The Cubs open the 2016 season two weeks from today in Anaheim.
The Cubs begin the last full week in the Valley with the only day off on the Cactus League schedule. The Cubs resume play in the Cactus League on Tuesday in Goodyear.
John Lackey is pitching today in a minor league game in order to stay on his five-day routine. Lackey’s next scheduled start is Saturday at Sloan Park against the Giants.
April 3 is the deadline for teams to set their Opening Day rosters. Officially, the Cubs have 45 players on the spring roster counting Zac Rosscup and Christian Villanueva. With 43 healthy players, the Cubs will have to cut 18 players over the next 13 days. The next round of cuts is expected by Tuesday.
According to the Tribune, “the task of equipping a Major League roster for the long run appears more important for the Cubs than finalizing their 25-man roster for Opening Night.” The Cubs are looking at the big picture and not the deadline that is in less than two weeks.
Two players on the 40-man roster, Neil Ramirez and Matt Szczur are out of minor league options. Ramirez and Szczur will not clear waivers if the Cubs try to send either player through. Mark Gonzales reported “plenty of second-division teams are keeping a close watch on them in case they are placed on waivers.”
The Cubs have not decided to begin the season with seven or eight relievers. If the Cubs start the year with a 13-man pitching staff, Ramirez figures to be on the roster. Ramirez’s velocity has not rebounded to the 96 mph he hit regularly during the 2014 season. Gonzales talked to a scout that clocked Ramirez’s fastball at 93 mph twice Saturday. Ramirez sat in the 91-92 mph range. Ramirez hit 94 mph on the gun during his previous outing on March 15 when he struck out the side in order.
According to Mark Gonzales, the Cubs may not have room on the roster for Szczur because of Shane Victorino and what Javier Baez has shown defensively in center field.
Matt Szczur is looking to play in his first Cactus League game Tuesday. Victorino is expected back this week, same for Tommy La Stella. The Tribune indicated the last roster spot could come down to Neil Ramirez, Victorino or La Stella.
Mark Gonzales also reported “the Padres and Phillies are among the teams who have taken an extended look at the Cubs’ younger players.” One of the Padres top evaluators spent time on the backfields Saturday watching the Cubs minor leaguers. Gonzales added the Padres “are insistent on a large return for players like pitcher Tyson Ross.”
With a majority of the first roster of the season all but set, the health of the players vying the remaining one or two spots figures to impact the Cubs decision making process.
Jon Lester started his second Cactus League game Sunday with good results on the mound. But the same throwing issues that becomes the focus every time out.
Lester gave up two runs, one earned, on five hits with a walk and four strikeouts.
Defensively, Lester struggled. He allowed Anthony Rizzo to make a play on a bunt he should have made. Rizzo threw the ball down the right field line. Lester fielded his position but threw the ball away on another play. Lester said after the game, “Once again I didn’t move my feet. If I move my feet, everything is fine.”
Lester told the beat writers he will continue to work on it. Lester explained, “I continue to work on it. I feel fine with it. It’s just a matter of mechanically doing the right things and remembering to do the right things mechanically.”
According to the Tribune, Lester has become comfortable throwing to bases in practice. He has to be able to make the plays at game speed.
Jon Lester isn’t hiding from the issues, or the recent news about the bone chip in his elbow, which is a positive as far as Maddon is concerned.
The Sun-Times reported that “Maddon, staff, execs, teammates and media all have picked up on a more, relaxed, settled-in version of Lester this spring.” And Maddon thinks this is the best he’s ever seen Lester throw the baseball.
According to the Sun-Times, Joe Maddon was still “buzzing” on Sunday about the plays that Javier Baez made in center field on Saturday night. Maddon thought Baez went back well on the balls and made tough plays.
Maddon told the Sun-Times, “I have no concern with him on defense at all, at any position. He’s just a good baseball player. He’s a really good athlete. He’s got a calmness about his play. All that stuff’s there.”
Maddon also noted that Baez’s at bats “have been a little more mature” this spring.
Javier Baez played shortstop in Sunday’s game and has lined up at first, second, shortstop and center field in Cactus League games.
Maddon’s Lead Bulls
Joe Maddon met with his ‘Lead Bulls’ on Sunday morning to discuss team policies. Maddon does not like the word rules, he has policies. Maddon said most of the discussion focused on common sense stuff.
Maddon and the players discussed the team dress code and rules for kids in the clubhouse.
Maddon’s dress code is “if you think you look hot, you wear it” and children are to be out of the clubhouse three hours before game time.
Maddon expects his ‘Lead Bulls’ to police the clubhouse.
Cubs-Rangers Prospect Game
The Cubs announced Sunday that a team made up of the prospects from the organization will play a group of Rangers prospects in Surprise on Wednesday. The game will start 30 minutes after the conclusion of the Cactus League game between the Cubs and Rangers.
Rosters were not announced.
The two organizations squared off in a prospects game, the 2015 Futures Game, last spring at Sloan Park.
News and Notes
• According to ESPN Chicago, Joe Maddon is still not concerned about spring bullpen meltdowns. Maddon stressed he “can’t stay it enough don’t be deceived by Spring Training performance.”
• Kyle Schwarber answered questions from Twitter for ESPN Chicago.
• Jordan Bastian confirmed Sunday that Marlon Byrd will receive $1 million salary if he makes the Indians roster out of Spring Training. Byrd can also make another $2.5 million in performance bonuses.
• According to Jay Jaffe, Asdrubal Cabrera (Mets), Howie Kendrick (Dodgers), Yadier Molina (Cardinals), Ben Revere (Nationals) and James Shields (Padres) are the top bust candidates in the National League.
And last, but not least, Buster Olney tweeted Sunday he’s heard from several players that hope “the White Sox flap doesn’t lead to one-size-fits-all rules that could cost Dads time with their kids.”
This Day in Cubstory
1988 – Cubs released Mike Mason
1969 – Cubs signed free agent Hank Aguirre
1963 – Shawon Dunston, born
1947 – Bill Plummer, born
1942 – Len Church, born
1939 – Tommy Davis, born
1923 – Jim Hughes, born
1890 – John Sullivan, born
1847 – Oscar Bielaski, born