Results tagged ‘ spring training ’

Cubs prospect Baez possesses best power tool

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(Photo by Aldrin Capulong/Daytona Cubs)

Baseball Prospectus continues to lavish praise on Cubs top prospect Javier Baez. A few weeks after naming the 21-year-old the No. 4 prospect in the game, the baseball analysis website ranked the shortstop as having the best power tool of anybody in the minors. For some perspective, BP gives Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton the nod as having the top major league power tool, while the all-time standard is set by Yankees legend Mickey Mantle. Here’s what they had to say about Baez:

Top Power in the Minor Leagues: Javier Baez (Chicago Cubs)
Among the prospects in the game with elite raw power, Baez takes the cake because of his ability to translate that power to game situations. Despite being an ultra-aggressive hitter, Baez’s ability to consistently make contact allows him to tap into his raw power and could lead to him dropping 35-40 bombs a year in the majors. Elite raw power is rare, but the ability to bring that type of raw from batting practice into games is even rarer. Of the players considered for this list, Baez is clearly the best bet to actualize his top-of-the-scale raw power, and he could begin doing that as soon as this summer.

In 130 games at two levels last year, Baez recorded a .578 slugging percentage, along with 37 homers, 34 doubles and 111 RBI. He was named the organization’s Player of the Year in 2013. Baez is currently with the big league club at Spring Training, and he will start the year in Triple-A Iowa.

Fellow prospect Kris Bryant (No. 17 overall prospect) was one of five players listed in the “others considered” group.

Bryant’s raw power rests a half grade behind the others, but he should bring a significant portion of his raw pop into games, allowing him to hit 30-plus home runs a season.

The 2013 first-round draft pick (second overall) led the country in home runs with 31 during his final college season at the University of San Diego. In 36 games at three different levels (rookie ball, Short-Season A, High-A), the 22-year old hit nine homers in 36 games, along with 14 doubles, 32 RBI and a .688 slugging percentage. Bryant also excelled during his time in the prospect-laden Arizona Fall League last offseason, picking up league MVP honors.

From the Pages of Vine Line: An inside look at the new Cubs Park

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(Photo by Charlie Vascellaro)

The paint is still drying on the new Cubs Park Spring Training and player development facility in Mesa, Ariz. No one has grilled a hot dog or spilled a beer. The bathroom fixtures are clean enough to eat off of—not that you’d want to. The sights, scents and sounds that will craft cherished memories have yet to occur. The place is a blank canvas waiting to be colored in the blue and green hues of spring baseball.

It takes a while for a ballpark to develop a personality of its own. Something has to happen—a mammoth home run hit by a rookie prospect, an anonymous young pitcher emerging from a corn field to strike out the side, or a brushback pitch revisiting a previous season’s rivalry and inciting a bench-clearing brawl. There must be something fans can look back on later and say, “I was there.”

But the crack of the bat and the thwapping of balls into gloves can finally be heard at the facility, as pitchers and catchers officially reported to camp Thursday.

The Cubs had a spectacular run at two different Hohokam Parks from 1979-2012—setting Cactus League and MLB Spring Training attendance records and enjoying a wonderfully symbiotic relationship with the ballpark, the city and the fans—but the team’s new multipurpose Spring Training and player development facility is a vast improvement for both the organization and its loyal fans. Coming on the heels of the new training academy in the Dominican Republic and in conjunction with the restoration of Wrigley Field, the Cubs have made great strides under owner Tom Ricketts in terms of facilities and comprehensive player development accommodations—an essential step for a team looking to build from the lower levels up.

The new complex also simplifies things from a logistical standpoint. Previously, the organization’s minor leaguers conducted workouts at Fitch Park, about three-quarters of a mile down the road from Hohokam, where the big leaguers practiced and played games. The new facility puts all of the Cubs’ operations under one roof. This is an improvement for both the front office—which can keep better tabs on the team’s young players—and fans—who no longer have to make a trip down the road to watch top prospects like Albert Almora, C.J. Edwards and Pierce Johnson make their way to the big leagues.

