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.

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Quote of the Day

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