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Anthony Rizzo has arrived

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Though the Cubs sit in the cellar of the NL Central with a 25-48 record, it would be difficult to find an uninterested person around Wrigley Field Tuesday afternoon. That’s because elite first base prospect Anthony Rizzo will make his Cubs debut tonight as they take on the Mets.

The 22-year-old fielded questions from the media before taking batting practice, where most of the eyes—and cameras—were on him.

“I’m just going to work hard every day, learn, get better, go through the ups and downs of a baseball player,” Rizzo said.

The slugger was hitting .342 with 23 homers and 62 RBI in 70 games for the Triple-A affiliate prior to his promotion.

Red Sox Nation storms into Wrigley

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For just the second time ever during the regular season and first time since 2005, the Red Sox will take to the Wrigley Field grass this weekend. The all-time regular-season series is knotted at 3-all, but the Cubs took two of three at the Friendly Confines back in 2005.

The series marks a reunion of sorts for Cubs baseball president Theo Epstein. Epstein acted as the Red Sox’s general manager from 2002-11 before taking his position with the North Siders and is largely responsible for the current makeup of Boston’s lineup. GM Jed Hoyer and senior vice president Jason McLeod also spent time over the last decade in Sox upper management.

While both squads currently sit at the bottom of their respective divisions, there’s no shortage of excitement when these historic teams get together.

Castro hits way into history

Starlin Castro had a pair of singles Monday, giving the shortstop 400 career hits in just 325 games. Among major leaguers who debuted after 1980, Castro tied Alex Rodriguez as the sixth-fastest player to reach the 400 hit plateau, behind only Ichiro Suzuki (268 games), Nomar Garciaparra (302), Kirby Puckett (310), Hanley Ramirez (317) and Wade Boggs (324). He leads all NL players with 74 multi-hit games since 2011.

Despite having just a .326 on-base percentage this season, the 22-year-old shortstop leads the Cubs in hitting (.316), RBI (25) and is tied for the lead in stolen bases (12). He also has a .333 average with runners in scoring position.

Vote for the all-time best Cubs roster

Dawson or Sosa? Sutter or Smith? Grace or Lee? Friends have waged verbal wars over questions like this for years. But now the debates can be put to rest. For the July All-Star issue, Vine Line is letting you determine the All-Time best Cubs roster. Vote for who you think the best Cubs players were, position by position, and the results will be featured in July’s issue of Vine Line.





















Minors tracker: Week one prospect report

We’re only a week into the minor league season, but some young stars already are starting to blossom. A few of the Cubs affiliates are playing better than others, but there’s no denying some individuals left Spring Training ready to go.

High-profile corner infielders Josh Vitters and Anthony Rizzo have powered Triple-A Iowa to a 5-3 start. Vitters (.458/.500/.500) has racked up 11 hits in 24 at-bats, driving in six runs. Rizzo, who the Cubs acquired from the Padres for Andrew Cashner, has been just as impressive (.387/.424/.677), smacking three home runs and driving in 10.

Welington Castillo, a backstop who narrowly missed a spot on the Cubs Opening Day roster, is hitting .357 with a 1.214 OPS in 14 at-bats.

Top prospect Brett Jackson has recorded a .276 average with four RBI.

Ace Randy Wells is 1-0 in two starts, posting a 5.25 ERA, a 0.92 WHIP and seven strikeouts.

Double-A Tennessee, resting at .500 with a 4-4 record, has plenty of bright spots in both the lineup and on the bump. Shortstop Elliot Soto has a .476 OBP and is slugging .500. Michael Burgess (.333/.417/.524) has a home run and 11 total bases.

Nicholas Struck (1-1, 2.25 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 15 K, 12 IP), Dallas Beeler (1.64 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, 11 IP) and Trey McNutt (0.00 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 8 K, 7.2 IP) have all been consistent members of the rotation early on.

Despite Daytona’s 1-6 record, a few individuals still have something to smile about. First-round pick Hayden Simpson has a 3.60 ERA and a 1.30 WHIP in two starts, and outfielder John Andreoli has a .429 average with a .600 OBP, drawing six walks in 20 total at-bats.

Pitching has been the key for Class-A affiliate Peoria. The Chiefs, who sit at 3-4, have gotten two solid outings each from Michael Jensen (2-0, 2.45 ERA, 0.82 WHIP, 11 IP) and Patrick Francescon (0-1, 3.48 ERA, 0.82 WHIP, 12 K, 10.1 IP).

Cactus Notes: Cubs reduce roster to 31 players

Mesa, Ariz. — The Cubs are closer to finalizing their Opening Day roster after sending nine players to minor league camp Thursday, trimming their ranks from 40 players to 31.

