that he's in right now is awesome. He really wants to play, he loves to play, his confidence level is great. It wasn't there in the Instructional League in the fall because he was still trying to rehab back. When guys are hurt, their confidence level gets hurt, too, because they don't know how to push themselves. All of that is behind him now and I hope he learns from it to help him in the future."

Pie's future is very bright.

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.