Leaping Toward Exhibition Season … and Other Notes from Cubs Camp

The Cubs were back at work Tuesday in one of their final days of the spring at Fitch Park. After Thursday’s workout, the Cubs move down Center Street to HoHoKam Park.

The Cubs announced Tuesday they added two intrasquad games to their 35-game exhibition schedule. The Cubs will square off against the Cubs on Friday and Saturday at HoHoKam Park. The five to six-inning contests begin at 1:00pm local time (2:00pm CST) and are open to the public. Gates open at 11:00am with limited seating.

Dale Sveum will manage one of the squads with Triple-A Iowa manager Dave Bialas likely calling the shots for the other group of Cubs’ players.

Geovany Soto could be sidelined for another week as he tries to recover from what was diagnosed as a mild groin strain last weekend. The Cubs have said Soto’s injury is very minor and Dale Sveum put a positive spin on the situation … he will now be able to focus on the other catchers in camp (Jason Jaramillo, Steve Clevenger, Welington Castillo, Blake Lalli and Michael Brenly).

Are the Cubs working on extension with Matt Garza?

Here’s the update …

Matt Garza
David Kaplan spoke with Jed Hoyer and the Cubs’ GM reiterated to Kaplan Tuesday that the Cubs are going to try to work out a contract extension with Matt Garza.

According to reports, the Cubs have been talking to Garza and his agents about a contract extension for a few weeks. The Cubs would like to keep Garza and possibly build a rotation around him. Speculation has been that it could take a contract similar to the one John Danks signed (five years, $65 million) with the White Sox over the winter to keep Garza on the North Side of Chicago.

Darwin Barney on Sports Night
The Cubs second baseman and back-up shortstop joined David Kaplan, Brian Noonan
and Andrea Darlas during the first hour of Sports Night (720 WGN) Tuesday night.

Dale Sveum has been stressing fundamentals in camp and the importance of getting better in all aspects of the game. Darwin Barney admitted the players realized how bad they were last year and the fact they have to play the game better than in the past.

Barney talked about getting stronger this off-season and putting on some weight that will hopefully allow him to perform to his expectations for an entire season. Barney said he lost 15 pounds during the season last year and felt he ran out of gas toward the end. His goal this off-season has been to improve his conditioning to he can stay strong for an entire year.

The younger players have approached Barney this spring with questions about playing in the big leagues. Barney said he did the same thing last spring with Tyler Colvin.

Barney has enjoyed the bunting tournament and feels the entire team has as well. Everyone has been practicing and trying to improve their bunting skills. It has been very competitive and Barney thinks there will be side bets made once the ‘Sweet 16’ is set.

When asked about there being a different attitude this spring compared to last, Barney quickly answered the question by saying, “It was real positive last year.” But admitted things did not work out so well once the season started. Barney said the environment has been very positive this spring and it is a good group of guys. Barney pointed out how much everyone likes Ian Stewart and how much his defense should help the team.

The team is ready for the exhibition season to start … and the hitters are ready to prove to the pitchers they can actually hit. Barney acknowledged this time in camp is needed but everyone is looking forward to the games beginning.

On a typical day at camp, most guys get there very early. They start somewhere around 7:00am and there is at least one meeting. The team stretches around 9:30am then they play catch, take infield and batting practice. There is not much standing around and the entire practice moves crisply.

Eighty-one wins will not cut it for the Cubs this season. According to Barney that is not the way the team is approaching the season. The goal is to win a World Series. Barney said the team is banking on pitching and defense to take them a long way.

The Cubs Way‘ is very simple according to Barney … be accountable, play hard, run the bases hard and wear the Cubs’ uniform with pride. Barney said there are three uniforms in the game … the Red Sox, Yankees, Cubs and then everyone else.

Darwin Barney sounded very confident as he discussed his team.

Chattin’ with ESPN Chicago
Bruce Levine and Doug Padilla held their weekly chat on ESPNChicago.com. Bruce Levine is covering both the Cubs and White Sox this season and Doug Padilla is now the Cubs beat reporter for ESPN 1000 and ESPNChicago.com

