Cubs: Ten to watch in spring training

Cubs: Ten to watch in spring training
February 6, 2013, 7:45 pm
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Cubs executives Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer will be evaluating talent instead of going into full acquisition mode. Manager Dale Sveum won’t be feeling the heat until the games actually matter.

Alfonso Soriano – who wasn’t interested in playing for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic – won’t have much to prove while getting his 37-year-old body ready for the season.

While snow still covered the ground in Chicago on Wednesday, the countdown had already begun. Less than a week remains until pitchers and catchers have their first official workout in Arizona; 11 days until the first full-squad workout; and less than two months until Opening Day – April Fool’s Day – in Pittsburgh.

These aren’t necessarily the biggest names or the most valuable players – if those even exist after a 101-loss season – but here are the 10 most interesting figures you’ll find in Mesa:

Matt Garza

The baseball world will be watching to see how his right elbow responds – the direction of this Cubs season and the pennant races could hinge upon it.

If everything goes south and the front office looks to sell off parts to contenders again, well, remember this is the guy who once insisted the Cubs were “right where we need to be” after a comeback win in Washington left them 17 games under .500 in July 2011. This is an optimist.

“I don’t even look for that,” Garza said. “Right now, we’re sitting at the top of the pole, so we’re ready to go. It’s zero-zero all the way across the board. So let’s get it done and let’s not have it come to that.”

Javier Baez

This isn’t a quarterback controversy. Starlin Castro is the franchise shortstop and Baez hasn’t even played a full season of professional baseball yet. But the Cubs will want to see how he handles himself in big-league camp, at the age of 20 and with his name popping up on the top prospects lists.

“You don’t move a guy off of shortstop or out of center field until you absolutely have to,” Hoyer said. “Why would we not develop a guy that can really play shortstop at shortstop? He’s got some offensive work to do, too. If it was a finishing piece to come up to the big leagues, maybe you’d think about moving positions, but right now we’re focused on improving his whole game.”

Baez plays with an edge and certainly enjoys retweeting the fans telling him how great he’s going to be in Chicago.

Carlos Marmol

Epstein told WMVP-AM 1000 that Marmol is expected to report to camp on time. That will be the news story of the day. There will be questions about an incident that has been portrayed as a domestic assault or an extortion attempt in the Dominican Republic. There was the trade to the Los Angeles Angels that didn’t happen last November, and the pressure to perform in a contract year. Good Marmol or Bad Marmol, the Cubs already have a replacement in mind.

Kyuji Fujikawa

This won’t create the media frenzy that followed Kosuke Fukudome in 2008. The Japanese closer has been described as low-maintenance, a curious guy who asks good questions, someone who won’t be traveling with a huge entourage.

The Cubs made it clear in the negotiations for a two-year, $9.5 million contract – plus a 2015 option – that they wanted him to work with their coaching staff during spring training, meet his new teammates and not play for Japan in the World Baseball Classic. This will be an assimilation process.

Rob Deer

The new assistant hitting coach – Sveum’s teammate with the Milwaukee Brewers some 20-plus years ago – will be one of the manager’s confidantes.

A self-described “all-or-nothing” hitter finished his career with 230 homers and led the American League in strikeouts four times. Eh, who cares? What really matters is what he does with Brett Jackson, Anthony Rizzo and the other young hitters.

“I always say: ‘Do as I say, not as I did,’” Deer explained. “But I always felt that I had a true passion for hitting and I played with some great players. I learned a lot and I’ve listened a lot. And I think subconsciously I talk about things that I couldn’t do. I talk about a two-strike approach. I talk about using the whole field. And you’ll never hear me talking to a kid about hitting a home run.”

Derek Johnson

The Cubs lured Johnson out of Vanderbilt University – where he worked with future Tampa Bay Rays ace David Price – to become their minor-league pitching coordinator. For an organization that desperately needs to develop some impact arms – Pierce Johnson, Duane Underwood, Dillon Maples – this is an essential behind-the-scenes job.

Arodys Vizcaino

The Cubs aren’t going to rush a guy coming off the Tommy John surgery that wiped out his 2012 season. But they’re eager to see what made him one of the best prospects in the Atlanta Braves system. Vizcaino, 22, is ticketed for Triple-A Iowa to start the season, but he could force his way into the big leagues this year, perhaps when deals at the trade deadline leave holes in the rotation.

Edwin Jackson

The big-ticket item might look like a reasonable investment with the way the price of pitching has skyrocketed. It will be interesting to see how Jackson responds to the security of a four-year, $52 million contract. The Cubs did their homework and found him to be a solid clubhouse presence familiar with winning cultures. Being traded six times probably had something to do with economics, how quickly he made it to the big leagues and Boras Corp. not securing a long-term extension.

Scott Boras

A shadow figure, yes, but the super-agent looms with two major clients still unsigned – Michael Bourn and Kyle Lohse – before you write your “Hot Stove Winners and Losers” columns. All the leading indicators says the Cubs haven’t been willing to sacrifice their second-round draft pick and part of their signing-bonus pool to get a centerfielder, and they obviously feel pretty good about the depth they’ve assembled for the rotation.

But depending on where he steers his clients, Boras can tip the balance of power in the division – how do the St. Louis Cardinals respond with injured Chris Carpenter nearing retirement? – or close off potential trade avenues for the Cubs if they're looking to deal come July.

Anthony Bosch

Don’t expect to see the head of the Biogenesis clinic hanging around Fitch Park. But after the explosive Miami New Times story and another Alex Rodriguez embarrassment you know this is going to be the talk of spring training. You can be sure Sveum, the old Brewers hitting coach, will be asked about Ryan Braun at some point. With Major League Baseball testing in-season for human growth hormone this year, we shouldn’t be surprised by the next performance-enhancing drugs scandal.