Manager Joe Maddon may be closer to finding the “mystery man” to fill the No. 2 spot in the Cubs lineup, and it might not be who you’d imagine. While Chris Coghlan is a strong candidate for the spot, Maddon has other ideas.
“An out of the box candidate could be [Jorge] Soler,” Maddon said of the right fielder. “With him, it goes beyond his power. This guy looks over a baseball now. This guy has great decision-making ability at the plate. That bleeds into either you’re driving in the second leadoff hitter plus one, or he’s setting up somebody after him because the guy is going to take his walks.
“He’s a really interesting baseball player,” Maddon said. “I’d heard good things, but his impression on me has been really strong.”
Kris Bryant has been the focus of attention in camp. Soler, 23, who was batting .333 this spring with three home runs in 14 games, has been playing under the radar.
“Beautiful for George,” Maddon said. “The fact that he doesn’t really understand or speak English very well could work in his favor right now. He’s a beautiful man. I really, really enjoy the way he is. He’s like Vladimir [Guerrero] with plate discipline.”
The Cuban outfielder has made a good impression.
“As a scout, my God, if he was in U.S. as a Draft choice, he’d be the No. 1 pick, there’s no doubt,” Maddon said. “No. 1 overall. I’m impressed with how he is, too. He’s just a great guy.”
– Carrie Muskat
Anthony Rizzo joked with bench coach Davey Martinez that he’d like to lead off, so that’s where the Cubs first baseman will bat on Saturday against the Rockies.
“It’s something I always wanted to do,” Rizzo said. “They’ve been messing with the lineup a lot, so why not? I think it’ll be fun.”
Martinez had been scheduled to manage the Cubs in Mesa with Joe Maddon going on the road in the split squad game against the Reds, but they switched. Rizzo figures Maddon just wants to see how he does batting first.
“I think I’m your prototypical leadoff hitter,” Rizzo said. “I’m going to try to see some pitches, get on base. We don’t steal much on this team anyways.”
Don’t be surprised if he tries to steal.
Does he model himself after anyone?
“I’m going to try to do my best Dexter Fowler impression,” Rizzo said.
– Carrie Muskat
The Cubs have set their pitching probables for the final week of Cactus League play. Here’s a schedule. Remember, it’s subject to change:
Sunday at Royals: RHP Edwin Jackson
Monday vs Giants: RHP Kyle Hendricks
Tuesday at Rangers: LHP Eric Jokisch
Wednesday vs Brewers: RHP Jason Hammel
Friday at Diamondbacks, Chase Field: RHP Edwin Jackson
* When will Jon Lester pitch? The left-hander is scheduled to start in a Minor League game on Tuesday in Mesa in his final game action before the season opener on April 5 at Wrigley FIeld. Travis Wood will start in a “B” game on Monday. Also, Dallas Beeler, sidelined this spring with soreness in his right bicep, will throw two innings in a sim game on Tuesday.
– Carrie Muskat
Cubs vs. Rockies in Mesa:
Cubs at Reds in Goodyear:
The Cubs will open the regular season in eight days. Have you picked the final 25 players? The spring roster is now at 40 and consists of 20 pitchers (one non-roster invitee), four catchers (one non-roster invitee), nine infielders (three non-roster invitees) and seven outfielders. Here’s who’s left:
* Note: Beeler, Turner and Wada will likely open on the disabled list.
* Note: Denorfia will likely open on the DL
Jorge Soler and Chris Coghlan each belted two-run homers and Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro each added a solo shot to power the Cubs to a 6-3 victory Friday over the White Sox and former teammate Jeff Samardzija.
Samardzija, who was the Cubs’ Opening Day starter last year, will kick off the season for the White Sox this year.
Jason Hammel got the win. He gave up two runs on six hits over six innings but also got bragging rights against Samardzija. The two played golf earlier this spring, and both joked about the possibility of facing each other now that they’re on different Chicago teams.
“I didn’t actually think it was going to happen,” said Hammel, who singled off Samardzija in the second inning.
He was happy with his hit, although he had been looking forward to pitching to Samardzija.
“We have a good relationship, a good friendship, and I was kind of ticked off he didn’t get an at-bat because they put the [designated hitter] in for him,” Hammel said. “I love Samardzija. Hopefully, we can face each other in the World Series.”
