Results tagged ‘ spring training ’
(Photo by Stephen Green)
After struggling with contact at the major league level last year, outfield prospect Brett Jackson spent most of the offseason working to refine his swing. Though it’s still early, his hard work has paid dividends so far. In the first Cactus League game of the season Saturday, B-Jax went 2-for-2 with two triples. That followed a 3-for-3 performance, with two doubles and a stolen base, in an intrasquad game Friday.
“[The new swing] is second nature at this point,” Jackson said. “I still have to stay on some things, as every hitter does. There are some things you’re going to work on your whole career, and it’s never going to just stay. I think most hitters work their whole career to stay back or stay behind the baseball. You always have to be on top of that kind of stuff.”
Every season at the outset of Spring Training, organizations invite their top prospects to big league camp. The benefits are twofold: the prospects gain valuable experience watching how major leaguers prepare for the season, and coaches and staff get an opportunity to watch future contributors firsthand.
Top prospect Javier Baez, minor league player of the year Logan Watkins, minor league pitcher of the year Nick Struck, Brett Jackson, Cuban import Jorge Soler and many others have spent the first few weeks of camp with the Cubs’ major league club. This week, Vine Line talked to some of the talented young players who are trying to make a name for themselves in Mesa.
Here are the other videos from out Spring Training series:
The Cubs will play their home opener tomorrow afternoon at HoHoKam Stadium, their spring home of the last 17 years. One year from now, they’ll be playing their home opener here.
Vine Line toured the Cubs new Spring Training facility being built in the Riverview area of Mesa, Ariz., earlier this morning. You can see the third base dugout on the left of the photo and the beginnings of the seating bowl behind it. It’s going to be an impressive new home, and it will be ready for the first pitch of the 2014 spring slate.
When new Cubs reliever Kyuji Fujikawa was officially introduced to the media in early December, there was something decidedly different about the Wrigley Field home clubhouse, where the event was being held. The usual press contingent had nearly doubled in size, thanks to the addition of the Japanese press corps.
Ever since Hideo Nomo broke into the major leagues in 1995, the Japanese press has been dogged in following former Nippon Professional Baseball stars in America. When celebrated pitcher Yu Darvish joined the Rangers last season, the team added an auxiliary pressroom and boosted Wi-Fi capabilities at their Spring Training home in Surprise, Ariz., just to handle the additional demands.
This, of course, isn’t the Cubs’ first experience with a Japanese player. Outfielder Kosuke Fukudome played for the team from 2008-11. In Fukudome’s first season—a season that saw him make the N.L. All-Star team—the group of reporters following him was fairly sizable, especially at Spring Training, but the numbers dwindled as the years went on.
The major difference in coverage is that the Japanese press is there to follow a single player, not the team as a whole. So the Cubs would hold a separate press availability with Fukudome after games for the Japanese media, who were described as unfailingly polite and professional.
“The Japanese media were a delight to be around,” said Bruce Miles, the Cubs beat writer for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago. “Those of us who have been around awhile were looking forward to the Fujikawa news conference to see how many of our Japanese media friends would attend.”
Fujikawa, who notched 220 saves in 12 seasons with the Hanshin Tigers, made an uneven first appearance for the Cubs in an intrasquad matchup Friday, facing four batters and walking one. Following the game, he first talked to the American media, while the phalanx of Japanese reporters waited for him outside. Then he left the clubhouse to talk to about 15 members of the Japanese press who were there to see his initial outing.
“It wasn’t my first time throwing in Arizona, but in a game situation, it was a first,” Fujikawa said through his interpreter. “I don’t know how much different it will be in Chicago, but first I need to adjust to this Arizona weather. … I’ve heard that from other players that there isn’t much movement on the ball.”
To handle the language barrier—Fujikawa speaks “baseball English”—the Cubs have hired an interpreter, Ryo Shinkawa, who will be with Fujikawa at all times, including in the dugout. When the right-hander entered the game Friday, Shinkawa even went out to the mound with him so the pitcher could communicate more effectively with catcher Rafael Lopez.
Travis Wood will take the mound in the Cubs’ Cactus League opener Saturday against the high-powered Angels offense at Tempe Diablo Stadium. In 26 starts last year, Wood went 6-13 with a 4.27 ERA and a 1.25 WHIP. The left-hander could have the inside track on the fifth starter job out of camp because the Cubs other four projected starters are all right-handed.
Relievers Jaye Chapman, Rafael Dolis, Trey McNutt, Zach Putnam, Hector Rondon and Hisanori Takahashi also made the trip.
Ian Stewart was initially scheduled to make the start at third base, and Luis Valbuena was penciled in at second. But after hitting a ringing double Thursday in the first at-bat of his first game action since June 12 of last season, Stewart felt a tweak in his left quad as he was rounding first and was pulled from the game. He underwent a precautionary MRI Friday and will be out 10-14 days with a mild-to-moderate quad strain.
In his stead, manager Dale Sveum has moved the versatile Luis Valbuena to third and inserted minor league player of the year Logan Watkins at second. Sveum has always raved about Valbuena’s defense, but the the 27-year old needs to get more out of his bat to play on an everyday basis. Though he smacked a two-run home run in Friday’s intrasquad matchup, Valbuena struggled with the bat last season. In 90 games, he hit .219 with four home runs and 28 RBI. Still, Sveum made it clear that Stewart hasn’t locked up the starting third base job yet—especially considering his health issues.
