Cubs see the big picture come into focus

Cubs see the big picture come into focus
March 2, 2013, 6:45 pm
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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. - The San Francisco Giants have it all.

At least that's the way it looked on Saturday afternoon at Scottsdale Stadium, where there is plenty of eye candy and all the bars and restaurants in Old Town are only steps away.

Beach blankets covered the berm, leaving almost no empty stretches of grass. It was 82 degrees and sunny for a sellout crowd of 12,077 and you could see clear out to the mountains.

Behind home plate, there was the black-and-orange design painted onto the grass with the interlocking "SF: 2012 WORLD CHAMPIONS."

It won't be easy for the Cubs to recreate this kind of atmosphere in their new facility in Mesa, and it's not like they need to clear room for all their banners.

The Cubs aren't close to matching all the elements that made the Giants a potential dynasty - homegrown pitching, defense, lockdown bullpen, luck, guts and an MVP-level catcher in Buster Posey. The San Francisco front office has already built the scouting and player development machine.

But you don't have to look that hard to find reasons why the Cubs could be an "It Team" in the near future.

Anthony Rizzo looks like the No. 3 hitter and first baseman for the rest of this decade. Starlin Castro has notched 529 hits in the big leagues and made two trips to the All-Star Game - all before his 23rd birthday.

In case you forgot what Darwin Barney did last year, someone taped off the area in front of his locker with a do-not-disturb message: "P.S. I WON A GOLD GLOVE."

"I know God gave me that (ability) - I can hit," Castro said. "I want to be like Barney and win Gold Gloves. It's going to be fun (for us) - win Gold Glove at shortstop, second base and first base."

Jeff Samardzija has the potential to become a No. 1 starter (just ask him). Top prospects Javier Baez and Jorge Soler have dominated the daily clips and 2012 first-round pick Albert Almora will probably get the same treatment next spring.

Manager Dale Sveum is already looking forward to the reward from a 101-loss season.

"It's nice to have young core players that can be here for quite awhile," Sveum said. "And then having the second pick in the country - whatever that pick ends up (being) - we'll take the best player, whether it's a pitcher or a couple other kids that have incredible bat speed coming out of the draft.

"So you got some guys that are coming that can be pretty special. (You) can see some severe athleticism on the field in three, four years."

The other night Cubs officials traveled over to Surprise Stadium to scout a college tournament that included Arkansas right-hander Ryne Stanek going against Arizona State.

Is Sveum already breaking down video?

"Of course I am," Sveum said, laughing. "I can't leave that completely up to them."

Sveum said he's watched video of 10 potential top picks in the June draft, another sign that he's the manager for the long haul and not a placeholder.

Sveum has made an attitude adjustment, but it helps when the front office doesn't stick you with me-first players.

On Saturday morning in the HoHoKam Stadium clubhouse, you cracked up watching Japanese closer-in-waiting Kyuji Fujikawa dance in front of $52 million pitcher Edwin Jackson.

That afternoon in Scottsdale, you listened to Carlos Villanueva answer a question about what it would mean to be in the rotation.

"That's more of a selfish way to think," Villanueva said. "This is the definition of a team sport (and) you don't want anybody in your clubhouse thinking for themselves. Those are not playoff teams. Those are not championship teams.

"You got the Giants. They won two out of the last three (World Series). You can tell their camaraderie. You call tell how tight they are as a unit. You don't hear anything out of their clubhouse that would be damaging to their chemistry. That's what we're building for - and I think we have a bunch of guys (whose) personalities fit that bill."

As much as team president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer brag about being thorough, Villanueva said he did his homework before signing a two-year, $10 million deal.

Villanueva knew Sveum and pitching coach Chris Bosio from their time together in the Milwaukee Brewers organization. Villanueva remembered being a little annoyed at how Cubs fans used to take over Miller Park.

"Looking at it from the other side now," Villanueva said, "there's such a huge following. The fans are so into the team and so loyal. The stigma never dies. The Cubs are the Cubs. There are certain teams - the Dodgers, the Yankees, Boston, the Cubs - where putting this uniform on is different from any other uniform.

"They have the people to lead the organization. They have Dale at the helm, (who's) somebody you can talk to and he'll also put you in your place if he has to. I think that's the perfect combination."

As Villanueva was gushing, he realized the awkward middle ground for a big chunk of this roster. That tension will play out all year, between the baseball operations department and the business side, a coaching staff that has to keep setting the tone and a clubhouse that knows a bad start means another summer sell-off.

"Hopefully, for us guys that are here this year and next year, it comes sooner than later," Villanueva said, "but it's definitely being guided in the right direction."