After what has been a very quiet winter, the Cubs will be showing off their new complex and their elite prospects this spring.
Javier Baez, Kris Bryant and Albert Almora headlined the list of 24 non-roster players invited to major-league spring training in Mesa, Ariz. The list released Friday also includes Kyle Hendricks, the organization’s minor league pitcher of the year in 2013, who’s projected to be part of the Triple-A Iowa rotation.
Baez will be the Iowa shortstop on Opening Day, but he will get some exposure to second base and third base in the Cactus League, planning for the day he should be playing alongside Starlin Castro.
Bryant – the No. 2 overall pick in last year’s draft and Arizona Fall League MVP – is likely ticketed for Double-A Tennessee. Almora – the first player drafted here by the Theo Epstein administration – will probably start this season at advanced Class-A Daytona.
Epstein has repeatedly said that you’ll see these hyped prospects reach Wrigley Field “at the right time.”
“You can do a lot of damage rushing prospects before they’re ready,” Epstein said. “For every Manny Machado who comes up right from Double-A ball (and) succeeds, there’s 10 whose careers are never the same because they were rushed.
“My personal philosophy is to fully develop prospects as best as you can in the minor leagues, with significant time at each level, so that you maximize their development physically, mentally and fundamentally. And then when they come up here, they’re ready to thrive. There’s always an adjustment period, but you never get that time back in the minor leagues to develop properly.”
Cubs Park was scheduled to have an official public unveiling on Friday, with pitchers and catchers reporting Feb. 13 and the team’s first full-squad workout Feb. 19.
The Cubs invited eight additional pitchers to major-league camp: right-handers Marcus Hatley, Carlos Pimentel, Armando Rivero and Brian Schlitter, as well as lefties Tommy Hottovy, Eric Jokisch, Jonathan Sanchez and Tsuyoshi Wada.
Infielders Ryan Roberts, Chris Valaika and Jeudy Valdez received invitations, along with catchers John Baker, Rafael Lopez and Eli Whiteside. The team’s fifth outfielder could come from this non-roster group: Chris Coghlan, Aaron Cunningham, Ryan Kalish, Mitch Maier, Darnell McDonald and Casper Wells.
But for Cubs fans frustrated by the lack of major offseason moves, the Mesa storylines will be Baez, Bryant and Almora.
“As anxious as we all are to see them, I think we have to be truthful to our development plan,” Epstein said. “We do know how to develop players who can come up and make an impact. I feel great about this group. They’re going to have their time. It’s just not quite now.”