IT’S SHOW-time!!

The next 32 days are very crucial for the upcoming season. Spring Training is underway, the games start tomorrow and the WBC starts on Friday. The past two seasons the Cubs have left Mesa in disarray. Too many injuries, no chemistry and a weak bench have led to slow starts and disappointing seasons. You play like you practice. The Cubs have to learn the fundamentals of baseball; situational hitting, bunting the guy over, covering first base, how to go from first to third on a single to right….it is the small things that win ball games. The days of ‘chicks love the long ball’ are long gone and ‘small ball wins championships’.

So as we all gear up for Opening Day, here is what I think the Cubs Faithful should look for over the next 32 days.

The 25-man roster I think we will all agree on the following players making the 25-man roster: Derrek Lee, Ronny Cedeno, Aramis Ramirez, Michael Barrett, Matt Murton, Juan Pierre, Jacque Jones, John Mabry, Jerry Hairston, Jr., Neifi Perez, Henry Blanco, Carlos Zambrano, Mark Prior, Greg Maddux, Ryan Dempster, Bobby Howry, Scott Eyre, Will Ohman and Scott Williamson.

That is 19 out of 25 Who will fill the other six spots? Kerry Wood will more than likely start the season on the DL. Which will give a spot to either Jerome Williams or Glendon Rusch. I like Williams’ upside, but both Rusch and Williams will have to have a good spring in order to avoid a spot in the bullpen (Rusch) or being sent to Iowa (Williams). Wade Miller’s progress could effect where Rusch and Williams end up when he returns in May as has been reported. Also, let’s now forget about Rich Hill and Angel Guzman. While both are likely to start the season in Iowa, both could pitch their way onto the roster.

What will happen with Todd Walker? Walker could be too valuable to another team to be a bench player for the Cubs. If Jerry Hairston beats out Walker, Jim Hendry should really push a trade. There will be teams that have injuries to their second baseman and will be in need of a player of Todd Walker’s caliber. I do not think a successful team can have four middle infielders on a 25-man roster.

What will the Cubs do with Todd Wellemeyer? Wellemeyer is out of options. He either earns a spot on the roster or the Cubs will trade him or he will be put on waivers, he cannot be sent back to the Minors. Wellemeyer has shown promise, but no consistency. I really feel he is the odd man out. He will have to have a tremendous spring in order to make the big league team.

Angel Pagan vs. Marquis Grissom or age vs. youth….however you want to look at it. One thing I have really liked this off-season is the Cubs have paid a lot of attention to their bench. No matter what a club does, there will be injuries. Look at the Cardinals last season. They lost Scott Rolen, Larry Walker and Reggie Sanders for extended periods of time and still won the division because of the depth on their bench. John Mabry will provide a quality backup at four positions, but who will be sharing the wood with him? Grissom could provide the Cubs with a quality veteran backup with speed and leadership that the ‘Small Ball Cubs’ could use. He is a Dusty Baker guy and that is why he is camp. Pagan has upside, but no experience, which does not go a long way in a Dusty Baker Clubhouse. Grissom would have to have a terrible spring to not make the team, especially with the way the Cubs have been hyping his versatility and leadership qualities. Pagan will have to display abilities and play at a level that he has not yet shown to this point in his career. Look for Pagan to be sent to Iowa.

The Cubs and the WBC Let’s all hope that Derrek Lee, Michael Barrett, Henry Blanco and Carlos Zambrano all return from the WBC healthy. Those four will have a big impact on the Cubs’ season one way or the other. With both catchers being gone the Cubs will get a chance to see how Geovany Soto, Jose Reyes and Jake Fox handle Major League pitchers. On the other hand, the chemistry between the pitching staff and Barrett and Blanco could be behind schedule to start the season. Zambrano is pitching for his country and I hope he can keep his emotions intact and the Cubs do not pay for Zambrano’s extra work come September.

Felix Pie Pie needs to have a good camp and show that he has recovered from last season’s injury. Pie’s performance in Winter Ball (.209/1/10 in 29 games) showed he needs more time to develop. A Major League assignment out of Spring Training could put him on the same career track as Corey Patterson. Look for him to start the year in Iowa.

Ronny Cedeno and Matt Murton Both Cedeno and Murton showed promise last season with the Cubs (Cedeno – .300/1/6/.356/.375 in 41 games, Murton – .321/7/14/.386/.521 in 51 games). Murton played well in the Arizona Fall League (.337/1/14 with 11 doubles) and Cedeno was the Rookie of the Year during Winter Ball in Venezuela (.355, 9 doubles, 4 triples and 28 RBI’s in 45 games). The Cubs Faithful has put both of them on a pedestal and how they perform under pressure will have a huge impact on the entire season because their replacements could be Neifi Perez and Marquis Grissom.

Juan Pierre and Jacque Jones….the two new guys. Pierre has said he has fully recovered from last season’s injury. Pierre just needs to show he can still provide the spark he did for the Marlins and leave Mesa at 100%. Jacque Jones reportedly worked in the off-season with Tony Gwynn to improve his OBP and cut down on his strikeouts. He needs to show he has made improvements in those areas this spring and be the player the Cubs’ scouts think he can be in the National League.

Here are a few other names I am looking forward to keeping track of this spring: Sean Marshall, Roberto Novoa, Michael Wuertz, Brian Dopirak, Scott Moore, Bobby Brownlie, Brandon Sing and Buck Coats. While Novoa and Wuertz should make the 25-man roster, I like watching what could be the future of the Cubs.

Yahoo Sports released more photos from Tuesday in Mesa.

I will be in Mesa starting tomorrow, check back for updates, game recap, photos and everything Spring Training….CCO Style. You can reach me via email at neil@chicagocubsonline. Until then….

Quote of the Day

"From what we get, we can make a living; what we give, however, makes a life." – Arthur Ashe