A Full Squad, Starlin Castro, Live Batting Practice and News from Day Seven of Cubs Camp

The Cubs first full squad workout of the spring took place Wednesday after physicals and meetings pushed back the team’s normal start time. Tom Ricketts, Theo Epstein and Rick Renteria addressed the 66 players in big league camp.

CubsMesaLogo-pubJeff Samardzija, Travis Wood, Carlos Villanueva, Neil Ramirez, Chris Rusin, Armando Rivero, Kyle Hendricks and Justin Grimm were among the pitchers that threw the first round of live batting practice Wednesday. And Starlin Castro, Kris Bryant, Javier Baez and Brett Jackson were among the hitters that took their first hacks of the spring. Video that surfaced from Wednesday’s practice proved the hitters are behind the pitchers, as expected, on the first day.

Starlin Castro

Starlin Castro met with the media prior to the first full squad workout. Castro likes the idea of hitting at the top of Rick Renteria’s lineup and does not feel the pressure from the players in the minors pushing their way to the big leagues.

Castro reportedly looks “stronger and leaner” than last spring and acknowledged the upcoming season is very important for him. Castro said he plans on forgetting about last year, but at the same time he has something to prove.

The soon-to-be 24-year old spent a month with Tim Buss in the Dominican getting in shape. For the last month, Castro has been working out at IMG Academy (an elite training center) in Bradenton, Fla. Castro said he’s “more focused entering camp this season” and “he plans to make that show both in the field and at the plate.”

Starlin Castro is not looking at Javier Baez as competition but rather as a teammate according to Bruce Levine. Castro said he is focused on playing the way he did the two years prior to last season.

Castro spoke with Alfonso Soriano over the winter according to the Sun-Times. Castro is “taking to heart the advice” he received. Soriano told Castro the pressure will be on him this season and it is important to report to Spring Training looking good and ready to play. Castro said he feels like he’s in the best shape of his career according to a report from ESPN Chicago. Bruce Levine reported Castro “has redefined his body and has replaced baby fat with muscle.”

Plus Castro told Bruce Levine he has a new prescription for his contacts and that has helped.

Carrie Muskat reported that Rick Renteria talked with Castro and told his shortstop to play hard every day and be himself.

Starlin Castro does not turn 24 years old until the end of March … and only four members of the 3000-hit club had more hits through their age 23-season than Castro. And their names were Cobb, Kaline, Yount and Aaron.

Rick Renteria is the fourth different manager Starlin Castro has played for since he made his Major League debut in Cincinnati on May 7, 2010.

News, Notes and Rumors

Jed Hoyer thinks Anthony Rizzo can lead the Cubs’ youth movement according to a report from Comcast SportsNet.

Emilio Bonifacio reported to camp and said Wednesday that he did not turn down any Major League deals to sign a minor league contract with the Cubs. Bonifacio was assured he “has a very good chance to make the Cubs” according to Patrick Mooney. Bonifacio told Jesse Rogers he feels his best position is second base “but he can play anywhere.” And while the reported Major League offers were not there, he feels the Cubs give him the best chance at a spot on a big league roster.

The Orioles announced the signing of Ubaldo Jimenez on Wednesday and in the process had to DFA former Cub-for-the-winter, Liam Hendriks to make room on the 40-man roster for Jimenez.

And speaking of big contracts for starting pitchers, the Reds and RHP Homer Bailey agreed to a six-year, $105 million contract Wednesday. The deal includes a mutual option for a seventh season and deferred money. The agents for Justin Masterson and Jeff Samardzija have to be thrilled about Bailey’s new contract.

According to Chris Cotillo, Cuban shortstop Aledmys Diaz “is likely to sign in the next two-three days” and according to Hardball Talk, the Cardinals are expected to extend an offer to the 23-year old in the next 24 hours.

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Quote of the Day

"Remember, today is the tomorrow you worried about yesterday." - Dale Carnegie

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  • Sonate

    “Only four members of the 3000-hit club had more hits through their age 23-season than Castro. And their names were Cobb, Kaline, Yount and Aaron.”
    What astonished me about this was that A-Rod, who had TWO 200+ hit seasons before age 24 was not on this list. To nit-pick, a check revealed an ambiguity. A-Rod turned 24 in July, 1999. After 1998 he had 648 hits. If we focus on age at season’s end, 1998 is where we draw the line on A-Rod. If we focus on when the player turns 24, then A-Rod (who had 143 hits in 1999) likely eclipsed Castro because about half those hits would have occurred before he turned 24. Castro is fixed at 692 hits because his March birthday does not fall within the season. Just a bit of rambling. I’m a Castro fan and even if we add A-Rod to this list, Castro is still in a very small club of players who had HOF careers (even though A-Rod will likely have a very long wait for his HOF induction).

  • SuzyS

    ” Rick Renteria is the fourth different manager for Starlin Castro…”. I hope Renteria has a ten year run as manager here.
    It would mean he had WS credentials.
    If he can survive the next 2 difficult years…he might have a shot at it.

  • Tony_Hall

    For what we thought was a set roster and set starters is starting to look not as clear.

    2B Options
    Barney
    Bonifacio
    Valbuena

    3B
    Valbuena
    Murphy
    Olt
    Bonifacio

    In the infield, a lot of this comes down to what happens with Olt. If they keep Olt in will be in 2 possible ways. One as the starter at 3B. If that happens, it creates a lot of competition for 2B. The other is utility guy who can play 3B/1B/LF/RF. They could get him mostly starts at 3B, but could play him at 1B against the tougher LH starters. Barney versus Bonifacio at 2B will all come down to if they can trade Barney. I don’t see them benching Barney to start the year, but if his bat doesn’t get respectable, he will not be the starter much longer with Bonifacio on this team.

