Every spring MLB Network Radio (XM Radio) spends a day in a big league camp. Casey Stern and Jim Bowden have been in Arizona off and on since Spring Training began and finished their tour of the Cactus League with three hours Saturday in Cubs camp.
Casey Stern and Jim Bowden talked with several of the players, including Matt Garza, as well as Jed Hoyer and Dale Sveum … and created a little controversy in the process.
The moves the front office made in the off-season were by no means to make the team a contender this season. The goal was to build pitching depth, to improve the play on the field and to be able to compete day in and day out. Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer want to see the Cubs play clean, solid baseball every time they take the field.
The Cubs skipper was first up on Saturday afternoon. Sveum said camp has gone well and feels his team has put in a lot of good work. He explained that it has been nice not to have any issues, especially being a first time manager. Sveum added he is also happy there have not been any big time injuries, with the exception of Marcos Mateo. He admitted they received a scare with Carlos Marmol earlier in the week but they have been rather healthy.
Sveum said that Marcos Mateo is going to be shut down for 10 days to two weeks and obviously will miss the start of the season.
As for the rotation, Sveum said four of the five spots are all but locked up with Ryan Dempster, Matt Garza, Chris Volstad and Paul Maholm. Jeff Samardzija, Randy Wells, Rodrigo Lopez and Travis Wood are still in the mix for the final spot.
Rafael Dolis has really impressed Sveum this spring. Dolis has had a great camp and his 95-97 MPH fastball, power sinker and command of his slider have opened a lot of eyes. Sveum described Dolis as the kind of pitcher that hitters do not like to face … a lot of movement and velocity with every pitch. The concern with Dolis is how he will be able to handle pitching with the lead in the seventh or eighth inning … but a pitcher cannot get experience if he’s not given a chance to get experience.
Sveum likes what he has seen from Jeff Russell (yes, Sveum called him Jeff and not James) in his last few outings. After Carlos Marmol, Kerry Wood, Rafael Dolis and James Russell, they have spots open. The Cubs like Lendy Castillo. Sveum said he’s shown a lot of poise. They are working with Castillo on his PFP stuff and he has had trouble with signs.
Anthony Rizzo came into camp knowing that Bryan LaHair was the Cubs starting first baseman and he really impressed the coaching staff and Dale Sveum. Sveum explained that he made a lot of strides in his last 15 at bats with hitting velocity and balls all over the place. Once Rizzo makes it to the Cubs, Sveum thinks he will be around for a long time. Rizzo is a leader and does not like mediocrity and will not accept mediocrity from his teammates. Sveum did not realize how good Rizzo is defensively. He said that Rizzo does not move too well but he has soft hands and an impressive glove.
The Cubs starting first baseman has played a lot better of late. Bryan LaHair got off to a slow start but seemed to get on track in the minor league games and put together an excellent day on Friday against the Rockies.
No one knows how much raw power Ian Stewart has and how impressive he is during batting practice. Sveum does not think Stewart has had a bad at bat this spring and he is as good a third baseman as there is (defensively) in the game right now. Sveum thinks the big difference with Stewart is that he is healthy right now. Sveum pointed out how hard it is to find a power hitting third baseman that can field the way he can. The biggest thing with Stewart right now is for him to regain the confidence he lost last season.
Sveum said Starlin Castro has to slow things down defensively. Learning to play short is a process that takes a while and takes patience. Sveum pointed out that his best friend, Robin Yount, had almost 80 errors when he was playing at the same age as Castro and everything turned out okay for Yount. Darwin Barney is adjusting to second base and making a lot of progress. The Cubs like their athletic, young middle infielders.
In his discussion about the outfield, Sveum said that Alfonso Soriano has worked his butt off day in and day out all through camp.
Dale Sveum finished the interview by stating, “If you cannot understand how special it is to put on a Cubs’ uniform and play at Wrigley Field, then there is something wrong with you. Putting on a Chicago Cubs uniform is like putting on a Red Sox or a Yankees uniform. The Cubs are one of the most historic franchises in the game.”
