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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.

Reds acquire Darnell Sweeney from the Dodgers

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The Reds acquired utilityman Darnell Sweeney from the Dodgers in exchange for cash considerations, J.P. Hoornstra of the Southern California News Group reports.

This is the second time that the Dodgers have traded Sweeney. The club sent him to the Phillies along with John Richy in August 2015 for Chase Utley. The Phillies sent him back to the Dodgers this past offseason with Darin Ruf in exchange for Howie Kendrick.

Sweeney, 26, made his major league debut in 2015 with the Phillies, hitting a meager .176/.286/.353 in 98 plate appearances. With Triple-A Oklahoma City this season, he hit .227/.290/.412 in 131 PA. While Sweeney’s bat hasn’t proven to be anything special, he has played second base, third base, shortstop, and all three outfield positions, so his flexibility will make him useful at some point.

Bryce Harper to Little League players: “No participation trophies, first place only”

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Nationals’ star outfielder Bryce Harper had some words of advice for a local Little League team on Saturday, telling a crowd of young players and their parents that winning matters far more than any participation trophies they might receive for their efforts on the field.

“As much as they might tell you, ‘Oh, it’s okay, you guys lost…’ No, Johnny, no,” Harper explained. “No participation trophies, okay? First place only. Come on.”

The panic over participation trophy culture has swelled over the last few years as studies continue to suggest that children are happier when they’re praised for their accomplishments, rather than rewarded for simply trying their best. The general idea is that kids aren’t motivated to succeed when they know they’ll receive a ribbon or medal celebrating their efforts at the end of the day — regardless of whether they win or lose. (Granted, it stands to reason that every kid can feel the difference between winning a championship trophy and receiving a participation ribbon.) Some have taken the idea to an extreme, claiming that when a child receives too many accolades for mediocre or poor performances, it can warp the way they view the world by generating a sense of undeserved entitlement.

Harper kept his tone light during the Q&A session, however, drawing cheers and applause from the majority of parents and a few of the kids. The 2015 NL MVP has routinely taken his own advice over the years, earning Rookie of the Year honors, four All-Star nominations and a Silver Slugger award since he broke into the major leagues in 2012. Next on his list? A World Series championship.