Results tagged ‘ spring training ’

Cubs face off against former division foe


(Photo by Stephen Green)

Spring Training is finally coming to a close. The Cubs wrap up 2013 preseason baseball with a two-game set in Houston this weekend to take on the newly minted AL West Astros. And in more ways than one, it’s fitting the Cubs would wrap up the spring with their old NL Central rival.

Both organizations struggled at the major league level in 2012, finishing with the two worst records in baseball. But with massive overhauls taking place in Chicago and Houston, they are definitely two of the most interesting franchises around.

Both Cubs General Manager Jed Hoyer and Astros GM Jeff Luhnow asked their fans for patience, as they entered their respective organizations after the 2011 season. And both ushered in a philosophical overhaul that could pay dividends in the not too distant future.

So far, it appears the Cubs are a little farther along than their former division rivals. Not only did they win more games last season, they also have more big league talent in place. In addition, they signed major league talent at positions where they were previously lacking—most notably with the pitching staff. Also, in order to shore up a farm system short on high-impact talent, the North Siders traded expiring contracts for some top-level prospects and had a 2012 draft many consider a success on paper.

That’s not to short Houston, however. While they might not have gotten much better at the major league level—and trading one of their best players in Jed Lowrie won’t help this year—the minor league system is improving in a hurry. With the first overall pick in the draft last season, they took a high-upside shortstop in Carlos Correa, who is already impressing. In all, Houston has five prospects in Baseball America‘s top 100 prospects list, including four in top 50.

Though each organization has seen new ownership over the last few seasons, historically, the franchises have had little trouble spending the money it takes to win. The Cubs have traditionally been near the top of the list in annual team payroll, and the Astros were in the top 10 as recently as 2009. The key will be when each respective management group feels it is truly ready to compete.

The two organizations still might struggle in 2013, but they’re a pair of clubs that should draw a lot of interest from baseball fans and executives over the next few years. With two savvy front offices, the teams could be heading toward the front of the standings shortly. And there’s a good chance they’ll both stay there for a while.

First pitch for Friday’s game is scheduled for 7:05 CST. Edwin Jackson will get the start for the Cubs, opposite Alex White. Saturday’s game will start at 1:05 CST and then the team will head to Pittsburgh to open the season Monday.

Alcantara in the lineup for Cubs


At this point in Spring Training, the lineup card starts to get a little repetitive. David DeJesus, Anthony Rizzo and Alfonso Soriano—in some variation—will be in the lineup. So whenever a new name enters the fray, it’s cause for excitement. With Starlin Castro out, as his girlfriend gives birth to their first child, top prospect Arismendy Alcantara will get the nod Thursday.

While Castro will undoubtedly be the Cubs Opening Day shortstop (he’s expected to rejoin the team in Houston), this gives the management group another opportunity to evaluate the 21-year-old minor league infielder. In Vine Line‘s February prospectus issue, we broke down more than 60 Cubs prospects, and Alcantara was among the group. Here’s what we said about him:

Ht/Wt: 5-10/160    •    B/T: S/R
Born: 10/29/91 in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
Acquired: 2008 NDFA

Alcantara popped onto the radar last season at just 20 years old with a hit tool that played up in the Florida State League. He has a lot of strengths, including a line-drive bat from both sides of the plate, a middle-of-the-field profile and good speed. Though he’s not big, he has sneaky strength and some surprising power. Alcantara has good range, and his arm rates at least plus, but his footwork (the cause of many of his throwing errors) was a focus during fall instructs. Overall, it’s an exciting package—watch for him in a loaded middle infield at Double-A Tennessee.

Alcantara hit .302/.339/.447 (AVG/OBP/SLG) with seven home runs, 51 RBI and 25 stolen bases in High-A Daytona last season.

He’ll be batting ninth as the Cubs bid farewell to HoHoKam Stadium Thursday, before heading east to Houston to finish out the spring. Carlos Villanueva will start for the North Siders, opposite Seattle’s Hisashi Iwakuma. The game can be seen on Comcast SportsNet or fans can go to to listen live. Here’s the lineup the Cubs will be sending out Thursday:

CF David DeJesus
2B Darwin Barney
1B Anthony Rizzo
LF Alfonso Soriano
RF Nate Schierholtz
C Dioner Navarro
3B Luis Valbuena
DH Scott Hairston
SS Arismendy Alcantara

The Cubs bid farewell to HoHoKam


When the Cubs play their final home game of the 2013 spring slate on Thursday, it will mark the end of an era for the North Siders and their fans at HoHoKam Stadium. The organization is constructing a new, state-of-the-art Spring Training facility in Mesa, Ariz., that will be ready for the first pitch of Spring Training 2014, so this will be the last game Cubs personnel will spend in the HoHoKam home dugout.