– Carrie Muskat
Whether or not Kris Bryant will be on the Cubs’ Opening Day roster has been a hot topic, and president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said Friday that no decision has been made regarding the team’s top prospect.
What should be noted is that in his career, Epstein has never had a player make his Major League debut on Opening Day, other than a Rule 5 pick or a Japanese player. While most of the focus has been on Bryant’s call-up being linked to the start of the service time clock, Epstein said this is not a business decision.
“It’s for baseball reasons, and it hasn’t been about anything else besides baseball reasons,” Epstein said Friday. “We spend a lot of time thinking about which players to draft, how to get them off to a good start in their professional careers, how to help them advance in the Minor Leagues, and how to help them make that final leap to the big leagues and when and how to do it to put them in a position to succeed.”
Bryant has been the center of attention because of his Major League-leading nine home runs and .406 batting average, and because his agent, Scott Boras, has been outspoken about how the third baseman is being treated.
“It’s not about business,” Epstein said. “People are trying to make this about business. There are valid baseball reasons. The process of developing a player, taking them from amateur to Major League player and every step along the way, that’s a baseball process and those are baseball decisions, and that’s what we’re doing here.”
What Epstein is looking for is the right moment. Last year, the Cubs promoted Javier Baez and Jorge Soler to the big leagues, and both moves came when the team was on the road in hitter friendly ballparks.
“We haven’t made a decision yet,” Epstein said regarding Bryant. “We’re going to make a good baseball decision based on what we think is best for his development and what’s best for the team and the organization and other players affected. We haven’t made the decision yet.
“I look to things that have worked in the past for me as sort of a presumptive guideline for what to do in the future,” Epstein said. “I’m not saying it’s perfect, but I do think if you stack it up and look at some of the young players, it’s a pretty good track record. We haven’t made a decision. Whatever we decide on this one, it might be wrong, I’m not saying I’m right all the time, but it’s my professional judgement.”
– Carrie Muskat
Kris Bryant enjoyed his first game in the outfield since his junior year in college, but will that be enough to get him on the Cubs Opening Day roster? Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein has never had a rookie start on Opening Day.
“I look at it as why not me?” Bryant said Friday. “I think I’m the type of guy who can go out there and do it. I’ve made it a point of mine to show them that I can.”
Bryant, who started in left field Thursday night, leads the Major Leagues this spring with nine home runs — and hit a 10th in a “B” game as well — and he was batting .406 with 11 strikeouts, including three looking on Thursday.
“Yesterday was good for me to go out there and face a pitcher like Jered Weaver who has incredible stuff,” Bryant said of the Angels ace. “He’s a different type of pitcher and it was really good for me to go out there and struggle a little bit, see what he’s going to throw me and learn from it. I took it as a learning experience.”
So was playing the outfield. Manager Joe Maddon had asked Bryant if he was willing to play there, and the only condition was that he had to take it easy on his throwing. Bryant was limited to designated hitter duties earlier this month because of fatigue in his right shoulder.
Bryant did fine, showing his baseball acumen when he backed up a play at third, and also turned a double play in the sixth, getting his first outfield assist since he was 13. He played center and right field his junior year at the University of San Diego.
“It was a little different,” Bryant said. “I heard some chatter out there [from the fans] but I couldn’t make out what they were saying. You see grass in front of you instead of dirt. It’s a little different, but I enjoyed it.”
Does he have a preference?
“Whatever helps the team win,” Bryant said. “Obviously, I’m a natural third baseman, but there’s some good guys in this clubhouse who can play everywhere and I’m willing to do what they want me to do.”
– Carrie Muskat
Jason Hammel gets the start Friday as the Cubs play host to the White Sox at Sloan Park in Mesa. Hammel will bat eighth, the fourth time manager Joe Maddon has done that this spring with his starting pitcher. Here’s the lineup:
La Stella 2B
Mike Olt hit a two-run homer and a triple, and Travis Wood smacked a pinch-hit home run but it wasn’t enough as the Cubs lost, 8-4, to the Angels on Thursday at Sloan Park in Mesa in front of 15,246. Jered Weaver struck out eight over 5 1/3 innings for the Angels, who got home runs from Albert Pujols. The Cubs did turn four double plays, including one by left fielder Kris Bryant. Bryant was making his first start in the outfield. The Angels had a runner at second with one out in the sixth and Bryant caught Collin Cowgill’s fly ball in left and fired to Javier Baez at second to get the runner and end the inning.