Matt Garza would like to carry over his second half of last season and what he did last year into the upcoming season.
Jim Bowden asked Garza about the off-season trade rumors and how the discussions with the Cubs on a long term deal is going. Garza responded with that he never had patience as a kid. He’s just happy to be playing baseball and to have a jersey in his locker.
Garza can tell a difference and a definite change between this spring and last year’s camp. “Everyone is excited to be here,” Garza said. The Cubs have a great group of guys and Garza really likes the coaching staff. The staff understands what it is like to play in the big leagues because they have been through the daily grind themselves. Garza explained that is huge for the players. The coaching staff is going to hold every player accountable for their actions.
Dale Sveum is serious and has been as advertised … all about business. Garza added, “He’s not going to shoot the sh*t with you.”
Garza likes playing at Wrigley and all of the day games. He does not drink coffee; he just has a lot of energy. Garza said that playing baseball is a helluva gig. He realizes that he is going to play in front of a full house and never wants to disappoint anyone at Wrigley. He wants to leave it all on the field every game.
Jim Bowden would not leave the trade or contract talk alone during the interview, asked Garza if it would be better for him to receive a five-year $100 million contract from the Cubs or for the Cubs to trade him to a contender. Garza said his goal is to make it to April 5 healthy and once he does he will be happy because he knows either way he will be pitching.
The interview with the Cubs’ GM began with him discussing how camp has gone so far. Jed Hoyer thinks Dale Sveum has run a great camp. Sveum has stressed fundamentals, like he said he would. Sveum actually went to Hoyer and asked if they could send down several of the younger players early [that the organization was planning to send out anyway] so he could focus on fundamentals in smaller groups for longer periods with the players still in camp. Hoyer said he’d never had a manager ask for that in the past.
Hoyer went onto explain that all the things that Sveum said during the interview process about working on and stressing fundamentals have come true in camp. There has been a lot of excitement and energy early and throughout camp.
As for the remainder of camp, with two weeks left the big thing is to stay healthy.
Ian Stewart has gotten better as camp has progressed. The big thing with Stewart, according to Hoyer, is that he needed to know he was going to play every day and not go down to the minors. The Cubs can give him the opportunity to play at the Major League level daily and not worry about getting at bats or when he is going to play.
Hoyer said they really liked Tyler Colvin and D.J. LeMahieu but there are not a lot of third basemen in the league that can hit 25 home runs and that can field the position as well. The Cubs feel that third base has become a weak position around the league and there are not too many Mike Schmidts and George Bretts around any longer.
Hoyer is very happy with the adjustments Anthony Rizzo made with Dale Sveum and Rudy Jaramillo over the last two weeks. Rizzo adjusted his hand position and shortened his swing. The Cubs are aware they gave up a lot for Rizzo in Andrew Cashner and Hoyer hopes the trade works out for both teams. Hoyer has not put a timetable on when Rizzo will be called up.
Hoyer joked with Rizzo when they met Friday and told the first baseman to make it hard on us to keep you down there. Rizzo responded with that is what he did last year. The Cubs would like to see Bryan LaHair grab ahold of the position and keep Rizzo in the minors to develop. They would like to see both Rizzo and LaHair succeed.
As for Matt Garza’s future with the Cubs, Hoyer admitted once again Saturday that as they build the organization they need more Matt Garzas and he dismissed the question from Jim Bowden about possibly trading him.
Jed Hoyer said they would like to wrap up Garza in a deal that works for the Chicago Cubs. In order for the organization to be successful and win championships they need to be able to roll out five guys every day like Garza.
The June Draft is the most important day of the year for most teams and Hoyer agreed with Bowden that the upcoming draft will be very important for the Chicago Cubs.