BIGGER AND BETTER
Designed by Populous, formerly the renowned HOK ballpark architectural firm of Kansas City, Mo., and built in conjunction with the Hunt Construction Group of Scottsdale, Ariz., the $99 million facility was approved by city of Mesa voters in a 2012 ballot measure. Keeping the Cubs in town was a front-burner issue for the city and its mayor.

“The Chicago Cubs have been coming to Mesa each spring for more than half a century,” said Mayor Scott Smith. “The team is a part of who we are as a community, and I am excited to see that legacy continue for my children and grandchildren.”

The massive 125-acre complex contains six practice fields, one infield practice diamond, 12 indoor batting cages and a huge, 70,000-square-foot player development facility. Aside from the vast physical resources, the team is also taking advantage of new technological advances. The Cubs’ new home comes equipped with a 120-seat theater for meetings and video review, and each practice field offers a camera feed to the video rooms to enhance evaluations.

For a team that has dealt with substandard strength-training areas at both Wrigley Field and Hohokam Park, the new player development complex is quite a luxury. It includes a two-story weight room and gym filled with stationary bikes, four whirlpools and a hydrotherapy pool, and floor-to-ceiling windows look out on the scenic McDowell Mountain range. The big league clubhouse, which dwarfs the space at Wrigley Field, has 63 lockers, and there’s another clubhouse for minor league players with 200 spaces.

In addition to being the Cubs’ Spring Training home, the new site will also be the team’s year-round player development and rehabilitation headquarters, and home to the club’s Rookie League and Arizona Fall League teams.

“This is our space to develop players to move onto the big league club,” said Cubs Park Facilities Manager Justin Piper. “So there’s also been a lot of focus and attention from the Cubs on our player development facilities and practice facilities on the site.”

JUST LIKE HOME
As Major League Baseball’s scope continues to evolve and grow, Spring Training has become a big business, with host cities aggressively competing for entertainment and tourism dollars. It seems like almost every year another big league club is moving into an updated, state-of-the-art facility.

The Cubs’ brand new Spring Training site, the fourth new ballpark to arrive on the Cactus League’s desert horizon in the last six years, is located in Mesa’s booming Riverview Park entertainment district. It’s adjacent to the sprawling new Riverview Park and Mesa Riverview shopping center on Rio Salado Parkway by the busy crossroads of the 101 and 202 loop freeways near the Mesa/Tempe border.

North Side fans have always had a way of making themselves feel at home in Mesa, and while Cubs Park is not intended to be a scale model of Wrigley Field, reminders of the Friendly Confines abound in features like the light towers, scoreboard clock and replica Wrigley Field marquee.

“People will be able to walk up right next to it,” Piper said. “We can put their name on the marquee, and they can take their photo next to it.”

Already being heralded as the crown jewel of Spring Training facilities, the ballpark boasts a seating capacity of nearly 15,000, the largest in the Cactus League. The stadium has 9,200 fixed seats, and the expansive outfield berm, a signature component of Arizona’s Spring Training ballparks, has room for 4,200 more sun-worshipping fans.

Because Arizona’s atmospheric conditions cause the ball to carry farther than it does in Chicago, the dimensions of the outfield wall are about 15-20 feet deeper than those at Wrigley Field, but the two outfields share the same shape. Just like at Wrigley Field, the Cubs’ home dugout is situated on the third-base side (it was located on the first-base side at Hohokam Park), and the wall behind home plate is made of red brick. This will make Spring Training games broadcast on television appear strikingly similar to Cubs regular season home games when the center-field camera is in use.

Of course, the ballpark’s southwestern setting is also evident in many design touches, including the massive louvered awnings that provide shade over most of the seating bowl and the red-clay exterior that reflects the facility’s desert surroundings. There’s also a beautiful mountain vista beyond the outfield walls, including such iconic local imagery as the Superstition Mountains to the right, Four Peaks and Red Mountain to dead center, and the vast McDowell Mountain range to the left. Phoenix’s signature Camelback Mountain is farther to the left, but still visible, off in foul territory.

While Cubs Park will be a huge upgrade for players, it will also provide a better overall experience for fans. Throughout the past several decades, Spring Training baseball has evolved from a destination for die-hards to a prime vacation spot for spring revelers. For many, the game on the field is secondary to other amenities and a chance to spend time with friends in the Arizona sun. The new Cubs Park has adequately addressed this phenomenon as well.

