Let the (Exhibition) Games Begin … and Other Notes from Cubs Camp

Greetings from Arizona … The CCO is in Mesa for the eighth straight spring to cover the first four games of the Cubs Cactus League schedule. Check back for updates from the park on both the site and Twitter.

The Cubs finished their intrasquad games with a five-inning tie game Saturday afternoon. Brett Jackson hit another home run as he tries to open as many eyes as possible this spring. Jay Jackson pitched three perfect innings but the game ended in a 3-3 tie after five innings. Non-roster invite Joe Mather hit a three-run homer in the fourth inning off Trey McNutt. Chris Rusin gave up one run (Jackson’s home run) on two hits with a pair of walks. The southpaw also struck out three in three innings of work.

Theo Epstein spent time on ESPN 1000 before heading to the park for Saturday afternoon’s scrimmage. Epstein discussed a variety of topics during his twenty minute interview on Talkin’ Baseball.

Here’s the update …

Theo Epstein on Talkin’ Baseball
Theo Epstein joined Bruce Levine and Fred Huebner during the last segment of Talkin’ Baseball (ESPN 1000) Saturday morning. Epstein discussed several topics, including Matt Garza’s future with the team, Alfonso Soriano and the lead-off spot and the Cubs’ facility in the Dominican Republic.

Epstein thinks Dale Sveum is running a great camp. Sveum is very organized and everything has gone very smooth so far. Epstein said he is happy with the way Spring Training has gone to this point. He feels this time of year is important because it gives a manager a chance to put his stamp on the team.

Epstein admitted that the Cubs are probably on the field longer right now than most teams. He does not see a problem with the length of the workouts because Sveum and his staff are working on improving the team’s fundamentals. Even with the longer practices, Epstein feels the workouts have been crisp with a lot of energy.

Theo admitted it would probably not be a good thing if Dale Sveum won the bunting tournament. Epstein joked that it was good at first that he won but thinks maybe he should bow out at this point. After a nice laugh, Epstein was back to business and said the bunting tournament accomplishes a lot of things.

The team needs to work on fundamentals and bunting is about as fundamental as there is in baseball. Not only has the tournament been great to build team chemistry but it focuses on how much the fundamentals of the game matter.

The Cubs are concentrating on team chemistry in camp and Epstein feels the bunt tournament has helped with building a team this spring. The Cubs also roast one player a day during their 9:00am meeting. Epstein said the player roasts have been lots of fun.

When asked about Alfonso Soriano hitting leadoff in Friday’s intrasquad game, Epstein said he was in Boston and just got back to Mesa and had not paid any attention to the reactions. Epstein added that it is March 3 — don’t read anything into lineups — beside the fact that lineups are overblown to begin with. Epstein is sure that Dale Sveum with construct good lineups when it’s time.

As for the depth that Epstein and Jed Hoyer have created this winter, Epstein is happy with the pieces they added but cautioned it is easier to be excited about depth on March 3 than on August 3. Their goal was to build controllable, starting pitching depth when they took over the Cubs and Epstein feels they have done that to some point. He is still concerned with the lack of starting pitching in the minors and the lack of starting pitching after this season at the big league level. It is very important to have pitching depth and right now the organization is lacking in that area.

Jeff Samardzija has impressed the Cubs’ brass so far this spring. Epstein said where Samardzija ends up this season will have a lot do on how he performs in the games. If Samardzija earns the right to start then it is their job to put players in the best position to succeed that will help the team win games.

Without a doubt a starting pitcher is more valuable than a closer and is certainly more valuable than a middle reliever. Before going into more detail, Epstein simply said it is up to Samardzija on where he pitches this season [rotation or bullpen].

Epstein stayed on the Samardzija topic for a while. Epstein explained how much he has improved in two years and pointed out that two years ago he was not in the position to compete for a starting spot in a big league rotation. Samardzija has really improved his third and fourth pitches. The second half of last season was a big turning point for Samardzija. According to Epstein, he took huge steps forward.

Samardzija is a very intriguing starting pitching candidate with the way he is throwing now … but the Cubs need to how he looks when facing an opponent before getting too excited.

It is going well so far for Jason McLeod and his staff. There is a lot of work to do with the farm system and with the changes in the CBA there are few opportunities for teams to acquire young players.

The changes with the draft as well as in the international market have made it where teams cannot just go out and sign the best players. The new restrictions have impacted the international market but not as much as the draft. The Cubs can also add talent with trades and free agent signings.

It is up to the organization to take a fresh new approach on how they scout and draft players. They have to come up with new ideas on how to find the right talent. Once they have the right talent, the key is the ability to develop the player.

The Cubs have written a new scouting manual and they are working on the new player manual.

Epstein explained that the Cubs have to be like a machine. They have to put all of their effort and ideas on being better at anyone else in baseball with their scouting and player development.

Bruce Levine asked about Matt Garza’s future. Epstein shut him down quickly and said he would not discuss it. The Cubs are going to keep the conversations between them and Matt Garza’s representatives private and confidential.

Rudy Jaramillo has been a big part of deciding how the organization is going to approach and teaching hitting. Jaramillo had a six hour meeting to share his thoughts and ideas during the off-season. Epstein said that hitters must control zone and like Ted Williams used to preach, you cannot hit the ball unless you get a good pitch to hit.

Theo Epstein said the Cubs philosophy on hitting is to be ‘selectively aggressive.’ That is the foundation of the Cubs hitting philosophy in the majors, minors and throughout the organization.

The final question of the interview came from Bruce Levine. Levine asked the Cubs’ president of baseball operations what or who has been a pleasant surprise to him … Epstein said the Cubs’ facility in the Dominican Republic.

