Szczur takes next steps in Fall League

MESA, Ariz. -- The Chicago Cubs have been pleased with the continued improvement of outfielder Matt Szczur during his Fall League experience.

Szczur competed well against some of the top talent in the minor leagues, hitting .276 in 23 games entering the Mesa Solar Sox's final game of the league schedule.

The only thing that Szczur lacks is enough baseball games under his belt to get him to the big leagues.

"I am excited that they have a lot of faith in me," Szczur said. "They are giving me excellent chances to play so I need to make the best out of my opportunity."

A football and baseball player at Villanova, the 23-year-old former two-sport star got a bit of a late start in developing his baseball skills because of fall and spring football practice.

"I am always my own harshest critic," he said. "I analyze and look back on everything I do on the field. My training makes me aggressive by instinct. Little things like playing a little shallow in the outfield (are) part of that approach. I want to take away hits and not let a ball fall in front of me, the game inside the game, and I think that has helped me become a better defender."

Szczur hit .295 at Class-A Daytona in the first half of the 2012 season. He was then moved up to Double-A Tennessee and struggled a bit, hitting .210 in 35 games. The young outfielder has had a lot of instruction along the way that has helped the former fifth-round pick improve since signing with the Cubs in the summer of 2010. One of those teachers has been Daytona manager and Fall League hitting coach Brian Harper.

"Brian Harper really took me under his wing," Szczur said. "He really helped me a lot with the base stealing part of the game and an overall approach. Learning how to play the game the right way is what he hammered home to me.

"Another person who had a big impact on me is (major league first base coach) Dave McKay. I was around Dave for only a short time in spring training but he helped me every day to get better. If I needed extra work at 7 a.m., Dave was there to work with me trying to prepare me. He knew my knowledge was a bit ignorant in the game because I had spent so much time with football. He helped me so much and it was in a period of less than two months."

Szczur will most likely begin the 2013 season back in Double A.

"I feel like the sky is the limit for me," Szczur said. "There is always room for improvement. I want to get better reads on balls hit right at me and Improve my baserunning and stealing ability. I believe that it is pretty good, but I will work hard to be better."

As of Wednesday, the right-handed batter from Cape May, N.J., was tied for second in the Fall League with nine stolen bases.