Mancini ready for ‘magical’ move to Wrigley

MLB

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This story was excerpted from Jordan Bastian’s Cubs Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

When Trey Mancini walks up the dugout steps at Wrigley Field this season, it will not be the first time he has worn a Cubs jersey at the Friendly Confines. Nearly two decades ago, a younger Mancini donned a white home jersey and blue Cubs hat while attending a game with a friend.

That was not all Mancini was wearing, either.

“I remember wearing a Matt Clement goatee to one of the games,” Mancini said with a grin during a recent Zoom chat. “They gave it to everybody in the stadium back then. So, I have a picture of me with the big goatee on my chin.”

Clement pitched for the Cubs from 2002-04 and the right-hander sported a considerable patch of fuzz on his chin. Mancini, who would have been about 12 years old at the time, called the experience of taking in a ballgame at Wrigley Field as a kid “magical.” The new Cubs first baseman said only Fenway Park in Boston has given him a similar feeling.

“It’s hard to replicate that feeling,” Mancini said. “I finally was able to get to play there this past [July]. Just incredible. I mean, what a great place and I’m so excited that it’s my home park now.”

There’s a chance that the move to Wrigley also gives Mancini’s offense a boost.

Last season, the veteran hit .239 with 18 homers and a .710 OPS, but his numbers cratered down the stretch. Mancini had a .293/.374/.428 slash line through June 12, then he hit .201/.279/.365 the rest of the way. Things got particularly bad in September, when he finished with a .148 average on the month (plus four October games) and hit .089 (4-for-45) in the last 14 games.

“I’m definitely at my best when I’m sticking in the center of the field,” Mancini said. “And I think Wrigley is very well-suited for that. When I’m gap to gap, not trying to pull the ball too much, that’s where I’ve got to live there. And that’s what I’ve really been trying to get back to, especially this offseason. If there’s anything that I was addressing, it’s that. Hitting the ball to right-center with authority, for whatever reason, I wasn’t doing it last year.”

To Mancini’s point, he was pulling the ball 45 percent of the time in 2022, compared to 39.8 percent in his career. Likewise, his opposite-field rate dropped to 22.9 percent (down from 26.4 percent in his career) and his center rate dipped to 32.1 percent (versus 35.3 percent in his career). Mancini noted that those rates did not “coincide well” with the Orioles moving the left-field wall back in ’22.

Here is a look at Mancini’s fly balls at Camden Yards last year — overlayed on Wrigley Field:

That’s a pretty generic glance at how Baltimore’s home park impacted Mancini early in the season (he was traded to Houston for the final two months), but it gives some hope that Wrigley will be friendlier to him (on days the wind is not howling in). Mancini said he was looking forward to getting in contact with Cubs new hitting coach Dustin Kelly to begin planning for Spring Training and the season ahead.

“I’m going to tell him what I’ve been doing,” Mancini said. “And he’ll give me a rundown of everything they’ve been doing. And yeah, I’m really excited for that. I always love talking hitting, hearing different people’s perspectives on hitting. It’s one of my favorite things. So, I’m really excited to get to know him and talk to him about all that.”

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