One of the most unique features of the facility will be the left-field party deck, which is designed to be reminiscent of the rooftops outside of Wrigley Field. The second-story deck comes equipped with bleachers and patios with loose patio furniture, and can be accessed with a general admission ticket.

“You’ll have 1,000 people mixing and mingling, sitting in the bleachers and having a great time,” Piper said. “It’s going to be pretty unique.”

But the best aspect of Spring Training has always been the opportunity to rub shoulders with professional ballplayers in a relaxed environment. The walkway from the ballpark to the clubhouse is designed with this in mind. It’s a long, narrow dirt path where players will pass in close proximity to fans, who will undoubtedly line the sides seeking autographs and pictures. There are no walls or barriers of any kind on either side of the trail, but a string of dwarf oleander bushes have been planted and will eventually create a natural barrier.

ARIZONA LEGACY
Cubs fans have been making the religious pilgrimage to Arizona for more than six decades since the team first set up a spring camp at Mesa’s Rendezvous Park in the spring of 1952. Prior to that, the club spent time on Catalina Island in California, where they conducted Spring Training for 30 years on former owner William Wrigley Jr.’s island paradise, 25 miles off the Los Angeles coast.

After the team’s first spring season at Rendezvous Park, which was originally constructed in 1920, owner Phillip K. Wrigley (William’s son) paid $20,000 to build a grandstand in exchange for the city of Mesa footing the bill for a new clubhouse on the third-base side. The grandstand’s exterior Rendezvous Park sign and the water towers looming beyond the outfield walls would become the signature images associated with the facility.

The Cubs remained at Rendezvous Park until 1966, when they moved to Long Beach, Calif., for the spring. But they returned to Arizona in 1967, taking up residence at Scottsdale Stadium, where they remained until 1979. The Cubs then moved to the original Hohokam Park in Mesa, swapping sites with the Oakland Athletics, who had occupied the stadium for two years following its opening in 1977. The Cubs remained at the original Hohokam Park until a new one was built at the opposite corner of Brown and Center streets in 1997. With the team now moving into Cubs Park, the A’s will again take over Hohokam Park in the spring of 2015.

The idea of moving into a new ballpark after just 17 years at the renovated Hohokam is more a testament to the advances being made in ballpark design than a reflection of the old ballpark’s obsolescence. And with the recent addition of three spectacular new training facilities in the Cactus League cities of Glendale, Goodyear and the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, it’s also a matter of keeping up with the Joneses.

“We’re real excited about the new Cubs facility,” said Cactus League President Mark Coronado. “It’s these opportunities that continue to be the magnet for us to draw fans from across the country, and the Cubs facility is going to be a Wrigleyville mecca—the Disneyland of Baseball. It will be the jewel of Spring Training facilities, there’s no question about it. It will be a standard that [others] will be hard-pressed to duplicate because they’ve spared no expense. I think once again you’ll start to see the Cubs become the No. 1 attraction in the Valley.”

Cubs agree to terms with RHPs Hammel, McDonald

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The Cubs added RHP Jason Hammel to the rotation today. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty)

At their first press conference at new Cubs Park in Mesa, Ariz., Cubs president Theo Epstein and General Manager Jed Hoyer announced they have signed right-handed pitchers Jason Hammel and James McDonald to 2014 contracts.

Hammel, 31, is 49-59 with four saves and a 4.80 ERA in 215 major league appearances (158 starts) with Tampa Bay (2006-08), Colorado (2009-11) and Baltimore (2012-13). He has pitched primarily as a starter in the last five years and is 42-43 with a 4.60 ERA in 130 starts during that span. Hammel also has a pair of 10-win seasons to his credit (2009-10) and has made 20 or more starts in each of the last five seasons, including two years with 30 or more starts.