  • Bruce Levine does not think Chris Volstad is a given to begin the season in the rotation. Dale Sveum has said there will be a competition for the last two spots.
  • Levine believes the Cubs’ plan for Brett Jackson is to have him begin the year in Iowa … but that could depend on whether or not the team is able to trade Marlon Byrd or Alfonso Soriano before Opening Day.
  • With so many pitchers vying for the same spots, the Cubs will have to use B-games and minor league games to get all of the pitchers enough innings this spring.
  • Levine likes what he’s seen from Dale Sveum so far this spring. According to Levine, Sveum’s camp and organization skills are very impressive at this point.
  • As for the atmosphere in camp this spring, Levine said he can only go by what players are telling him. Levine is being told that practices are more exact and for a longer period of time. Levine acknowledged the players he is talking to are the same ones that have played for two managers that were replaced due to their own ineptness.
  • Outside of Alfonso Soriano (contract) and Ryan Dempster (one year remaining on deal with a no-trade clause), Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have the flexibility to trade anyone on the roster.
  • The compensation for Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod should be announced in a week or two. There is great communication between the Cubs and Padres, Tom Ricketts and Jeff Moorad are good friends.
  • Levine confirmed that the starting second baseman’s job is Darwin Barney’s to lose.
  • Dave Sappelt is in the mix, along with Tony Campana, for the Cubs’ fifth outfielder’s job.
  • Levine talked to Jorge Soler’s agent (Barry Praver) four days ago and Soler has still not been approved by MLB to become a free agent. (note: Levine did not mention if Soler has established residency in the Dominican Republic yet).
  • According to Doug Padilla, Dale Sveum has done a good job at selling fundamentals to the team and they are getting after it this spring. With new management there is a renewed sense of hope that the team is heading in the right direction.
  • Dale Sveum has an easy, yet stern way about him. Sveum reminds Padilla of Kirk Gibson.
  • According to Padilla, look for some of the starting pitching candidates to pitch in relief during the early Spring Training games.

The Bunting Tournament
Round one of the bunting tournament officially came to an end Tuesday when Paul Maholm beat Rodrigo Lopez. The second round began shortly after the Maholm-Lopez match-up.

Adrian Cardenas (beat Matt Szczur), Blake Lalli (beat Jonathan Mota), Jeff Beliveau (beat Lendy Castillo) and Trey McNutt (beat Rafael Dolis) advanced to the ‘Sweet 16‘ of the Cubs’ bracket tournament.

The remaining match-ups in the second round are: Dae-Eun Rhee vs. Chris Rusin; Scott Maine vs. Casey Coleman; Travis Wood vs. Jeff Samardzija; Randy Wells vs. Andy Sonnanstine; Carlos Marmol vs. Paul Maholm and Ryan Dempster vs. Dale Sveum in the pitcher’s bracket.

Brett Jackson vs. Welington Castillo; Steve Clevenger vs. Bryan LaHair; Joe Mather vs. Darwin Barney; Starlin Castro vs. Ian Stewart; Geovany Soto vs. Jeff Baker and Marlon Byrd vs. David DeJesus are still alive in the position player’s bracket.

Tidbits from David Kaplan
David Kaplan is in Arizona this week spending time with both the Cubs and White Sox. Kaplan shared some of the information he has picked up so far Tuesday night during Sports Night (720 WGN).

  • Rafael Dolis has been impressive so far in camp. The Cubs have high hopes for the hard-throwing reliever.
  • Anthony Rizzo has been told that no matter what he does this spring he will be starting the year at the Triple-A level. The Cubs’ brass feels he was rushed last year and want him to get time at Triple-A Iowa.
  • Kaplan asked a what if question to one of his sources … what happens during the season if Rizzo is tearing it up at Triple-A and Bryan LaHair is tearing it up at the big league level. Kaplan was told they will figure out a way to get both into the lineup with LaHair getting time in left or right field.
  • The Cubs are going to give Alfonso Soriano a chance when the season begins but if his defense starts hurting the team they will sit him. One option could be to slide Marlon Byrd over to left and play Tony Campana in center.
  • The Cubs are not looking for Brett Jackson to start the season with the big league team but that could change based on several factors … mainly his performance.
  • Kaplan spoke to one player who said that not having Aramis Ramirez and Carlos Zambrano in the clubhouse is like a “breath of fresh air.”

Cubs Ban on Alcohol to Remain
For those wondering if alcohol was banned in the Cubs’ clubhouse, the answer is yes. The Cubs have not allowed alcohol in the clubhouse for several years and the ban will remain intact according to a report from ESPN Chicago.

The Cubs do not allow alcohol in the home clubhouse or on return flights from road trips.

Notes from Cubs Camp
Paul Maholm was able to get back to work Tuesday after a nasty bout with the flu. Maholm defeated Rodrigo Lopez in the bunting tournament and was able to get his work in on the mound. Maholm was not able to eat for two days.

After being hit in the hand Monday by a Kerry Wood fastball, Starlin Castro was cleared and back on the field Tuesday.

According to a report from Cubs.com, Rodrigo Lopez was flattered that he will be starting the first game of the spring.

Jeff Samardzija has impressed Rick Sutcliffe this spring … and so have Anthony Rizzo and Brett Jackson. Sutcliffe thinks the Cubs’ future looks good with Rizzo and Jackson.

David DeJesus is happy to be a Cub according to a report from ESPN Chicago.

According to a report from Cubs.com, Casey Coleman will be stretched out as a starter this spring and could fill a spot as a starter or a long man out of the pen. Coleman is slated to pitch in relief in Monday’s game against the A’s.

Anthony Rizzo is willing to bide his time.

Dale Sveum has been impressed with the defensive improvement of Starlin Castro.

Well, there’s the update … and I’m sticking to it.

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Quote of the Day

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