Nothing But Baseball for the Chicago Cubs

Happy 70th Birthday to Ron Santo!

The first week of Camp Lou IV concluded on Wednesday … and what a week it was for the Chicago Cubs. After the excitement of pitchers and catchers reporting, Ted Lilly and Alfonso Soriano’s knees, the weather, the Ricketts family, Starlin Castro and the first full squad workout, the Cubs just focused on baseball on the eighth day of Camp Lou … well, for the most part.

For the Chicago Cubs, it’s not about Twitter or a reality show … it’s about baseball.

The Cubs’ brass spent time on the airwaves Wednesday. Jim Hendry on the Inside Pitch (XM Radio) then Dave Kaplan talked with Lou Piniella and Oneri Fleita during Sports Central. Here are the updates and notes from those interviews, plus video from Boys of Spring

Notes from Mesa

Video from Boys of Spring

With PFPs … Starlin Castro, Darwin Barney and Josh Vitters taking infield practice and Greg Maddux

Full Report on Boys of Spring

Jim Hendry on XM Radio

Jim Hendry joined Casey Stern and Kevin Kennedy during the last hour of the Inside Pitch (XM Radio). The Cubs’ GM sounded upbeat about his team.

Lou Piniella is happy with the commitment the players showed in the off-season … by coming into camp ready to go. He feels the players were extremely disappointed with last year and are ready for a good season.

Hendry explained the Cubs did not need to add a lot of new bodies in the off-season … just needed to tinker with the roster a little. Hendry likes the addition of Marlon Byrd and feels he was fortunate to get Xavier Nady. Hendry added that re-signing John Grabow was an important move for the Cubs.

Hendry feels he helped Jake Fox by moving him to the A’s and added a good arm in return with Jeff Gray.

The Cubs are thrilled with the addition of Rudy Jaramillo. Kevin Kennedy agreed and called him the best hitting coach in the game. Hendry mentioned what Jaramillo did for Mark DeRosa’s career. He also pointed out Jaramillo being with Alfonso Soriano in the past and he should be able to help him again.

Kennedy and Hendry talked about Jaramillo’s tireless work ethic. Hendry said Jaramillo gets in around 7:30am for a 9:30am practice. Hendry pointed out he likes hearing baseballs being hit in the cages when he gets out of his car first thing in the morning.

Clubhouse chemistry has been a big topic for the Cubs over the winter. Hendry said the Cubs have always had great guys in the clubhouse … one player just did not work out.

Kevin Kennedy asked about Mark DeRosa. Hendry said DeRosa is one of his favorite guys. The Cubs really missed him last year, especially when Aramis Ramirez went down. Hendry then explained that they did not need to change the entire clubhouse … they just had to make one move.

Hendry discussed the addition of Marlon Byrd in a little more detail. He admitted he had been trying to trade for Byrd for several years. Hendry described Byrd as a good guy and very positive … they really like what they’ve seen out of Byrd in the first week.

Lou Piniella and Jim Hendry have a great relationship (according to Hendry). He is going to leave the lineup to Lou but Alfonso Soriano’s days at the top of the lineup are likely over. The Cubs see him hitting down in the lineup where he can drive in runs.

Ryan Theriot and Kosuke Fukudome give the Cubs two options to leadoff games. Although no one on the team is going to steal 70 bases according to Hendry.

Geovany Soto is one of the guys the Cubs are looking to rebound this season. Hendry talked about his weight loss over the winter. He said Soto has put back on five or six pounds since being in camp at the club’s request. Hendry said Soto needed to put a little weight back on.

Alfonso Soriano, Geovany Soto and Mike Fontenot had bad seasons in 2009. Kosuke Fukudome was up and down … and Aramis Ramirez was hurt. All of those factors contributed to the Cubs poor season. Hendry said Derrek Lee had a great year and Ryan Theriot held his own.

Hendry feels good about the rotation. He pointed out they need Carlos Zambrano to win more than nine games. Tom Gorzelanny, Jeff Samardzija, Sean Marshall, Carlos Silva and Mike Parisi are candidates to fill the last two spots in the rotation … until Ted Lilly returns. Hendry said they are hoping to get something out of Carlos Silva.

The keys for the Cubs in 2010 according to Jim Hendry: The Cubs need to stay healthy … and for the marquee guys to bounce back.

Lou Piniella on Sports Central

On his way to dinner Wednesday night, the Cubs’ skipper discussed the first two days of full squad workouts with Dave Kaplan.

Lou Piniella feels the Cubs had two good days of workouts. The players came into camp in good shape, ready to go. Piniella thinks all of the adversity and injuries the Cubs dealt with last year will make them stronger as a team this year.

Piniella said, “We are going to have an outstanding year.” He feels if the team can stay healthy they can improve their win total by seven to ten games.

The keys for a successful season according to Piniella …stay healthy and get better performances from a couple of guys. Lou thinks if the Cubs can win 90 games they should win the division and get into the playoffs, then see what happens.