In his first season with Baltimore in 2012, 6-foot-6, 225-pound pitcher went 8-6 with a 3.43 ERA in 20 starts to help the Orioles to their first postseason appearance in 15 years, earning starts in Game 1 and Game 5 of the American League Division Series vs. the New York Yankees (0-1, 3.18 ERA). Hammel was also a finalist in the MLB Fan Vote for the last spot on the American League All-Star team. He followed up by going 7-8 with one save and a 4.97 ERA in 26 appearances, all but three as a starter, with Baltimore in 2013.

McDonald, 29, is 32-30 with a 4.20 ERA in 131 major league appearances (82 starts) with the Los Angeles Dodgers (2008-10) and Pittsburgh Pirates (2010-13). In his most recent full major league season in 2012, McDonald went 12-8 with a 4.21 ERA in 30 appearances (29 starts), setting a career high in wins a year after making a career-high 31 starts in 2011. He was limited to only six starts last year (2-2, 5.76 ERA) due to right shoulder discomfort.

The 6-foot-5, 205-pound McDonald broke into the big leagues with the Dodgers in 2008 at the age of 23 and split the next three seasons between the majors and minors before enjoying his first full big league campaign in 2011. He was the Dodgers Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2007 and 2008.

This pair of moves gives the team added rotation depth, which will come in handy early in the season. The team also announced that starter Jake Arrieta has experienced minor shoulder discomfort and is unlikely to start the year on the roster.

1000 Words: Baseball is back

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(Photo by Stephen Green)

Spring Training is officially underway as pitchers and catchers reported to the new Cubs Spring Training facilities in Mesa, Ariz., on Thursday. Position players will get underway on Tuesday. The pitching staff hopes to improve across the board as it finished with a 4.00 ERA in 2013, tied for 12th in the NL.

Ricketts, Epstein kick off new era at Cubs Park

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The Cubs officially opened their new, state of the art Spring Training facility in Mesa, Ariz., on Wednesday morning—just in time for pitchers and catchers to report on Thursday.

The facility includes Cubs Park—which seats 15,000 people—a two-story player development facility and a rebuilt Riverview Park. It all sits on a 146-acre site, making it the largest facility in the Cactus League.

Cubs board members Tom and Laura Ricketts, executives Crane Kenney and Theo Epstein, as well as Hall of Famer Fergie Jenkins joined Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, Mesa Mayor Scott Smith, City Manager Chris Brady, City Councilmen Dave Richins and Dennis Kavanaugh, and other members of Mesa City Council for the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

“This new ballpark and player development facility will allow our players to better train and compete,” Tom Ricketts said. “To achieve our goal of winning a World Championship, we must be able to provide our players with the world-class facilities they deserve.”

When Cubs fans enter the ballpark for the first time, they will notice a few features reminiscent of Wrigley Field, including the brick wall behind home plate, green scoreboard with the Wrigley Field-style clock, arched steel work on the light standards and cantilevered roofs. A replica of the Wrigley Field marquee is also located in the main concourse, and fans can pose for a photo with their own name digitally displayed on the sign.

In left field, the Cubs created the Eighteen | 76 viewing area, which features bleachers and high-top tables. Party decks are also available on the first- and third-base sides.

To further enhance the fan experience, the Cubs have partnered with Ovations Food Service to create a variety of food offerings. There will be six different concession areas, each with a separate theme that ties back to either Chicago or the Southwest.

Behind the lawn seating, a citrus grove with picnic tables and a small field serve as a family and children’s play area.  The Cubs also will have food trucks here to complement ballpark fare with unique or specialty offerings on game days only.

The players will enjoy a brand new player development center with a two-story weight room, cardiovascular facility, hydrotherapy room, 120-seat theater and cafeteria. The major league clubhouse features a football-shaped locker room with 68 lockers and a lounge area, while the minor league clubhouse has 206 lockers to accommodate players training year-round. In addition to the player development center, the training facility includes 12 covered batting tunnels, two groups of 12-mound bullpens, six full-size practice fields and a half-size field for infield work.

The facility was built in 15 months by Hunt Construction Group and Populous.

The first game at Cubs Park is Thursday, Feb. 27, at 1:05 p.m. when the Cubs open their inaugural season at Cubs Park against the Arizona Diamondbacks.