Left-handed pitchers Scott Maine and Travis Wood, righty Randy Wells, outfielder Dave Sappelt and catcher Welington Castillo have all been optioned to Triple-A Iowa. Infielders Edgar Gonzalez and Matt Tolbert, righty Blake Parker and catcher Blake Lalli—all non-roster invitees—were assigned to minor league camp.

Manager Dale Sveum announced his Opening Day rotation will consist of Ryan Dempster, Matt Garza, Jeff Samardzija, Chris Volstad and Paul Maholm.

Wood and Wells were in the rotation mix heading into Spring Training, but were outpitched by Volstad and Samardzija. Wood struggled in Mesa, with a 17.28 ERA in 8.1 innings, surrendering 16 earned runs and three home runs. Wells, on the other hand, didn’t give up a run in his 7.1 spring innings, surrendering just four hits.

Castillo spent much of the spring battling Steve Clevenger for the backup catcher position. Though the 23-year-old Castillo hit .324 in 37 at-bats in the preseason, including a pair of home runs, the Cubs ultimately liked Clevenger’s lefty, line-drive bat and poise.

The roster, which needs to be cut down to 25 by next Thursday, currently sits at 16 pitchers, two catchers, seven infielders and six outfielders.

Cactus Notes: Camp in, Miller out

Mesa, Ariz. — The Cubs made a pair of minor moves Monday, signing right-hander Shawn Camp and releasing lefty reliever Trever Miller.

Camp signed a minor league deal five days after being released by the Mariners. The 36-year-old posted a 4.21 ERA in 66 innings of relief for the Blue Jays last year, but was not offered arbitration despite his Type-B status. He recorded a 2.16 ERA in 8.1 innings for the Mariners this spring, striking out six.

Miller, 38, had a 5.40 ERA despite his 1.08 WHIP in 8.1 innings in Mesa for the Cubs. The former first-round pick signed a minor league deal as free agent with the squad on Jan. 30.

Cactus notes: Dempster to start Opening Day

Mesa, Ariz. — Cubs manager Dale Sveum named veteran right-hander Ryan Dempster the club’s Opening Day starter over the weekend.

The 34-year-old will start his second consecutive opener for the Cubs and fourth Opening Day start overall (Florida 2001-02) when he takes the Wrigley Field mound April 5 against Washington.

His 2011 totals of 10 wins and a 4.80 ERA are his lowest since the Cubs moved Dempster into the rotation in 2007, but Sveum ultimately picked the veteran for his consistency. The two-time All-Star fanned 191 batters last season, good for 11th in the NL. He also started a league-best 34 games and pitched 202 innings, good for top 20 in National League.

Dempster will face off against 23-year-old Nationals’ phenom Stephen Strasburg.

1000 Words: Winter Warm-Up

Need a midweek pick-me-up? We’re just 12 days away from the first pitch of the Chicago Cubs 2012 Cactus League season March 4 against the Oakland Athletics at HoHoKam Park. (Photo by Stephen Green)

Live from Meet Business Management

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Wireless service has been tough today, so the Scouting and Business panels were typed up while they happened and posted soon after.

Representatives from all over the Cubs’ business operations are here to address fans’ questions and present some new details about the ballpark. Carl Rice (ballpark operations), Jahaan Blake (fan experiences), Alex Sugarman (business development), Colin Faulkner (ticket operations), Wally Hayward (chief marketing officer), Mike Lufrano (community affairs) and Crane Kenney (president of business operations) are here.

Wrap-up: Wow, a lot of announcements, including perhaps a couple missed in the opening minutes coming over from the scouting session. There’s a ton of work going on under the hood, and it’s really going to near fruit in 2012. Keep an eye out in Vine Line for more details!

4:35 – Beginning June 25, an eight-week baseball camp for local communities! Students will be invited out to the ballpark for photos, player meet-ups and more. Keep an eye out!

4:30 – The Cubs are trying to focus on the younger generation, the next generation of Cubs fans, with their renovations. Also, the team, as part of the Commissioner’s Initiative, makes available discounted tickets for kids and other groups. It’s a focus that has really been reignited under the Ricketts family, which talked some in the last session about all having kids themselves.

Total on last year’s grants to nonprofits and other community efforts: $1.8 million.

4:26 – In the rare instance where the fan experience isn’t pleasant because of other fans, the Cubs have a procedure in place to deal with the issues. This year, all Wrigley Field personnel will be trained on the same platform of dealing with it and responses will be faster.

In addition to the AT&T improvements this offseason, Rice says that sound will be improved in the upper deck and security infrastructure will be improved.

4:24 – NEWS ALERT: The Cubs will experiment with dynamic pricing in the Budweiser Bleachers this year. The earlier you buy your ticket, the less expensive it will be — essentially the price rises as the inventory decreases. Faulkner explains it’s a good thing for season ticket holders, who buy the earliest.

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