Epstein feels the Cubs are very ahead of the game with their facility in the Dominican. Epstein not only liked the facilities but how the players are being taught the fundamentals of the game at a very young age. He thought the kids were being taught well with good instruction.

Theo Epstein was all business Saturday morning as he discussed his team on the eve of the Cactus League opener.

Notes from Cubs Camp
Dale Sveum announced his lineup for the Cubs’ first Cactus League game. Alfonso Soriano will lead-off the game in left followed by Ian Stewart (3B), Starlin Castro (SS), Bryan LaHair (1B), Marlon Byrd (CF), David DeJesus (RF), Jeff Baker (DH), Darwin Barney (2B) and Welington Castillo (C). Geovany Soto is still sidelined with the groin strain and could end up missing the first week of games.

Tim Sheridan’s latest update includes video from Saturday’s intrasquad game.

The Cubs bunting tournament will resume on Monday and Dale Sveum is hoping to hold the championship match on March 15. The final will match the winner of the pitcher’s bracket and the winner of the position player’s bracket.

According to a report from Cubs.com, the reason Matt Szczur was able to score from second on the sac fly off the bat of Reed Johnson on Friday was David DeJesus’ hand got stuck in the wire mesh on the fence. DeJesus was fine Saturday but was wearing a bandage on his finger.

Well, there’s the update … and it’s time to play some Cactus League baseball.

The first Talkin’ Cubs Live (game preview) of 2012 will post around 12:00pm CST.

Follow ChicagoCubsOnline on Twitter: @TheCCO

Quote of the Day

"If a baseball could talk, it would sound like Ron Santo." – Pat Hughes - Remembering Ron Santo #10 (1940-2010)

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  • Calicub

    its a great sight to see the CCO Scoreboard once again atop the page!

    Thanks for all you do Neil! Cheers to another season of Cubs Basball!

    • http://theboardridersuite.wordpress.com/ Theboardrider

      I thought the same thing!

  • http://twitter.com/Golfnut70Bob OttawaBob

    Stanley Cup, Golf  and BASEBALL, it don’t get no better!!!!

    • Henry

      I am with you there!

  • Ripsnorter1

    I am looking forward to ChiChi’s first start of the Spring.

    I am anxious to see some Cubs’ baseball!

  • Tony_Hall

    What an off-season!  But we have all survived it, and now we have games, for the next 214 days.  

    Let the games begin.

  • Tony_Hall

    Not sure if anyone has done this before, it’s the first year I have noticed it myself.  You can download the Cubs schedule into your calendars.


    I did it on a google calendar, and now I can just check my calendar on my phone to see the schedule.  It can also help when trying to schedule around Cubs games.

  • Texcubnut

    Gentlemen, start your engines!!

  • SuzyS

    Arms, arms, arms…the focus for the next year is PITCHING. To win the World Series we need 2 Aces…I expect us to sign/develop/trade for one (at least),by next year.
    Play Ball !!!!

  • Michael

    Bats bats bats….I don’t think the key to World Series rings is arms, I think its bats. The Cards lost their best pitcher and hit their way to the playoffs then continued on through. The Phillies have 4 Aces and have yet to win with all of them together. Not saying either side is wrong but I lean towards bats.

    • http://theboardridersuite.wordpress.com/ Theboardrider

      I still see the formula that works best as that from the 2001 Diamondbacks.  Two aces and 23 other guys pulling on the same rope!

  • cubtex

    The fact that Soriano is being talked about to return to the lead off spot is more of a shot at DeJesus than anything else. I think Sveum doesn’t think DeJesus will be productive in that spot. If DeJesus doesn’t and can’t bat leadoff…..that makes this signing even more questionable. A RF who doesn’t hit with power,doesn’t steal bases,can’t throw…..more of a 7th place hitter??? Like Rip mentioned….they should have signed Fuko back for $500,000 for a year.

    • Tony_Hall

      Did you read Neil’s article?

      “When asked about Alfonso Soriano hitting leadoff in Friday’s intra squad game, Epstein said he was in Boston and just got back to Mesa and had not paid any attention to the reactions. Epstein added that it is March 3 — don’t read anything into lineups — beside the fact that lineups are overblown to begin with. Epstein is sure that Dale Sveum with construct good lineups when it’s time.”

      The last line says all you need to know…”Epsein is sure that Dale Sveum will construct good lineups when it’s time”  

      Kinda tells you that Soriano leading off is not a good lineup, and he is sure that Sveum will put out a good lineup when it matters.

      • cubtex

        Since when does a GM make out a lineup?? Epstein is the key quote here…..not Sveum.

      • cubtex

        And the point that is even being mentioned is all I am saying.

        • Tony_Hall

          And Sveum just pitched Marmol in the 3rd inning….should we talk about how he doesn’t trust Marmol in the 9th…it’s Spring Training, none of this matters until the regular season. 

          • cubtex

            Of course you use closers early in games to face starters instead of minor leaguers…that doesn’t even make sense. You are reaching with that one :)

          • Tony_Hall

            Of course I am reaching, it was to prove a point, that where players hit or pitch doesn’t matter in the first half of ST.  Maybe Soriano had something to do later and he wanted to get him his AB’s done earlier, who knows maybe Sveum lost a bet to him on  bunting match :)

            Now if he is batting Soriano lead-off on Opening Day…well it’s not going to happen, so I’m not going to even go there.

  • paulcatanese

    Good coverage Neil, and you are soaking the sun up,lucky dog.

  • paulcatanese

    Interesting,Rudy is pomoting zone hitting and using Ted Williams as an example, now where have I heard that before? Thank you very much.!