“Experiencing Spring Training in Arizona is simply unparalleled, thanks to our pristine weather, countless tourist attractions and some of the best baseball fans in the nation,” said Governor Brewer. “The Cactus League and the Chicago Cubs have been a tremendous part of our longstanding and cherished tradition, drawing visitors from across the nation each year to enjoy America’s favorite pastime in Arizona. I’m proud to welcome the Cubs and their fans to their second home every spring.”

Lawn tickets on the outfield berm are still available for the home opener. Tickets may be purchased over the phone at 1-800-THE-CUBS (800-843-2827) or online at http://www.cubs.com.

Hot Off the Presses: The 2014 Minor League Prospectus

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We always have mixed feelings about the February issue. The annual minor league prospectus probably takes more work, and more combined man-hours, than any other issue. To compile our comprehensive breakdown of the Cubs farm system, we pore through each of the organization’s minor league affiliates, from Iowa to Kane County to the Caribbean.

That’s a lot of players in a lot of different locations. To get our information, we read prospect reports, watch fall and winter league games, and talk to people in the know. By the time this issue goes to the printer, the whole Vine Line staff needs a nap.

But it’s also one of the most rewarding magazines we publish, because it gives us a clearer picture of what to expect in the Cubs’ future. And since President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein, General Manager Jed Hoyer and Senior Vice President of Scouting and Player Development Jason McLeod took over more than two years ago, the Cubs have been all about what’s on the horizon.

The team has enjoyed top 10 picks in each of the last three drafts, has been among the most aggressive in baseball on the international free agent market, and has made shrewd trades to add young, high-ceiling talent. The process may be taking more time than many fans and even upper management hoped it would, but the efforts are paying off—and the evidence could soon become evident at Wrigley Field.

Baseball America’s 2013 organizational rankings, released shortly after the season ended, had the Cubs system tied for fifth-best in baseball. And prospect experts such as MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo and Baseball Prospectus’ Jason Parks rave about Albert Almora, Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, C.J. Edwards, Pierce Johnson, Jorge Soler and others.

This month, frequent contributor Sahadev Sharma sat down with McLeod to review the organization’s top players and talk about the system as a whole. Though it’s the big names that rightfully grab the headlines, the Cubs farm now has enviable depth, especially in position players. A few years ago, for example, the team struggled to find a serviceable third baseman. In addition to Luis Valbuena and Donnie Murphy, they now have Kris Bryant, Mike Olt, Christian Villanueva, Arismendy Alcantara, Josh Vitters, Jeimer Candelario and others who could all effectively man the position.

We break down the Cubs talent into five categories: The Elite, Close to the Big Leagues, International Impact, Pitching Depth and Ready to Break Out. This is your primer on everyone, from seasoned talent that could make the jump to the major leagues this year to 17-year-old international prospects whose professional careers are just getting started.

For those who can’t wait to see the organization’s top young players, this may be the perfect year to head out to Mesa, Ariz., for Spring Training, because the team is opening Cubs Park, a state-of-the-art training facility that rivals the best in the game. In this issue, we take a look at the new facility and what it means for the organization’s player development team.

Spring Training will also offer fans their first opportunity to hear the team’s new radio voice, analyst Ron Coomer, a former Cubs infielder who has spent the last nine years broadcasting for the Twins. The 47-year-old Chicago native grew up rooting for the North Siders, so he understands the team’s unique history and what it means to be a part of its rich broadcasting tradition.

“Probably the only place I would go to leave Minnesota would be the Chicago Cubs,” Coomer said. “My situation with family and everything [in Minnesota] is phenomenal. But it’s the Cubs job. It’s been a dream of mine since before I knew I could hit a baseball.”

Finally, in our monthly Wrigley 100 feature, we chronicle the ballpark’s beginnings. This dates back to when the stadium seated only 14,000 people in a single deck; back to when it was called Weeghman Park; back to when it was known as the home of the Federal League’s Chi-Feds, not the Cubs. It’s an interesting tale not many people know, and it set the foundation for the last century of events at the Friendly Confines.

Cubs past, present and future. That’s our mission, and we cover all the bases this month. Subscribe to Vine Line at cubs.com/vineline and follow us on Twitter at @cubsvineline.