The Cubs pick sixth in this year’s draft and they also have a couple of sandwich picks (from Aramis Ramirez and Carlos Pena leaving via free agency) that they might not have after this year. There is no substitute for the draft. Teams can make all of the trades they want and sign all of the free agents they want but the only way to get elite talent is to draft it yourself. Hoyer said he and Theo feel great about Jason McLeod running the draft.
Hoyer and Epstein knew Sveum from their time in Boston but the reason they chose Sveum was because he interviewed the best. The Cubs interviewed a lot of candidates but Sveum came in the most prepared and gave well, thought out answers. Players get along with Sveum but Sveum can also discipline them when needed. Hoyer explained that a player’s manager will allow players to run all over him while a disciplinarian is the exact opposite and players end up disliking him. They feel Sveum has the ability to be in the middle range of both types of managers.
Jed Hoyer and Theo Epstein obviously have a good relationship but without a doubt Epstein is the boss. Hoyer admitted Epstein gives him a lot of autonomy but they disagree a lot and loudly. They both realize that in the course of their disagreements that at the end of the day the goal is to make the team better moving forward. Both Hoyer and Epstein just want to win and build a sustained winner.
Jed Hoyer spoke highly of the Cubs fans and pointed out the obvious, “These people want it so badly.” Hoyer cannot wait to get to Wrigley, see the place sold out for Opening Day and start their career there.
Several players jumped on the air with Casey Stern and Jim Bowden including Geovany Soto, Darwin Barney, Ian Stewart, Paul Maholm and Bryan LaHair. Plus Bowden shared some information he picked up concerning Matt Garza’s future with the Cubs. Here are the highlights …
- According to Jim Bowden, the Cubs do not like the costs [numbers] they are receiving from Matt Garza’s agent in regards to a long term deal. The Cubs have spoken to teams about Garza and have not found a deal that would net them enough in return for Garza.
- Geovany Soto really likes Rafael Dolis.
- Ian Stewart said it is awesome being a Cub. He was not too excited when rumors surfaced that the Rockies were shopping him and was quite bitter because he did not want to leave Colorado. When the Cubs rumors popped up he changed his mind about possibly being traded.
- Ian Stewart has tried to stay away from the ‘change of scenery’ cliché because he did not want to leave the Rockies. Last year was real tough on him due to the injuries but injuries should not be used as an excuse. Stewart brought up the wrist and hamstring injury and said there were other issues that were not made public.
- Ian Stewart admitted that it is good to be with the Cubs and have a fresh start.
- Darwin Barney said there was [and is] more to learning how to play second base than he thought. It is just not as easy as most people think. Barney concentrated on his conditioning this past off-season so he does not run down as the season progresses.
- Darwin Barney admitted there is a big difference between this spring and last year but that is not meant to put down what Jim Hendry did. Hendry and the previous regime were great and they gave several players, including Barney, an opportunity to play. The best thing about the new regime is their pure honesty. Dale Sveum and is coaching staff have the respect of the players and on day one, Theo Epstein told everyone that the Cubs are going to play the game the right way.
- Jim Bowden and Casey Stern thought Paul Maholm would end up with the Red Sox in the off-season. Both Stern and Bowden told Maholm they feel he was one of the better under-the-radar signings of the winter.
- Paul Maholm likes Chicago and coupled with his familiarity of the division are two of the reasons he signed with the Cubs. Maholm believes if Sveum can give the team a swift kick then the Cubs can get things going this year.
- Two of Paul Maholm’s personal goals are to keep his pitch counts low and go deep into games.
- Bryan LaHair said he is starting to catch is stride and is close to being ready for the regular season. As for the promise Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer made him in the off-season about being the Cubs’ first baseman when the season began, LaHair said it was great what they did. It allowed him to take the pressure off himself and take time to find his stride.
- The biggest thing Bryan LaHair learned last season in his brief time with the Cubs is that he can hit Major League pitching.
With less than two weeks to go in Spring Training, everyone that took time out Saturday to talk with Casey Stern and Jim Bowden sounded upbeat and ready for the season to begin.
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