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The Cubs tinkered with Jason Heyward’s swing

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Cubs outfielder Jason Heyward had his worst season as a major leaguer last year. Once considered the best prospect in baseball, Heyward’s entire career has been underwhelming for many despite a rather impressive total of 32.7 Wins Above Replacement, per Baseball Reference. A lot of that value, though, was accrued with his defense and base running, not with his bat. Last year, Heyward hit .230/.306/.325 with seven home runs and 49 RBI in 592 plate appearances. His .631 OPS was the third-worst mark among qualified hitters, ahead only of shortstops Adeiny Hechavarria and Alexei Ramirez. Heyward was even less reliable in the postseason, batting .104 in 50 trips to the plate.

During the offseason, hitting coach John Mallee and assistant hitting coach Eric Hinske helped retool Heyward’s swing, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports.

No longer would Heyward twist his top hand and wrap the bat around his shoulder. His bat angle would be more vertical, removing the tension from his shoulders. He would lower his hands to be in a more relaxed position and move his lower half first, allowing his hands to work.

Though Heyward is hitless in eight at-bats to start the spring, his coaches and Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein are happy with the progress he’s made. Epstein said, “I’ve never seen a veteran player work as much as Jason did this winter, let alone right after winning a World Series and having already signed a long-term deal. It shows how much he cares, his dedication, his pride and his character. He’s the ultimate pro.”

Heyward is entering the third year of an eight-year, $184 million contract, so it behooves the Cubs to help Heyward reach his fullest potential sooner rather than later. Considering the talent elsewhere on the roster, imagining the Cubs with a productive Heyward is scary.

Red Sox to extend protective netting at Fenway Park in 2018

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The Red Sox are the latest team to extend the protective netting at their ballpark this winter. According to a statement by club president Sam Kennedy, the exact dimensions of the netting have yet to be determined, but it will likely stretch “all the way to Field Box 79, down the left field line and then all the way down to almost Canvas Alley in the Field Box 9 area.”

Fenway Park received additional protective netting prior to the 2016 season, when the netting behind home plate was lengthened to the home and visitor dugouts. Per Kennedy’s statement, the current expansion should cover everything but the outfield corners, making it nearly impossible for a line drive foul to reach fans in the lower boxes.

After a toddler sustained serious injuries from a 105-MPH foul ball to the face at Yankee Stadium last September, over half of all MLB teams decided to take more extreme preventative measures in advance of the 2018 season. The Brewers, Cardinals, Braves, Astros, Royals, Pirates, Rangers, Padres, Nationals, Mariners, Phillies, Mets, Reds, Blue Jays, Giants, Yankees, Twins and Indians are among the organizations to address the issue over the last several years, while others have yet to take significant action.