Cubs announce 2014 Spring Training broadcast schedule

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(Photo by Jon Antonoff)

The Cubs unveiled their Spring Training broadcast schedule Monday afternoon, and 33 of 36 games will be available for Cubs fans via some medium. Ten games will be televised by Cubs broadcast partners WGN and Comcast, four more than last season. Also, eight games can be heard via WGN Cubs radio, and 23 will be broadcast on cubs.com.

WGN TV will broadcast Chicago’s first game from its new Spring Training home, Cubs Park, on Thursday, Feb. 27, against Arizona (tickets are available at cubs.com/mesa). WGN Radio will have its first broadcast the next day versus the Angels, with new commentator Ron Coomer making his debut. Comcast SportsNet’s first game will be Sunday, March 16, against Cleveland.

Cubs TV play-by-play announcer Len Kasper will again join Mick Gillispie, radio broadcaster for Chicago’s Double-A Tennessee affiliate, for most of the cubs.com internet radio broadcasts.

All games start at 1:05 Arizona time unless otherwise noted. Chicago is one hour ahead of Arizona through Saturday, March 8. before moving to two hours ahead on Sunday, March 9.

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Cubs invite 24 non-roster players to big league camp

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(Photo by Charlie Vascellaro)

The Cubs have invited 24 non-roster players to major league camp, including top prospects Javier Baez, Kris Bryant and Albert Almora.

Spring Training kicks off Thursday, Feb. 13, when pitchers and catchers are invited to report in advance of their first formal workout on Friday, Feb. 14, at brand new Cubs Park in Mesa, Ariz. The team’s first full-squad workout will be on Wednesday, Feb. 19.

The following nine pitchers have been invited to major league camp: right-handed pitchers Marcus Hatley, Kyle Hendricks, Carlos Pimentel, Armando Rivero and Brian Schlitter, as well as left-handed pitchers Tommy Hottovy, Eric Jokisch, Jonathan Sanchez and Tsuyoshi Wada.

Five infielders have been invited to major league camp: Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Ryan Roberts, Chris Valaika and Jeudy Valdez.

Seven outfielders have been invited to major league camp: Albert Almora, Chris Coghlan, Aaron Cunningham, Ryan Kalish, Mitch Maier, Darnell McDonald and Casper Wells.

Three catchers have been invited to big league camp: John Baker, Rafael Lopez and Eli Whiteside. Additionally, minor league catchers Luis Flores and Will Remillard will assist.

Cubs Spring Training tickets on sale Saturday

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They say it’s best to think about being somewhere warm when it’s cold outside. How does Mesa, Ariz., sound?

Spring baseball is just around the corner, and single-game Cubs Spring Training tickets will be available this weekend. Starting Saturday, Jan. 11 at 10 a.m. MST/11 a.m. CST, fans can purchase tickets by phone at 1-800-THE-CUBS or at cubs.com. Fans already in Mesa can get tickets at the new Cubs Park box office at that same time and can also get a sneak peak of the ballpark between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m.

The first game at Cubs Park will take place on Thursday, Feb. 27, against the Diamondbacks. The complete 2014 schedule can be found at cubs.com/mesa.

“We’re excited about our inaugural season at Cubs Park,” said Justin Piper, general manager of Spring Training business operations. “This new facility is going to be a popular attraction for Cubs and baseball fans all season long. Anyone planning to visit us for games this year will want to purchase tickets early.”

Fans with questions can email mesa@cubs.com.

Cubs announce Spring Training schedule

The Cubs unveiled their new Spring Training calendar Monday afternoon with 16 games to be played at Cubs Park, the organization’s new Spring Training facility. The season will kick off on Feb. 27 against the Diamondbacks and will wrap up on March 29 vs. the D-backs. The club will play a total of 36 games (16 home games, 16 road games, two games in Las Vegas, two games vs. Arizona at Chase Field).

Individual game tickets for the Cubs go on sale on Jan. 11 at 11 a.m. CST and are available at the Cubs Park ticket office, at cubs.com or by calling 1-800-THE-CUBS. All games begin at 1:05 p.m. Arizona time unless otherwise noted. Split squad games are noted with an (ss).

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