In the last 35 years, many people associated with the Cubs have made personal connections with HoHoKam Stadium. Here are a few memories they wanted to share.

Mark Gallo, HoHoKam Stadium Manager
“My very first year at the ballpark, I was going out to my truck to leave around 7 p.m. when a car drove up with a Cubs sticker on the window. Inside were a husband and wife who had driven over from California and wanted to see the ballpark. So in we went. I spent the next hour showing Lionel Kipnis and his wife, Evalynn, the field. … Lionel is by far the biggest Cubs fan I know. During the next few days, we became friends, and Lionel discussed with me how much he admired Ron Santo and that he had even named his son after Ron. Lionel told me how much he loved reading about ‘his’ Cubs in Vine Line and how he has saved every edition. Knowing what a fan Lionel was, I surprised him a few days later by having him throw out the first pitch before a packed Spring Training game. Seeing the look on his face when he threw that pitch to Casey Coleman was priceless and a memory that will be etched in my mind forever!”

Michelle Streeter, Visit Mesa
“Sitting in the berm and soaking up Arizona’s desert sunshine.”

Len Kasper, Cubs broadcaster
“My favorite call there is one I still hear about from people who laugh about how excited I got. DJ LeMahieu hit a game-winning home run. I think it was a grand slam, in fact. And I called it like it was a big homer. For DJ, who at the time was a minor leaguer, it was a big deal to hit that home run, especially on WGN. My friends joke with me that my excitement was at least partially due to the fact that the homer helped us avoid Spring Training extra innings, but I was genuinely excited for DJ.”

Tim Sheridan, HoHoKam Stadium PA announcer
“I actually got married at HoHoKam in November 2005. My wife and I got married up on the patio on the third-base line. In the upper tier, there’s a large area where they throw big parties, and we had the ceremony there. Then on the first-base line, they have a similar situation. We had the reception over there. A lot of people said, ‘You’re getting married at a ballpark?’ Kind of scratching their heads. But by the time the wedding was over, we heard, ‘This is the best wedding I’ve ever been to.’”

Cubs claim right-hander Guillermo Moscoso


(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty)

With the start of the season only five days away, the Chicago Cubs Opening Day roster is coming into focus. The team today claimed right-handed pitcher Guillermo Moscoso off waivers from the Toronto Blue Jays.

To make room for Moscoso on the 40-man roster, right-handed pitcher Arodys Vizcaino has been placed on the 60-day disabled list, as he continues to recover from Tommy John ligament replacement surgery.

Moscoso, 29, is 11-12 with a 4.16 ERA (89 ER/192.2 IP) in 57 major league appearances (24 starts) covering four seasons with Texas (2009-10), Oakland (2011) and Colorado (2012). He made 23 big league appearances in each of the last two seasons. Twenty-one of his 23 outings occurred as a starter with the Athletics in 2011, and 20 of his 23 appearances were as a reliever last year with the Rockies.

The 6-foot-1, 200-pound Moscoso went 8-10 with a 3.38 ERA (48 ER/128.0 IP) with the Athletics in 2011 before going 3-2 with a 6.12 ERA (34 ER/50.0 IP) last season with Colorado. He began Spring Training with the Kansas City Royals before being claimed off waivers by Toronto on March 16.

A native of Venezuela, Moscoso was originally signed by the Tigers as a non-drafted free agent in 2003. He is 44-31 with a 3.90 ERA (278 ER/641.0 IP) in 132 minor league appearances, 107 of which have come as a starter.

Rizzo is the key to more runs in 2013


(Photo by Stephen Green)

Cubs star Anthony Rizzo has had a busy spring. After arriving at Spring Training in mid-February, the 23-year-old spent the beginning of March with a totally different group of ballplayers wearing blue and white.

