MESA, Ariz. — Jeff Samardzija stood in front of his locker wearing his Cubs hat backwards and a collector’s edition powder blue “F--- THE GOAT!!!” T-shirt.
The longest-tenured dude in the clubhouse will probably never play with Kris Bryant and Javier Baez at Wrigley Field. But the kids have made an impression this spring while Samardzija blocks out the trade rumors.
“Even with all the attention they’ve been getting, they’ve really kept their heads on straight,” Samardzija said. “They’ve kept their mouths shut.”
Samardzija said that with a smile on Saturday morning at Cubs Park, the day after Bryant caused a scene at Tempe Diablo Stadium by homering in his first Cactus League at-bat. Baez has drawn comparisons to Miami Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton with his raw power, smashing car windows in batting practice.
“You got to come with all your bullets in the major leagues,” Samardzija said. “So anyone that can come help us out, we’re looking forward to it.”
The development plan is for Bryant, last year’s No. 2 overall pick, to begin this season at Double-A Tennessee, while Baez becomes Triple-A Iowa’s Opening Day shortstop. A best-case scenario would have Baez playing next to Starlin Castro this summer while Bryant’s knocking on the door in Des Moines.
“I don’t know what the plan is for those guys and if they want to take it slow or what,” Samardzija said. “But I know performance plays. And if you go out and don’t give them many options, sometimes you kind of take the decision out of their hands.
“I’m sure those guys would tell you that’s what they’re trying to do — impress enough to where you don’t really give the front office or the coaching staff any options to not keep you on the team. It’s good to see that they’re pushing. The more guys you get pushing and competing, the better off your team’s going to be. For sure.”
Bryant, 22, forced the issue at the University of San Diego, out-homering more than 200 Division I programs last season and convincing the Cubs to pick the 6-foot-5-inch third baseman over an explosive power arm like University of Oklahoma right-hander Jonathan Gray, who went to the Colorado Rockies at No. 3.
Baez, 21, used his vicious Gary Sheffield bat speed to put up 37 homers and 111 RBIs in 130 games at advanced Class-A Daytona and Tennessee last season.
“It looks like they kind of feed off each other,” Samardzija said. “It’s good that they’re a close-knit group. Yeah, man, I’m excited, (because) I like young guys that come out and play hard. All those day games at Wrigley — I’ve said it before — it’s important to get these young dudes that wake up early and their bodies are nice and loose. They don’t have to stretch. They don’t have to get in the sauna.”
Baez (No. 5) and Bryant (No. 8) headlined the list of seven Cubs prospects that made Baseball America’s Top 100. Albert Almora (No. 36) is viewed as the natural leader for that core group, while $30 million Cuban outfielder Jorge Soler (No. 41) still has all that raw potential.
This youth movement won’t do much for the 29-year-old Samardzija, who is two seasons away from free agency. The Notre Dame All-American knows all about the hype and how to survive in a quirky Chicago market. Maybe the Cubs will have a win-now team when he’s looking at offers for 2016.
“They’re going to need each other,” Samardzija said. “When you come up like that, it always helps when you have a group of guys that you’re close with. (You) lean on each other (and) hang around older guys a little bit to try and pick their brain.
“It really helps you grow as a player. They seem like they’re sponges and they want to learn. You combine that with real raw talent, usually you have something pretty special.”