Michael Busch 'doing damage' for Chicago Cubs after being boxed out by superstars in LA

PHOENIX — Michael Busch was just like every other Minnesota kid.

He grew up playing hockey, and still is in love with the sport.

He idolized Joe Mauer, Torii Hunter, Johan Santana, Joe Nathan and every other Twin.

And, yes, he still anxiously awaits the time he can finally celebrate that first Vikings Super Bowl title.

In the meantime, well, he’s got the city of Chicago celebrating its gift from Los Angeles.

Busch, a Dodgers castoff, has emerged as one of the game’s premier hitters in April while establishing himself as a serious NL Rookie of the Year candidate.

After homering in five consecutive games to tie a Cubs franchise record, Busch has the team sitting with a 11-7 record as they begin a seven-game homestand beginning Thursday.

Certainly, no player in the National League has been hotter the past two weeks. Busch leads baseball with six homers, hitting .362 since April 3 with three doubles and 13 RBI.

“I’m feeling pretty good up there," says Busch, 26, from Inver Grove Heights, a Minneapolis suburb. “I had so much fun during the streak. Now, I’m just trying to keep it up."

If this keeps up, the Cubs are going to have to start sending boxes of Lou Malnati's pizza and Garrett popcorn to the Dodgers’ offices to thank them for sending Busch their way.

The Dodgers certainly saw the potential, and had the foresight to draft him with the 31st pick in the 2019 draft, but said they simply had no room to play Busch.

So, they sent him to the Cubs in January along with Yency Almonte for two prospects (pitcher Jackson Ferris and infielder Zyhir Hope). The deal could still pay off for the Dodgers in the future, but it's looking like an absolute steal for the Cubs right now.

The Dodgers selected Michael Busch with the 31st overall pick in 2019.
The Dodgers selected Michael Busch with the 31st overall pick in 2019.

“When you have a future Hall of Famer at DH and at first and at second, it doesn't leave a lot of playing time for other people,” Jed Hoyer, Cubs president of baseball operations, said when the trade happened. “And hopefully that's something we can benefit from.”

And Busch holds no ill will towards the Dodgers.

“I’ve got no hard feelings, there’s no bad blood, nothing like that," Busch tells USA TODAY Sports. “Everybody gets in a sense. But I’ve got pride too. You want to beat them now. It’s that competitive spirit, almost like a brotherly competitive spirit. …

“It was bittersweet getting traded, but things usually take care of themselves."

Busch certainly wasn’t going to be the DH with two-time MVP Shohei Ohtani making $700 million.

He wasn’t going to be the first baseman with former MVP and potential future Hall of Famer Freddie Freeman manning first base.

But his natural position is at second base, and with Gavin Lux badly struggling (.148, .374 OPS), Busch could be in the Dodgers’ everyday lineup.

We’ll never know what might have happened, but the Cubs cringe to think where they’d be without the big fella playing first base.

“He’s a good heady player, and off to a great start," Cubs manager Craig Counsell says. “I’ve thrown the word 'consistent’ out a lot, labeling him. To do damage and be consistent, and be pretty good with pitch selection, if he can do a couple of those things really, really well, it sets up a pretty good floor for you as an offensive player.  He’s really doing all of those things well right now. He’s putting the ball in play. He’s making good swing decisions. And he’s doing damage.

“He does all of those well enough, it should spell for a consistent major league hitter. … We’re grateful to have him for sure."

This is a guy who was undrafted out of high school, wasn’t recruited by the University of North Carolina until his senior year in high school, and didn’t get even a partial athletic scholarship, only financial aid. He worked his way to become a first-round draft pick, 31st overall, in the 2019 draft. He tore it up at Triple-A Oklahoma City, hitting .323 with 27 homers, 26 doubles, 90 RBI with a 1.049 OPS in 98 games, but after making his major-league debut with the Dodgers, played only 27 games, hitting .167 with two homers and seven RBI.

Now, here he is, helping carry the Cubs’ offense. The Cubs have scored 101 runs this season, averaging 5.61 runs a game, fourth-best in the National League.

“He’s been driving the train for us," says Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks. “It’s super cool to see a guy come up and take advantage of the situation."

Busch had played just 26 games at first base in his professional career when he joined the Cubs. The last time he saw regular time at first base was back in college.

Now, here he is, being asked to learn a new position on a team contending for the NL Central Division title.

“I’m so happy for him," says Cubs All-Star shortstop Dansby Swanson. “He’s able to come to a place where he can get an opportunity to shine, and he’s hit the ground running with it. And he’s kind of doing this while playing a little bit of a different position. He’s just handled it so well in so many different ways with his maturity, preparation and feel for the game.

“It’s fun to see a guy like that, such a likeable guy and a team-first guy doing this."

You want selflessness?

He was just one game away from setting the Cubs’ all-time franchise record for consecutive games with a homer, and in the eighth inning Tuesday night with a chance for the record, he drew a walk instead of swinging for the fences, setting up Ian Happ’s go-ahead grand slam two pitches later.

He walked to the plate for the first time Wednesday afternoon, saw third baseman Eugenio Suarez playing back, and bunted for a base hit. He came up in the eighth in the same game, the Diamondbacks intentionally walked a hitter to pitch to him and he slapped key run-scoring single up the middle.

“He’s amazing, an amazing person, an amazing dude, and an amazing player," says Cubs center fielder Cody Bellinger, who briefly remembers Busch from his Dodgers’ days. “We can all talk about the bat, but he looks really, really good. He’s a great, great dude, and he fits so well into this clubhouse.

“I’m so happy for him to see the results."

And, of course, getting the chance to prove a lot of folks wrong.

“It was such a tough lineup for him to crack in LA," Bellinger says, “and now he’s got an opportunity, and he’s running with it."

You go around the clubhouse, and it’s as if more guys are happy for Busch’s success than their own performance. He may be off to a sensational start, but there are bat boys with bigger egos. It would be easy to taunt the Dodgers for trading him, but instead expresses his thanks for developing him.

“Great kid. Great attitude. Steady. Calm. He has the whole package," Happ says. “It’s a long season, you’re going to go through stuff, but when you have those attributes, it goes a long, long way.’’

Busch, the seventh of eight kids, knows there will be plenty of ups and downs. You don’t come up, hit homers in five consecutive games, and believe it’s going to keep happening throughout the course of the season. Yet, he also knows that hard work got him to this point in the first place, and he’s not about to abandon it.

So, it should come as no surprise that although he grew up a diehard Twins’ fan, he loved watching the tenacity and drive of Boston Red Sox All-Star second baseman Dustin Pedroia.

Now, he’s the one folks are watching, and is blown away by the love and support shown by the Cubs’ organization, with fans cheering for him as if he’s been in town for six years instead of six home games.

“Since Day 1, just walking in and meeting these guys, it’s been awesome,’’ Busch said. “They’ve been so welcoming and I’m very thankful for that. They’ve made it super easy.

“Really, that’s the coolest part about all of this, being welcomed here, doing well, and helping the big-league team win.

“That’s what it’s all about, right?"

Welcome to Wrigleyville.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Michael Busch 'doing damage' for Cubs after trade from LA Dodgers