Representing Team Italy in the 2013 World Baseball Classic, the first baseman was called upon to be the lumber in the international squad’s lineup. Rizzo hit just .235 batting in the middle of the order for the European squad, but he also walked five times in 22 plate appearances. He drove in the eventual game-winning runs in the team’s opener against Mexico and propelled the underdog Italians into the second round.

Much like the Italian squad, the Cubs will be looking for Rizzo to provide the pop in the middle of the order in 2013. This year, the North Siders will be getting a full season of the phenom, who hit .285/.342/.463 (AVG/OBP/SLG) with 15 homers, 15 doubles and 48 RBI after a late-June 2012 call-up. With a more selective Starlin Castro likely batting in front of him, Rizzo should get more RBI opportunities. And if projected cleanup hitter Alfonso Soriano posts numbers similar to those he put up in 2012, it may result in Rizzo getting better pitches to hit.

Rizzo will be in the lineup Tuesday as the Cubs host division rival Cincinnati in the team’s final night game at HoHoKam Stadium. First pitch is scheduled for 9:05 CST, and fans can listen to the game live at Jeff Samardzija will be on mound for the Cubs, opposite Reds ace Johnny Cueto. Here’s what manager Dale Sveum’s lineup will look like:

CF David DeJesus
SS Starlin Castro
1B Anthony Rizzo
LF Dave Sappelt
RF Nate Schierholtz
C Welington Castillo
3B Luis Valbuena
2B Darwin Barney
P Jeff Samardzija

Battle for final Opening Day spot heats up


(Photo by Stephen Green)

Last week’s roster cuts gave Cubs fans a better view of who will be on the Opening Day roster—a total of 11 players were sent to various minor league squads on Friday, and reliever Rafael Dolis was shipped to Triple-A Iowa later in the weekend—but there is still at least one spot up for grabs.

Zach Putnam, Hisanori Takahashi and Cory Wade all will be vying for the final spot in the bullpen, following the news that Michael Bowden and Rule 5 pick Hector Rondon were likely  in.

The 25-year-old Putnam signed with the Cubs this past Christmas after spending 2012 with Colorado. The right-hander has pitched nine innings this spring, posting a 3.00 ERA, a 1.56 WHIP and notching five strikeouts. In Triple-A last year, he racked up 12 saves in 49 games and posted a 4.15 ERA in 60.2 innings of work.

Takahashi is a 37-year-old veteran who spent most of his career playing in Japan before coming to the U.S. in 2010. The left-hander split time with the Angels and Pirates last year, posting a 5.54 ERA in 50.1 major league innings. With James Russell the only lefty locked into the bullpen, the Japanese native might have the inside track.

Wade comes over as an offseason signing as well, having spent the previous two seasons with the Yankees. The 30-year-old right-hander posted a 6.46 ERA in 39 innings in 2012. That came after a 2011 campaign in which he had a 2.04 ERA in 39.2 innings. This spring, he has a 5.63 ERA in eight innings pitched.’s Carrie Muskat reported that Steve Clevenger is likely going to beat out utility infielder Alberto Gonzalez for the final bench spot on the roster. Clevenger played 69 games for the Cubs in 2012, mostly at catcher. This spring, the organization has tried out the 26-year-old at first base. He’s hitting .395 in 41 plate appearances.

Clevenger will be batting third and playing first Monday as the Cubs host defending World Series champs San Francisco. Lefty Travis Wood will get the start for Chicago, opposite Ryan Vogelsong. The 3:05 CST game can be seen on Comcast SportsNet, or fans can listen in on Here’s the lineup the Cubs will send out Monday:

CF David DeJesus
SS Brent Lillbridge
1B Steve Clevenger
LF Alfonso Soriano
RF Nate Schierholtz
C Dioner Navarro
3B Luis Valbuena
2B Alberto Gonzalez
P Travis Wood

Cubs assign 11 to minor league camp


Cubs pitcher Casey Coleman was assigned to minor league camp Friday. (Photo by Stephen Green)

The Cubs assigned 11 players to minor league camp Friday morning, reducing their spring roster from 46 players down to 35.

The list of re-assigned players includes left-hander Chris Rusin; right-handers Drew Carpenter, Jaye Chapman, Casey Coleman, Jensen Lewis and Blake Parker; infielders Edwin Maysonet and Brad Nelson; and outfielders Brian Bogusevic, Johermyn Chavez and Darnell McDonald.

