Cubs clearing the path for Anthony Rizzo

796458.png

Cubs clearing the path for Anthony Rizzo

Theo Epstein has scouted Anthony Rizzo in person several times this season, and watched just about every one of his at-bats at Triple-A Iowa on video.

Like every prospect in the Cubs system, Rizzo received an individual player plan for improvement this season, and almost all of Epsteins boxes are checked.

The Cubs sent another clear signal that Rizzo is coming soon by moving first baseman Bryan LaHair to right field for Mondays 12-3 win over the White Sox.

What you saw at U.S. Cellular Field Alfonso Soriano in left, David DeJesus in center and LaHair in right is what it should look like once Rizzos stationed at first base.

Rizzo is hitting .364 with 23 homers and 59 RBI in 63 games at Iowa, where hes drawn rave reviews for his potential Gold Glove defense and professional approach.

He was destroying down there, said catcher Geovany Soto, who just got back from a rehab assignment with Iowa. Hes got some pop. Hes doing it right. Hes coming on pretty good.

Rizzo, 22, was drafted by the Boston Red Sox, traded to the San Diego Padres in the Adrian Gonzalez deal and flipped to the Cubs last winter in the Andrew Cashner trade.

The three executives in charge at Clark and Addison Epstein, Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod were involved in all three deals and are banking on Rizzo being a foundation piece. Theyve so far resisted bringing up Rizzo to give the team a jolt.

You have to look at what happened last year, Epstein said. He put up great numbers and then was rushed to the big leagues and struggled. So its important to always put players in a position to succeed.

The Cubs believe Rizzo learned from his experience last season in San Diego, where he hit .141 with 46 strikeouts in 128 at-bats. They say lowering his hands has been a key mechanical adjustment to his swing.

The minor leagues arent just some holding pattern, Epstein said. Its a place for a lot of teaching and learning. Its where adjustments are made, not only fundamentally a players swing (or) physically getting stronger, learning how to stay healthy, learning their body. But (its) also mentally, your routine that you develop to get you through tough days.

His approach has always been pretty solid. I think he got into some bad habits with his swing last year when he was trying to do too much at the big-league level.

Hes someone who kind of toys with his hand position quite a bit. Hes got a little bit of rhythm with his setup. (Now) hes ready to hit the fastball and adjusting well on off-speed pitches. Hes an aggressive hitter. Hes not someone whos overly selective at the plate, but hes got a real plan. Its worked for him so far.

LaHair began the day tied for the lead in homers among National League first basemen, and then launched his 13th shot 404 feet beyond the wall in right-center field.

That morning, LaHair received a phone call from manager Dale Sveum letting him know that hed be in the outfield that night. There is less ground to cover at U.S. Cellular Field, but the winds were gusting up to 41 mph at first pitch.

LaHair passed his first test by making a nice running catch onto the warning track in the first inning to rob Gordon Beckham.

Ive played in the outfield quite a bit throughout my life, so it should be a pretty minor adjustment, LaHair said. In the back of my mind, there was always the thought of me moving to the outfield at some point, so its not a complete surprise.

This will be a new challenge.

The Cubs are getting very close to the point where restarting the meter on Rizzos major-league service time will make more financial sense. The fans cant wait to see the face of the future at Wrigley Field, and its almost time to give in to the hype.

Hes one that you go to the computer every day to see what he did, Sveum said. But we had a plan to start with, so there was no early arrival or anything like that. We knew he had to develop and we had a gameplan and we were going to stick to it.

White Sox: Jose Quintana pleased with final warmup before Opening Day start

White Sox: Jose Quintana pleased with final warmup before Opening Day start

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Jose Quintana was pleased with his final warmup before Opening Day.

The White Sox Opening Day starter threw 48 pitches (30 strikes) against a Milwaukee Brewers minor league team at Camelback Ranch on Tuesday. Quintana allowed two hits, two runs (one earned), walked one and struck out three in three-plus innings. He next pitches at home on Monday against the Detroit Tigers.

"I finished my preparation on a high note," Quintana said. "I'm heading to the season with good energy and satisfied with all the worked and effort that I put in my preparation.

"I'm absolutely ready for the season to start."

A tweet from USA Today's Bob Nightengale on Tuesday suggested Quintana will start the season as a member of the White Sox despite myriad rumors. Nightengale noted that the Houston Astros refuse budge on what they're willing to pay for the 2016 All-Star. The White Sox have also held firm on their asking price and haven't been motivated by any of the offers they've received to move Quintana.

The team reduced the number of players still in camp to 34 on Tuesday with the trade of Peter Bourjos and by cutting nonroster invitees Cory Luebke and Matt Purke. Luebke, who has been sidelined for six days after he tweaked his hamstring, finished the spring with a 0.96 ERA in 9 1/3 innings. He can opt out of his minor-league deal in May. Purke struck out eight in eight innings and finished with a 2.25 ERA. 

Both had been in the mix for one of two open bullpen spots.

Fellow reliever Jake Petricka looked much calmer on Tuesday than he did after taking a comebacker off his hand Monday. X-rays were negative and Petricka played catch. He hopes to pitch as scheduled this weekend in Milwaukee. 

"This is just one of those you do everything you can do to stay healthy, and its part of the game you can't control," Petricka said. "You never want that to happen, especially this late in camp. "But we dodged a bullet and we're good to go."

The White Sox also had a close call with second baseman Tyler Saladino, who was hit by a pitch in the left wrist in minor league action on Monday. Saladino received treatment and could return to action on Wednesday.

"He's doing good, we're just holding him back today for my well being," Renteria said.

[Buy White Sox tickets right here]

Renteria said reliever Juan Minaya is improving but still likely to start the season on the DL. Minaya suffered an abdominal tear in mid-March. 

"He has been improving solidly and responding to the treatments," Renteria said.

Yolmer Sanchez went 2-for-2 with an RBI and scored a run in a 7-4 loss to the Kansas City Royals at Surprise, Ariz. 

Michael Ynoa allowed an unearned run and a hit in 2 1/3 scoreless innings. 

Zack Burdi struck out three in a scoreless inning.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Cubs wrapping up spring training

usatsi_9977845.jpg
USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Cubs wrapping up spring training

Today on the Sports Talk Live podcast, David Kaplan, Seth Gruen, Teddy Greenstein, and Mark Grote discussed Addison Russell’s injury, if Szczur or La Stella should get the Cubs final roster spot, if the Bulls would be better off facing the Celtics or Cavs in the first round of the playoffs, and Jay Cutler’s butt all over the internet.