Still Buzzing about the Olt and Baez Blasts and Cubs Spring Training News and Notes

Mike Olt and Javier Baez picked the right time to make the Peoria Sports Complex look rather small. Olt and Baez launched three home runs late Wednesday night that traveled close to 1200 feet combined. As Len Kasper said during the broadcast, the ball does not travel as well at night in the Cactus League as it does during the day. So while the Legend of Javier Baez grew with his titanic home run, Mike Olt could be playing his way onto the Cubs Opening Day roster. A possibility the Cubs have been hoping for all off-season.

CubsMesaLogo-pubMike Olt is seeing the baseball and appears to be getting more and more comfortable in the box. What is unknown right now is if he can play third base due to the tender shoulder he has been dealing with since the beginning of camp. Olt has gone through the drills and says his velocity is where it needs to be. Plus, he impressed his manager with the 3-4-1 double play he started in Monday’s game with a strong, accurate throw to second base. Olt is expected to play third base in the very near future. And according to a report from the Sun-Times, Olt could unseat the Luis Valbuena-Donnie Murphy third base platoon that was penciled in for Opening Day when Spring Training began.

As for Javier Baez, he will see his first game action of the spring at second base on either Monday or Tuesday of next week. Baez has been practicing at second and says he feels comfortable there. When Rick Renteria starts Baez at second, look for Darwin Barney to be at shortstop for the start of the game. The Cubs would rather have an experienced infielder, like Barney, on the other side of the bag to help him out. So Barney could actually be helping the man that could eventually take his job. Baez is expected to stay in big league camp for a little while longer. The Cubs would like to see him play third in a Cactus League game as well before he is reassigned to minor league camp. Baez will not be on the Cubs’ Opening Day roster. He will start the season as Iowa’s shortstop. Once he checks more boxes off of his player development card, then he will have a chance to make his big league debut.

Marcos Mateo

The Cubs received back the only player the team lost in the Major League phase of the Rule 5 Draft. The Diamondbacks returned RHP Marcos Mateo to the Cubs, the announcement was made Thursday.

Marcos Mateo was 0-1 in four games for the Diamondbacks this spring with a 2.25 ERA and a 1.50 WHIP. Mateo surrendered five hits with a walk and three strikeouts in four innings.

Marcos Mateo should be added to Iowa’s bullpen.

Jason Hammel

Jason Hammel stayed on schedule to follow Edwin Jackson in the Cubs’ rotation. Hammel threw six innings Thursday in a minor league game. Hammel surrendered three runs, two earned, on eight hits but did not walk a batter while striking out four. Hammel threw 75 pitches.

The first four spots in the Cubs’ rotation appear to be set, barring a trade or an injury. Jeff Samardzija or Travis Wood will take the ball on Opening Day. Edwin Jackson will occupy the third spot with Hammel behind Jackson. The fifth spot is still up for grabs according to Paul Sullivan.

Edwin Jackson

Edwin Jackson got his work in Wednesday against minor leaguers at the Cubs facility. Jackson threw 74 pitches over five innings and allowed two unearned runs on two hits with no walks and four strikeouts.

Jackson addressed his fastball-only start and said he still had not spoken with Rick Renteria about his last outing. Jackson did not see what the big deal was, and still does not, about him working only on his fastball when he faced the Indians.

Edwin Jackson told the Sun-Times that Chris Bosio knew about his plan to throw only fastballs.

If Chris Bosio knew what his pitcher was planning that day, Jackson is correct and what should not have been a story became one for no reason. If Jackson’s coaches did not know, that is where the issue lies.

Albert Almora

Albert Almora replaced Junior Lake in centerfield Wednesday night in Peoria and made a play that many veteran outfielders would not make, much less a 19-year old in his first big league camp.

With the bases loaded and the Cubs clinging to a two run lead, John Buck blooped a single into center. The ball was not hit hard and with two outs, the runners were off with the crack of the bat. Almora charged the ball and instead of throwing home, which he had no shot of throwing the runner out before he scored, Almora threw behind the runner (James Jones) that had rounded second on his way to third. Almora nearly threw out Jones and that would have ended the game because Stefen Romero had not touched the plate yet.

Len Kasper and Mick Gillispie talked about the play after it happened and pointed out that is an example of why so many people believe Albert Almora will be a very good big league ballplayer.

Here is what Len Kasper said on Twitter about the play. “Almora with a heads-up play that no minor leaguer makes. Instead of wildly throwing to the plate with no chance, he nearly won the game by nailing the runner at second base. That Almora plays means way more to me than a home run or a stolen base. Why? Because he’s 19 and that shows his instincts as a baseball player.”

Chris Bosio

The Cubs’ pitching coach has been sidelined the last several games “due to leg problems stemming from a break last season” according to a report from ESPN Chicago. Lester Strode took over Bosio’s duties on Tuesday and Wednesday and is expected to make the trip to Las Vegas this weekend and not Bosio. Rick Renteria said Bosio is having an issue with his foot.

The team is thinking Bosio will be back in the dugout for the split squad games in the valley (Surprise and Mesa) this weekend. Bosio and Strode are still communicating, according to the report, in order to keep the pitching staff on schedule.

Roster Cuts

The Cubs announced the first round of spring roster cuts prior to Wednesday’s game. Nine players were either optioned to the minors or reassigned to minor league camp and one player is no longer in the organization.

Arismendy Alcantara, Logan Watkins and Matt Szczur were optioned to Triple-A Iowa. And Jorge Soler was optioned to Double-A Tennessee. Players on the 40-man roster, with minor league options, are actually on an optional assignment for the entire season. A player can be recalled or optioned down as many times as the club wants during the season and use only one minor league option.

Kris Bryant, Albert Almora, Eric Jokisch, Carlos Pimentel and Jeudy Valdez were in camp as non-roster invitees. Players in Major League Spring Training on non-roster invites are reassigned to minor league camp, not optioned down because they are not on the 40-man roster (Major League) roster.

The Cubs released OF Aaron Cunningham. The team singed the veteran outfielder to a non-guaranteed minor league contract over the winter that included a non-roster invite to big league camp.

News and Notes

Jake Arrieta completed a side session Wednesday. The team was waiting to see how he responded before deciding what Arrieta’s next step would be.

Spring Training games began for the minor leaguers on Thursday.

Cubs’ minor leaguer Dustin Geiger looks to take another step forward in 2014 according to a report from Shawn Ferris.

Nate Schierholtz is eyeing a full-time job according to a report from Carrie Muskat. Schierholtz is back in the rumor mill but he said he does not monitor trade rumors. Schierholtz wants to stay with the Cubs past the trade deadline and beyond this season. But he has not talked the front office about his desire to remain with the Cubs.

Jason Giambi probably wishes Edwin Jackson had thrown less fastballs when Jackson faced the Indians on March 7. Giambi has a non-displaced rib fracture, an injury he suffered when Jackson hit him. Giambi will be out three to four weeks.

Mark Grace could end up on the Diamondbacks’ coaching staff. Grace has been acting as Arizona’s assistant hitting coach this spring and he could retain that position when the season begins if Henry Blanco makes the team. Blanco has been told he will be added to Arizona’s coaching staff if he does not make the team. And if Blanco becomes a big league coach, Grace will spend his season as the Short-Season Hillsboro Hops hitting coach.

The Cubs new complex will be the site for the International Prospect League Organized Games this weekend. According to Jesse Sanchez, several general managers and tons of scouts are expected to attend the showcase which will feature several of the top July 2 (J2) prospects.

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