Rusin is the only member of the 40-man roster to be sent to minor league camp. The lefty had an impressive spring, finishing with a 2.50 ERA in 18 innings and striking out seven.

The other 10 players were non-roster invitees.

With these moves, it is believed Rafael Dolis, Zach Putnam, Hisanori Takahashi and Corey Wade are all vying for the final spot in the bullpen.

Chicago’s spring roster, now at 35 players, consists of 18 pitchers (three non-roster invitees), four catchers (one non-roster invitee), seven infielders (two non-roster invitees) and six outfielders.

Lillibridge projected to make Opening Day roster


(Photo by Stephen Green)

Earlier this week, the Cubs announced that third baseman Ian Stewart will begin the season on the disabled list with a lingering quad issue, further weakening a spot in the order that already lacked offensive punch in 2012. Manager Dale Sveum likes what he sees defensively in the multifaceted Luis Valbuena, who was solid with the glove last year and is currently hitting .282 in 42 plate appearances this spring. But it appears his inablilty to hit lefties (.196 in 2012) has opened the door for fellow utilityman Brent Lillbridge.

It sounds as if the 29-year-old right-hander will get his chances against lefties, at least to open the season, as Sveum has already said Lillibridge is a “no brainer” for the Opening Day roster. Despite hitting just .195 for the White Sox, Boston and Cleveland last season, Lillibridge has crushed Spring Training pitching, hitting .458 in 24 plate appearances. His addition will also give the Cubs some defensive flexibility, as he played every position but pitcher and catcher last year.

In 2011, his finest season in the majors, Lillibridge hit .258/.340/505 (AVG/OBP/SLG) with 13 homers and stole 10 bases in 97 games. With Wandy Rodriguez in the Pirates’ front three, don’t be surprised to see Lillibridge get the start at least once in the opening series.

Impressive Rusin gets the start Tuesday


(Photo by Stephen Green)

The starting rotation might already have been announced, but Chris Rusin is giving manager Dale Sveum a reason to second guess himself. The 26-year-old lefty, who played in seven games at the end of 2012 for the Cubs, has been impressive all spring.

In four games and 13.0 innings, the southpaw has a 0.69 ERA, a 0.69 WHIP and has surrendered just one earned run. Should Rusin make the 25-man roster as the team breaks camp, he’ll likely be a swingman out of the bullpen. Based on his strong performance in Arizona, the Cubs could choose to put him in the Triple-A Iowa rotation, where he can continue to work as a starter. He’ll be on the mound Tuesday as the Cubs take on Texas.

On Monday, Sveum said the lineup for today’s game will likely be the same one he employs on Opening Day, aside from Jeff Samardzija pitching and Dioner Navarro as the designated hitter. Alexi Ogando will start for the Rangers. The game kicks off at 3:05 CST and can be heard on Here’s the lineup Ogando will face:

CF David DeJesus
SS Starlin Castro
1B Anthony Rizzo
LF Alfonso Soriano
RF Nate Schierholtz
C Welington Castillo
3B Luis Valbuena
2B Darwin Barney
DH Dioner Navarro

Baez and Soler optioned to minor league camp


(Photo by Stephen Green)

It had to happen sometime, but Cubs fans in Arizona will definitely miss seeing Javier Baez and Jorge Soler play on a regular basis. The Chicago Cubs have assigned seven players—including many of the organization’s top prospects—to minor league camp, reducing their spring roster from 53 to 46 players.

Infielders Junior Lake and Josh Vitters have been optioned to Triple-A Iowa, while infielder Christian Villanueva has been optioned to Double-A Tennessee. Outfielder Jorge Soler has been optioned to Single-A Daytona.

Three non-roster invitees have been assigned to minor league camp: right-handed pitcher Barret Loux, infielder Javier Baez and catcher Rafael Lopez.

“I’ll be honest, [at Spring Training] I look forward to the sixth through ninth innings more than I look forward to the first five innings,” said Cubs GM Jed Hoyer. “We’ll watch the veteran guys all year. … Getting a chance to see the young players up close is something we cherish because we can’t do that all season.”

Chicago’s spring roster now consists of 24 pitchers (eight non-roster invitees), four catchers (one non-roster invitee), nine infielders (four non-roster invitees) and nine outfielders (three non-roster invitees).


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