    OF
    Sweeney
    Lake
    Ruggiano
    Schierholtz

    I keep seeing the Cubs OF with Ruggiano in CF. I would put Lake in CF and use Bonifacio to give him breaks and platoon Schierholtz and Ruggiano in RF with Sweeney in LF. But, I see lots of people using Ruggiano in CF. Maybe they plan to get him 400-500 AB’s and to do that he will start many games in CF. With an OF like this, no one may get over 600 AB’s and it may be a game of matchups with the main 4 guys and using the flexibility of the infielders to get the best matchups on a daily basis (ex. Joe Maddon’s lineups).

    The only regular, everyday starters on this team are Castro and Rizzo and you can say Castillo, but no catcher starts everyday.

    • coachdon

      It will be interesting to see how Brandon Hyde writes his lineups…

      • Tony_Hall

        I am sure Brandon will be in the meetings when they discuss the lineups, but don’t think for a minute the Renteria won’t be the one filling out the lineup on a daily basis.

    • calicub

      But can Olt get the neccessary at-bats as a bench player?

      I think Olt needs to get some regular playing time to get him back into the groove of things. With that in mind, I think its starting 3B @ Wrigley or AA for Olt.

      • Tony_Hall

        Bryant will be playing 3B in AA and Villanueva will be in AAA.

        If he doesn’t win the full time starting 3B job for the Cubs he may still get 4-5 starts a week between 3B/1B/OF.

      • BigJonLilJon

        I don’t know why, but my feeling is that Olt is gonna win the 3B job.Then we have a log jam at 2B and them battle it out.

    • triple

      As an eternal optimist I really like the options and competition we have for OF spots as well as 3b and 2b that you mention. Are any of these names people to be excited about? No, but as far as I see, these lists are filled with guys who play the game the right way and give good effort; they are all hungry and want to take another step forward. That in itself is an improvement over competitions such as Valbuena vs. Stewart for 3b. Olt definitely is the wild card, but I’m not having any expectations.

      As far as Valbuena, I’ve always liked him (yes I know he’s not that good) and will continue to pull for him to improve his hitting skills. He can play solid defense and manages to get on base at a better clip than most Cubs we’ve had over the last couple years. Do I ever see him as a regular? No, but I think if he can develop more and get his BA up to about .250, he can find a place on this team as a good inexpensive veteran defensive replacement off the bench who can at least fill in at 3rd, 2nd, and SS when necessary.

      • Tony_Hall

        I agree with most of what you said, but Valbuena is no longer cheap for what he provides. $1.71M is fine for this year, but it will go up next year to closer to $3M and that prices him off the team.

        • triple

          Good point…makes me wish I was enough of a hack to be a major league scrub.

  • John_CC

    Nice report. Thanks Neil. Are you in hot and sunny AZ yet? I’m leaving Monday, can’t wait.

    • http://chicagocubsonline.com/ Neil

      John, how long will you be there?

      • John_CC

        Just Monday – Thursday, leaving Friday morning.

        • http://chicagocubsonline.com/ Neil

          John, please send me an email. If you don’t have it any longer you can use the contact form.

          Thanks man.

          • John_CC

            Got tied up…email sent. Thanks.

  • cubtex

    Look for Castro to have a big year! Soriano using some of that 18 mil the Cubs are paying him to hit 30 HR’s for the Yankees this year and give Starlin some help and advice. Class act!

    • Tony_Hall

      Actually it is $13M the Cubs are paying and Castro and Soriano are friends and use to live together. Of course they have talked over the winter.

      • cubtex

        You are right. 18 mil is what he is making and the Cubs are paying 13. That got me thinking. Theo is paying more for Soriano to hit bombs for the Yankees than he is for the ENTIRE starting 2014 Cubs outfield combined :) All 5 of them.

        • Tony_Hall

          Theo is much more efficient with payroll. Thanks for pointing it out to everyone :)

          • cubtex

            LOL! Look how he left Boston.

          • Tony_Hall

            Yeah, LOL! He left them in such terrible shape with that top ranked farm system that they have been able to stay away from the big money free agent signings and they won a World Series in Year 2. He also left them with a great front office with his prodigy Cherington in charge of Theo’s old staff.

          • calicub

            I, Calicub, disagree with this statement.

          • John_CC

            That’s what I was thinking!

    • Richard Hood

      I think he will cement himself as the best young shortstop in baseball this year. His defense has come a long way in 2 years and if his offense comes back there is not very many that can put up his type of numbers.

  • jtrain23

    Thanks for including the stat about Castro’s hits at his age, Neil. It definitely provides some perspective. We as Cubs fans are very critical of the young man and his decline in production over the past 2 seasons.

    We must keep in mind that as a very young MLB player, he has seen a revolving door of players and coaches around him. The teams he has played on have had very few veterans, and the ones that were on the team were mostly journeymen that spent little time with the club before being traded. He is also on his 4th manager entering his fifth full year for the club. That is a lot to lay on the plate of a 20-24 year old kid.

    Let’s hope the new approach, attitude, and coaching staff provides Castro what he needs to be the player that he is capable of.

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

    I’m starting to feel real
    Good about Renteria. Hands on and trying to really help these youngsters. I think we have th right guy for the job and he will be successful. I wanted Ausmus but Renteria may be a better fit for Chicago.

  • Steve Baier

    I find it encouraging that Renteria wants Castro to “be himself”.