2/18 Youkilis to join Cubs

Kevin Youkilis was in Cubs camp on Wednesday, and was expected to be named a special assistant to Theo Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer, whom he knows well from their days together with the Red Sox. Youkilis, 35, would join former big league pitcher Ryan Dempster, who was named a special assistant in December.

Youkilis retired after the 2013 season. In 10 Major League seasons, including nine in Boston (2004-2012), he compiled a .281 batting average, hit 150 home runs, and drove in 618 runs. He finished with a .382 career on-base percentage, ranked 156th on baseball’s all-time list.

He was expected to have similar duties as Dempster, which include spending time with the Cubs in Spring Training, visiting the Minor League affiliates during the season, evaluating amateur players leading up to the Draft, and performing professional scouting assignments.

– Carrie Muskat

2/18 Bryant focuses on what he can control

Kris Bryant knows how close he is to the big leagues. The Cubs’ top prospect also is well aware that his Major League debut could be delayed if the front office decides it wants to delay the clock from starting regarding Bryant’s service time.

“I think I have a pretty good grasp of [service time issue] but I don’t look into it at all,” Bryant said Wednesday after a round of batting practice at the Cubs’ complex in Mesa, Ariz. “I don’t make those decisions, I make the decisions on the field for me and how hard I play and that’s all I can control.”

Cubs fans are giddy at the prospect of Bryant, 23, at third base on Opening Day after he batted .325, hit 43 home runs and drove in 110 runs at Double-A and Triple-A combined. His goal is to make the decision tough on the Cubs front office.

“That’s all I can say and that’s all I can do,” he said.

– Carrie Muskat

2/18 Jon Lester

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Jon Lester gets a side session in under the watchful eye of Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio on Wednesday in Mesa.

2/18 Maddon and his men

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New Cubs manager Joe Maddon discusses strategy with his coaching staff on Wednesday to make sure they deliver the same message to the players.

2/17 Possible lineup/rotation combos

At the Cubs Convention in January, Joe Maddon admitted he had not started scribbling possible lineup combinations, saying he has “zero pre-conceived notions right now.” Since Maddon won’t offer possible combos, the following is strictly speculation. One thing to note: Maddon does like Arismendy Alcantara’s versatility, and may use him all everywhere — second base, center field, lead off. Feel free to debate the options.

Projected batting order to start season:
1. CF Dexter Fowler
2. LF Chris Coghlan
3. 1B Anthony Rizzo
4. SS Starlin Castro
5. 2B Javier Baez
6. RF Jorge Soler
7. 3B Mike Olt
8. C Miguel Montero

* Speaking of lineups, remember Opening Day 2014? Rick Renteria’s starting nine included Emilio Bonifacio in center, Junior Lake in left, Starlin Castro at shortstop, Anthony Rizzo at first, Mike Olt at third, Welington Castillo catching, Nate Schierholtz in right, Darwin Barney at second, and Samardzija on the mound. If there’s one constant, it’s that things change.

* OK, how about the rotation? Remember, the Cubs do have obligations to certain players based on their contracts (which is why I don’t have Kyle Hendricks in the top five). They also will have to decide what to do with Jacob Turner and Felix Doubront, who both are out of options. And where does Tsuyoshi Wada fit?

Here’s a projected rotation for Opening Day:

1. Jon Lester
2. Jake Arrieta
3. Jason Hammel
4. Travis Wood
5. Edwin Jackson

– Carrie Muskat

1/17 Rizzo among early birds

Anthony Rizzo was working out Tuesday at the Cubs facility in Mesa, Ariz., joining the large number of early arrivals in camp. Pitchers and catchers report on Thursday with the first workout Friday. Position players do not have to be in Mesa until Feb. 24. Pitching coach Chris Bosio isn’t wasting time, and on Tuesday, he had pitchers Tsuyoshi Wada, Zac Rosscup and Brian Schlitter throwing side sessions. Among the other pitchers in camp were Travis Wood, Jason Motte, Jason Hammel, Edwin Jackson and Blake Parker.

