Garza and Almora Ready for Season Debuts … and Other Cubs News and Notes

Two players that began the season on the disabled list are set to make their 2013 debuts, Matt Garza and Albert Almora. While one will be on a big league mound on Tuesday night in Pittsburgh and the other one will be patrolling the outfield in Single-A ballpark, having both players back on the field is important for the Chicago Cubs.

Matt Garza has not pitched in a Major League game in exactly 10 months. The last time Garza threw a pitch in a regular season game, he threw a fastball past Matt Holliday to end the third inning. The Cubs were rumored to be on the verge of dealing Garza for a package of prospects before he hurt his elbow and ended up on the DL for the remainder of the season. Garza reported to camp in the spring ready to resume his career after successfully rehabbing the elbow in the off-season … but he strained his left lat during his first live batting practice session and put his return to the Cubs rotation on hold.

The Cubs really need for Garza to be healthy and effective over the next couple of months. If Garza can be both, the front office would have options moving forward with him. Multiple reports have suggested that the Cubs have not ruled out signing Garza to an extension and adding him to a rotation that could consist of Jeff Samardzija, Edwin Jackson and Travis Wood for the next few seasons. Reports have also indicated that the Cubs could keep Garza for the remainder of the year then make a qualifying offer to him in the off-season that would tie draft pick compensation to him if he signed with another team. Then of course there are the trade rumors with many thinking Garza could be a hot commodity leading up to the deadline if the Cubs decide to move him.

Kane County’s roster officially lists Albert Almora as being on the seven-day DL but from all indications the Cubs’ first round pick from a year ago has left Extended Spring Training and should make his 2013 debut in the coming days. Almora broke the hamate bone in his left hand on March 14 and had successful surgery to remove the unnecessary bone the next day. Reports at the time suggested Almora would be ready to go by the end of May but recent reports suggested Almora might be held back until the beginning of the second half of the season (June 20).

Albert Almora made a few appearances in Cactus League games this spring before the injury delayed the start to his season. In 33 games last year in rookie ball and with Short-Season Boise after signing with the Cubs, Almora hit .321/.331/.464/.795 with 12 doubles, one triple and one home run.

Ian Stewart

Ian Stewart spoke with Carrie Muskat and Tommy Birch of the Des Moines Register about his demotion to Triple-A Iowa. Stewart said he is “over the not being in the big leagues part” and is “just trying to put some good games together.”

According to the report from Carrie Muskat when Stewart was removed from the 40-man roster and outrighted to Triple-A Iowa, Theo Epstein told him that Josh Vitters would be getting a majority of the at bats at third base. With Vitters hurt and possibly on his way back on the DL, Brent Lillibridge started at third on Sunday and not Stewart. Epstein told Stewart that Vitters is the “future at third.” Stewart understood why he was told that and explained to Carrie Muskat that he was not surprised.

“It was basically if I wanted to stay with the Cubs and accept my assignment here, they were letting me know I wasn’t going to play a lot here. I don’t know if that was a way to get me to take my free agency, because there’s money involved in all of that.”

Stewart has not considered leaving and testing free agency.

“I really didn’t. It’s tough, because when you’re put in that situation, you’re almost playing for the wrong reasons. … It wouldn’t really make sense for me to take a release or ask for free agency, because then I’d be giving up my contract, and that doesn’t make sense for me financially or for my family.”

When asked if he is prepared to spend the entire season in the minors, Stewart replied, “I need to play to get everything figured out, and if I end up staying here the whole year, then it is what it is. This is my job and I’ve made a commitment to the organization to try to give them my best. If that means staying here the whole year, then that’s it.”

Stewart doesn’t think he will ever get back to Chicago and put on a Cubs’ uniform again … something he felt last season and announced on his Twitter account.

“From my vantage point, it looks like they’ve moved on. It’d almost be a surprise if they called me up, because they’ve pretty much decided Vitters is the third baseman. Stewart said he thinks the Cubs gave him plenty of opportunities. “I definitely got my fair share of playing time, trying to show them that I can be the third baseman. This year’s been a little different, but like I said, that’s part of the business. What are they going to do?”

Dustin Geiger

Dustin Geiger was named the Florida State Player of the Week on Monday and became the fourth player on the D-Cubs’ roster this season to earn player or pitcher of the week honors (Jorge Soler, Javier Baez and Ryan Searle). Geiger had a day to remember on Friday. Geiger went 7-for-8 in a doubleheader against Lakeland with four doubles, one triple, five RBI and two runs scored. Geiger is hitting .327/.398/.513/.911 with 11 doubles, one triple, five home runs and 36 RBI in 41 games for the Daytona Cubs this season. The Cubs selected Geiger in the 24th round of the 2010 first year player draft and this is the 21-year old’s first stop at the High-A level.

#GeigerFever is spreading around Daytona this spring.

Minor League Transactions

The Cubs released catcher Micah Gibbs. Gibbs was in big league camp a year ago with the Cubs but the third round pick in the 2010 draft didn’t hit enough. In 78 games with the D-Cubs in 2012 and 2013, Gibbs managed just a .192/.333/.295 slash line with seven doubles and five home runs.

The Cubs also released right-hander David Cales. The Cubs selected the now 25-year old right hander in the 24th round of the 2008 draft. Cales made it to Iowa in 2010 and was 4-2 in 57 games that season with the Smokies and I-Cubs. Cales posted a 4.03 ERA and a 1.29 WHIP (58 strikeouts, 24 walks and 71 hits allowed in 73 2/3 innings) but arm injuries derailed his career. Cales pitched in five games for the D-Cubs this season and posted a 2.92 ERA and a 1.46 WHIP (16 strikeouts, seven walks and 11 hits allowed in 12 1/3 innings).

News and Notes

Starlin Castro is excited about his family spending time with him in Chicago this summer. Fred Mitchell caught up with Castro and spoke with him about what it means to him to have his parents, three brothers and sister visit him from the Dominican Republic. Mitchell reported that his family is a calming influence on him while Alfonso Soriano feels Castro is doing a good job adjusting to life in the big leagues at such a young age.

The Cubs opened their new facility in the Dominican Republic on Monday. Tom Ricketts, Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod were on hand for the opening.

The Cubs are expected to designate Michael Bowden for assignment on Tuesday to make room on the active roster for Matt Garza. The Cubs have not made the announcement and could be trying to trade Bowden or make another roster move to clear a spot for Garza.

Kevin Gregg is putting the finish on what the Cubs start according to the Sun-Times.

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