Observations and Notes from the First Weekend of Cubs Games

The Spring Training games finally began over the weekend with both positive and not so positive results … plus a few injuries. It was good to see the Cubs back on the field and to be in a ballpark again.

There was a different vibe around the team over the weekend. The players appeared to be working hard, but with upbeat attitudes and smiles on their faces … last spring they seemed to just be going through the motions.

Unlike the regular season, Spring Training is not about winning or losing it is how they play the game. Here are a few first hand observations, news and notes from Mesa and video, including Casey Coleman’s bullpen session, from the first two Spring Training games.

The Cubs face the Oakland A’s in Phoenix on Monday afternoon at 2:05pm CST … the game will not be broadcast on WGN Radio and there is not a telecast available for the game, but there is a live box score at MLB.com. Pat and Ron will broadcast the Cubs-Brewers game on Tuesday from HoHoKam.

News from Mesa

  • With the washout on Sunday, the Cubs altered their pitching plans for Monday’s game against the A’s in Phoenix. Ryan Dempster will still start the game and will be followed by Tom Gorzelanny, Jeff Samardzija and Sean Marshall. Gorzelanny and Samardzija were slated to start against the Dodgers and White Sox on Sunday.
  • Andres Blanco will miss 10-14 days with a Grade 2 sprain of his right knee. Blanco’s injury will impact his chances of breaking camp with the Cubs.
  • Lou Piniella reiterated on Sunday that Starlin Castro will begin the season with Ryne Sandberg in Iowa (Triple-A). The Cubs want Castro to play everyday and continue to develop … not sit and serve as a backup in Chicago. Castro has impressed Piniella so far this spring.
  • Now that Mike Fontenot is back from his shoulder injury, expect him to see more playing time at shortstop. The Cubs want to see if he can serve as Ryan Theriot’s backup.
  • Xavier Nady is still at least three days away from getting into a game according to a report from Cubs.com. Nady has been “throwing three days per week and was held back from hitting so he could give his arm time to rest and recover.” Nady said his arm feels good.
  • Spring Training games are not made up, so the Cubs 35-game Cactus League schedule was reduced to 33 games on Sunday.

Observations from Arizona

  • This just in … Xavier Nady can hit a baseball. Nady put on a display during batting practice prior to Thursday’s game against the Oakland A’s. Nady hit several balls over the berm in left field while spraying balls to all fields with authority.
  • Tyler Colvin has impressed Cubs’ brass so far this spring. Colvin squared off on every ball he hit in the first two games, and in batting practice. Colvin hit one into the visitor’s bullpen in right field (no small feat) off of Ryne Sandberg in batting practice. Colvin looks like a different player from the one that received the September call-up last season.
  • Starlin Castro made his debut on Thursday … and lived up to his billing over the weekend. Castro is very smooth at short with a strong, accurate arm. On the bases, he showed off his speed on several occasions … notably his triple in Thursday’s opener. Castro lined a ball into right center that one-hopped the wall. Castro was at second base when the ball hit and made it to third rather easily. During Friday’s game, Castro broke for second on a 3-1 pitch to Kevin Millar. Millar walked but Castro was sliding into second as the catcher got out of his crouch to throw the ball.
  • Brad Snyder can hit the ball and could force the Cubs to make a tough decision on one of the last two bench spots. Snyder was in the middle of the action in the first two games and hit one of the longest home runs I’ve ever seen at HoHoKam Park.
  • Ted Lilly was seen jogging around HoHoKam with his teammates.
  • Derrek Lee can pick it at first base.
  • It was a treat to watch Rudy Jaramillo make two small adjustments to Kevin Millar’s batting stance and see instant results. During BP on Saturday, Millar was not hitting the ball with authority. Jaramillo suggested a couple of changes. Millar listened and started hitting balls over the wall and to both right and left center.
  • Marlon Byrd led a group that included Geovany Soto, Derrek Lee and Kosuke Fukudome on the small backfield on Friday. Four players the Cubs are depending on for 2010 were practicing running the bases and the best way to cut the bag.
  • The Cubs have athletic players in their system. Brett Jackson could have had an inside-the-park home run on Friday. He tripled off the wall in center and showed off both his power and speed in the same at bat.
  • Keep an eye on James Russell, John Gaub and Casey Coleman. Coleman threw the ball extremely well on Friday. Hit his spots and threw strikes. Coleman should begin the year in Double-A, best case Triple-A … but he could help the big league team if other options fail. As for James Russell … nice velocity and good location. The Cubs are in need of arms in the pen, Russell and John Gaub may be southpaws but they throw strikes.
  • Welington Castillo has a very good arm and continued to impress behind the plate.

Video from Arizona

The Cubs take the Field

The First Pitch of the Spring

The Bottom of the First – Derrek Lee’s Home Run

Marlon Byrd’s First At Bat – Tyler Colvin’s First Double

Geovany Soto

Randy Wells

Xavier Nady – Kevin Millar Batting Practice

Mike Parisi

Starlin Castro in the Field

Starlin Castro’s first at bat as a Cub

Chad Tracy’s first at bat as a Cub

Esmailin Caridad

Marlon Byrd, Derrek Lee, Kosuke Fukudome and Geovany Soto

Carlos Zambrano

Casey Coleman

Jeff Stevens

John Gaub

From the Soapbox

How does the commercial go? Catching a Cubs’ game at HoHoKam Park, priceless. Having a ticket to a rained-out Cubs’ game at Camelback Ranch, useless … Complaining about the “Cubs Tax” and then screwing the people who purchased tickets to your team’s Spring Training park, Jerry Reinsdorf.

Quote of the Day

"People who write about Spring Training not being necessary have never tried to throw a baseball." – Sandy Koufax