– Carrie Muskat

2/16 Signs of spring

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Cubs coach Brandon Hyde throws BP to Mike Olt (standing) and Matt Szczur (in cage) on Monday at newly named Sloan Park. As you can see, the weather is perfect here in Arizona. The Cubs front office will have organizational meetings Tuesday and Wednesday as they prepare for Thursday, the first day pitchers and catchers are to report to Spring Training. There will be a workout Friday; the time/schedule is still to be determined.

– Carrie Muskat

2/16 Early birds

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Several Cubs players are in Mesa, Ariz., and working out in preparation for Spring Training. Pitchers and catchers report Thursday with the first workout on Friday. Here, Matt Szczur, Kris Bryant, Rafael Lopez, and Addison Russell prep for some batting practice at newly named Sloan Park on Monday.

– Carrie Muskat

2/13 Germen back with Cubs

Right-handed pitcher Gonzalez Germen, claimed off waivers from the Rangers last month and then designated for assignment to make room for another pitcher, cleared waivers on Friday, was outrighted to Triple-A Iowa, and will be among the non-roster invitees in Cubs camp.

The Cubs had claimed Germen on Jan. 23 but he was then DFA on Feb. 4 to make room on the 40-man for left-hander Drake Britton, who was claimed off waivers from the Red Sox.

Germen has been a popular pitcher on the transaction wire. On Dec. 15, he was DFA by the Mets, then traded to the Yankees four days later. The right-hander was then DFA on Jan. 13 and traded to the Rangers on Jan. 20 before the Cubs claimed him.

Germen, 27, is 1-2 with one save and a 4.31 ERA in 54 relief appearances over the last two seasons with the Mets. He has struck out 64 batters over 64 2/3 innings, and held right-handed hitters to a .229 batting average.

* In other roster news: The Cubs have also signed outfielders Jonathan Mota and Jose Rojas, right-handed pitchers Bryan Molina and Freddy Tineo, and infielder Jhonny Bethencourt to Minor League contracts.

– Carrie Muskat

2/13 Olt one of early arrivals in Cubs camp

Spring Training previews are running on Cubs.com. Here’s part of a feature on Mike Olt, one of the early birds in Cubs camp in Mesa, Ariz.

Mike Olt knows most Cubs fans are expecting top prospect Kris Bryant to be the Opening Day third baseman. He just smiles.

“I’m just making sure I’m ready and making the adjustments I need and that I learned from last year,” Olt said after a workout in Mesa. “I took a lot out of last year. It took me a while to kind of get over a lot of negative things but when I started focusing on the positive things I did and the things I can improve on, which were slightly easy adjustments, I think it’ll help me.”

Olt was the Opening Day starter at third in 2014, and had a rough first season with the Cubs.

“I just lost confidence, and that’s the most important thing about baseball is confidence,” Olt said. “If you can get positive things out of the negatives, and build on that, you can get back on track, and that’s what I’m trying to do.”

He was sent to the Minors in July, and called that experience “the best thing for me.” Credit Iowa hitting coach Brian Harper with getting Olt on track.

“The pitchers up in the big leagues are not different than the guys in the Minor Leagues,” Olt said. “[The big league pitchers] are able to execute their plan more. When they saw some holes in my swing, they were able to exploit it. It’s all about minimizing those holes. The only way to really minimize it is to simplify everything. I don’t need to generate any more power, I just need to focus on getting in a good hitting position and go from there.

“It’s not like I came back from the batters box last year and said I was over-matched at all, which is the positive I needed to take out of last year. I was never over-matched; I got myself out most of the time.”

Critical fans might disagree.

“If I was a fan, I’d think the same thing,” Olt said, laughing. “A big thing was confidence, and realizing you belong there. That’s the biggest part of being in the big leagues.”

– Carrie Muskat

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