Cubs Notes: Baserunning a big focus

MESA, Ariz. -- There's no hiding bad baserunning, but there are big rewards when a team does it right. At some point Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon will need to find the right tone when it comes to his baserunning instructions. For now, he's adamant about giving his players the green light in all areas -- that includes taking the extra base on a hit or attempting a steal.

"The first thing you can do is to be hyper-critical of their baserunning to the point where they become less aggressive there, and their whole game becomes less aggressive," Maddon said Sunday morning.

The problem comes when it becomes overly aggressive. Chris Valaika was the latest victim as he tried to stretch a hit into a double in the fourth inning of Sunday' game against the Texas Rangers. He was thrown out by a wide margin and the Cubs were trailing 5-1 at the time. Maddon says he knows those mistakes can't happen next month when games start to count.

"You can't be a 'maybe,' " Maddon said in regard to the decision-making process. "You need to know 'for sure.' "

Maddon is big on baserunning, in general. When he was a coordinator at different levels, he was in charge of baserunning drills and found it's there where those with the best baseball instincts stand out. That's why it's not a surprise when Albert Almora made the right decision on a hustle double on Saturday as his instincts are considered off the charts. But several other Cubs besides Valaika have made some bad mistakes already, including Billy McKinney getting picked off and Jonathan Herrera getting caught trying to stretch a single into a double.

"If you pay attention to your baserunning and become a good baserunner, that bleeds into the rest of your game," Maddon said.

Gallo power: Rangers prospect Joey Gallo hit a mammoth home run Sunday off of lefty Eric Jokisch. Gallo and Cubs top prospect, Kris Bryant, engaged in a home-run battle in the minors last season. Bryant won the title with 43. Gallo had 42.

"I definitely knew he was right behind me or [was] right ahead of me," Bryant said of the back-and-forth last season. "It's fun to compete with someone you know and care about and care about their success."

Gallo and Bryant are friends from their days growing up in the Las Vegas area. In fact, Bryant's dad, Mike, coached Gallo and served as a hitting instructor.

"Joey might hit more home runs, but Kris will hit for a higher average," Mike joked before Sunday's game.

Unless something changes, Gallo and Bryant are both expected to begin the season at their respective Triple-A affiliates. Gallo played last season at Double-A.

La Stella at third: Newcomer Tommy La Stella started at third base Sunday as that position is still wide open. He never has played there since turning pro.

"Just need the repetitions in the game," La Stella said. "You can simulate it all you want in practice and everything it's obviously a different look once there's a runner running down the line."

La Stella's patient approach has been evident as he has worked the count in the early going so far. He drew a key walk in the ninth inning of Saturday's game but struck out twice Sunday.

"That's always been part of the game, but that's not at the expense of taking a good, aggressive swing," La Stella said of being a patient hitter. "I just try to limit pitches outside the zone."