“It was [Stewart's] job to win, not to lose,” Sveum said on Friday. “Things might change, because who knows when Stewart will be back to play. I know Valbuena can play third. He doesn’t need to play third to get his at-bats. The guy had a good winter ball, and obviously put a good swing on a ball today. I’m not too concerned about Valbuena. I need to see him everywhere. If things work out that way, then he’ll be playing third base quite a bit. But first half of spring, you’ll see him a lot more at other positions.”
The Cubs are slated for 39 spring games this season, including one exhibition game against a World baseball Classic opponent. That’s the most spring games they’ve played since 1952. They’ll play their home opener at HoHoKam Stadium tomorrow afternoon against the defending World Champion Giants, with Jeff Samardzija squaring off Matt Cain.
Len Kasper will broadcast today’s game on WGN Radio. Here is the lineup:
Though the Cactus League season doesn’t officially get started until tomorrow, it was Cub on Cub again Friday afternoon at HoHoKam Stadium in Mesa, Ariz. Former Brewer and Astro Edwin Maysonet propelled the White team to a 6-3 win with a “walk off” three-run home run in the bottom of the fifth off reliever Jensen Lewis. Of course, being Spring Training, the Blue team still had to get the last out, so the game wasn’t officially over until the next batter, Brent Lillibridge, grounded out to short.
There were some standout offensive performances in the brief, five-inning game. Manager Dale Sveum praised the hitters, who seemed to be a little ahead of the pitchers today. Between both sides, there were eight free passes issued in the game.
“Any time you’re getting quality at-bats [you're happy],” Sveum said. “And quality at-bats are sometimes are just that—just not swinging at pitcher’s pitches, the borderline strike, getting yourself out quick, getting yourself out in fastball counts, those things. That’s what we’re trying to eliminate is quick outs because of bad pitch selection.”
Blue team center fielder Brett Jackson’s retooled swing was on full display Friday, as he finished the day 3-for-3 with two doubles, a run scored, an RBI and a stolen base. Jackson struggled in his first call-up to the big leagues last season, hitting just .175 with four home runs, nine RBI and 59 strikeouts in 120 at-bats. He spent most of the offseason at the Cubs practice facility in Mesa reworking his swing to produce more contact.
“It’s a big confidence boost,” Jackson said. “I worked really hard this offseason. To make a muscle memory-type adjustment is a pain in the [butt], so to see results is good. I’m going to keep pounding on that to keep reinforcing so that it [becomes] second nature.”
Designated hitter Dave Sappelt, who is in a good position to win an extra outfield spot on the 2013 squad, also went 3-for-3 with a little help from the Arizona sun. He singled in the first, doubled in the third and hit a deep, soaring pop fly in the fifth that White team center fielder Matt Szczur lost in the bright sky.
“I’m not too concerned about Sappelt,” Sveum said. “The guy has put himself in that category where he can kind of just hit.”
Utility infielder Luis Valbuena also drilled a two-run home run off reliever Micheal Bowdon to tie the game 3-3 in the fourth.
The press corps was a little larger at the park today because Japanese import Kyuji Fujikawa was making his Cubs debut. Though he didn’t look particularly sharp, he did work one scoreless inning of relief. After the game, Fujikawa commented that several Cubs pitchers told him about how the dry Arizona air affects the way a ball moves.
“He’s a veteran guy who’s thrown a lot of innings in key situations in Japan,” Sveum said. “But you do want to see him in key situations against really good National League and American League hitters. Just to see how it all matches up.”
The Cubs will play their first official game at 1 p.m. local time tomorrow afternoon against the Angels at Tempe Diablo Stadium.
Being a major league baseball player can be a strange life. The stakes are always high, millions of people are watching your every move and everyone wants to be your friend. You’d be surprised the things these athletes hear on a day-to-day basis.
Thanks to the World Baseball Classic, Spring Training is a few weeks longer than usual this season. As the spring slate drags on, everyone needs to blow off some steam. Vine Line had some fun with the team to dig up a few facts you won’t find on the back of a baseball card. We’ll post one more installment of our Kicking Back video series early next week.
Here are the other videos from out Spring Training series:
(Photo by Stephen Green)
The Cubs official Cactus League season kicks off tomorrow against the Angels at Tempe Diablo Stadium, but the team is gearing up for its second five-inning intrasquad affair Friday at HoHoKam. Most of the major league regulars are getting the day off, but top prospects like Jorge Soler, Javier Baez, Junior Lake, Brett Jackson and Matt Szczur will all be on the field.
Brooks Raley, who went 1-2 with an 8.14 ERA in five games with the Cubs last season, will get the start for the white squad. Raley will be followed by Drew Carpenter, Rule 5 pickup Hector Rondon and Dayan Diaz.
Alberto Cabrera, who made a name for himself out of the Cubs ‘pen last year but is being transitioned to a starting role in 2013, will throw for the blue. Michael Bowdon, Blake Parker and Jensen Lewis will back him up.
The game kicks off at 1:05 p.m. Here are the lineups:
CF B. Jackson