Piniella explained the more versatile the player the better. He likes the depth Jim Hendry added in the off-season and feels the team is much deeper than a year ago. He likes the additions of Marlon Byrd and Xavier Nady (Piniella actually pronounced Nady’s last name ‘Nagy’).

Kaplan brought up Ryne Sandberg and Greg Maddux being in camp. Kaplan said he saw Sandberg working with Ryan Theriot and Mike Fontenot and Maddux talking with Carlos Zambrano. He asked Piniella how it has been having the two of them in camp.

Piniella said a team cannot have enough of ex-great players around … and pointed out Billy Williams and Ron Santo are also around camp. Piniella shared his experiences with the Yankees when Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford, Elston Howard and Yogi Berra would be in camp.

Kaplan asked Lou about Starlin Castro. Piniella stuck the comment he made at the end of practice Castro being an option if Ryan Theriot got hurt. Piniella said the good players come quick. Alan Trammell was 19 when he broke into the big leagues, so was Lou Whitaker and Alex Rodriguez.

Ryan Theriot is going to play shortstop this season for the Cubs according to Piniella. “He’s our guy.” But if something happens …

Lou added that good players can go back down to the minors and work on what they need to in order to improve … and not hurt their development.

The lack of depth in the pen is a little concern for Piniella … his big concern for the season, “Gotta get Theodore Ted Lilly back.”

Lou Piniella thinks his team will score a heckuva-lot more runs this season.

Piniella finished the interview by saying he is having a lot of fun managing the Chicago Cubs … but “what we gotta do is win a World Series and that’s what we’re going to do.”

Oneri Fleita on Sports Central

Oneri Fleita (Vice President of Player Personnel) was Dave Kaplan’s final guest on Wednesday night. Kaplan began the interview by asking about Starlin Castro. Kaplan has been impressed by what he’s seen from Castro.

Fleita said Castro has great range both to the left and right with a strong arm. Both agreed that Castro looks effortless in the field. Fleita pointed out he is a hard worker and is always one of the first guys at the park … Castro does not think of baseball as being work.

During dinner with Lou Piniella, the Cubs discussed Castro. Lou pointed out to Fleita, “you can’t hide the great ones.” With Castro being in big league camp the coaches will get a chance to evaluate him … along with Brett Jackson and Rafael Dolis, just to name a couple.

Kaplan discussed the strides the Cubs’ farm system has made over the past year. Fleita credited Tim Wilken (Director of Amateur and Professional Scouting) and Paul Weaver (Director of International Scouting) with the turn around. A system that had one or two viable prospects now has at least 10 to 12 guys that could be big league players.

The Cubs’ front office increased the budget to sign international free agents, which goes hand and hand with the draft. Fleita feels they have signed the equivalency of a couple of first round picks with the international signings.

Korea has been a good market for the Cubs. There are seven guys from Korea in the Cubs’ system plus Woong-Chun Cho (a spring instructor) is in camp with the Cubs. Fleita said to keep an eye on Dae-Eun Rhee. He should start the year in Double-A but “is coming quick.”

Brazil is the next up for the Cubs.

Kaplan asked Fleita to name a few other players fans should keep an eye on. Fleita rattled off a long list: Tyler Colvin, Kyler Burke, Ryan Flaherty, Josh Vitters, Jay Jackson, Casey Coleman, Chris Carpenter and Chris Archer.

There is a lot of depth in the Cubs system.

Starlin Castro, Shortstops and the Bench

Starlin Castro continued to impress on Wednesday to the point Lou Piniella said “Castro would be the Cubs starting shortstop if Ryan Theriot gets injured this spring.”

From the Tribune:

“If the kid shows he can handle it, and we had an injury to the position, then why not? He’s a good-looking young guy. If he’s ready and somebody gets hurt, why not utilize his talents? That’s all I’m saying.”

Mike Fontenot will get playing time at shortstop in the spring to see if he’s a backup option. The Cubs are not sure what they are going to do with their bench. If Fontenot can serve as a backup to Theriot it would give the Cubs flexibility to keep a bat on the bench.

Kevin Millar, Micah Hoffpauir, Chad Tracy, Brad Snyder, Bryan LaHair could be an option if the Cubs do not keep Andres Blanco on the team … Blanco is out of options so if he does not make the team he likely will be with another organization.

Fangraphs posted a very interesting article about Starlin Castro on Wednesday. They feel the best comparison to Castro, at this point in his young career, might be Garry Templeton. And not some of the names that have been bantered around since last fall.

Full article at Fangraphs

Rob Neyer referenced the same article on Wednesday. Neyer feels Ryan Theriot is the Cubs’ best shortstop … right now.

The Quote of the Day

Lou Piniella spoke openly about Carlos Silva on Wednesday.

“Silva is a hard worker, there’s no question about it. He might be a hard eater – I’m only joking. He comes out here and works hard. I’m not surprised but very encouraged from what I see.”

Too bad Lou isn’t on Twitter …

Well, there’s the update … and I am sticking to it!

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Quote of the Day

"Don’t ever permit the pressure to exceed the pleasure." - Joe Maddon