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MLB games can match the Daytona 500 on rain delays, but not on-field fires.

  • Rodrigo Lopez will start the Cubs’ Cactus League opener on Sunday, with Ryan Dempster and Matt Garza following him, in that order. I wouldn’t read too much into any of that, of course, because the rotation will be changed considerably by the time the actual season rolls around.
  • Oh my God, nooooooo!!!! Starlin Castro was hit on the wrist by a Kerry Wood fastball in batting practice!!!!! That was life in the Cubs’ world for about six minutes yesterday afternoon, before we all realized it was no big thing, and Castro was fine. Woody apologized, and the two hugged (seriously). Although it proved to be not a big deal, it’s a reminder a team’s season can change in an instant.
  • Speaking of batting practice yesterday, Anthony Rizzo was hitting multiple bombs, including one that some estimates had approaching 500 feet. Raw power?  Yup. He got it.
  • The Cubs Bunt Tournament wrapped up its first round yesterday, with manager Dale Sveum taking down Kerry Wood by an inch in the most anticipated match-up. Other winners included Carlos Marmol, Ryan Dempster, Geovany Soto, Jeff Baker, Marlon Byrd and David DeJesus, and the losers included Matt Garza, Trever Miller, Blake DeWitt, Alfredo Amezaga, Reed Johnson and Alfonso Soriano. Rodrigo Lopez versus Paul Maholm was delayed due to Maholm’s flueyness.
  • The second round match-ups are posted here, and some of the highlights include Starlin Castro taking on Ian Stewart, Marlon Byrd facing David DeJesus, and, the big one, Dale Sveum versus Ryan Dempster. There is no set date yet for when the second round kicks off.
  • Love hearing “new” thinking from guys like Chris Volstad: “Yeah, keep it down. That’s my game and what I really work on trying to do so that’ll be big. Everybody talks about the wind blowing out, and it plays small sometimes but again, if you don’t think about those things and worry about executing your pitches, then it doesn’t matter where you’re playing. If you give up a hard-hit ball in the air it has a chance to go out. It doesn’t matter if you’re here or San Francisco or wherever you’re trying to make your best pitch.” Obviously “keeping the ball down” isn’t new thinking, but a recognition that, statistically, balls in the air have a chance to go out, whereas balls on the ground do not, is simply nice to hear.
  • One of Volstad’s competitors in the rotation battle, Randy Wells, is ready for another “prove it” Spring Training. Given his past success, it would be easy for Wells to feel like he’s already earned a job, but that’s clearly not his attitude. He says he just needs to pitch well, and not worry about decisions he can’t control.
  • Minor league catcher Micah Gibbs gets to fill in for Geovany Soto for a little while (Soto is recovering from a “minor” groin strain), and he’s as excited as you’d expect him to be. Very endearing.
  • Javier Baez is listed by Jim Callis among a small group of top 100 prospects whom he thinks could take a huge step forward in 2012. Baez is currently ranked 61 on the top 100, a list a few other Cubs prospects just missed, it turns out: Welington Castillo, Dillon Maples, and Trey McNutt all received votes to be in baseball’s top 150 prospects.
  • This evening, Blogs With Balls (a sports media event company) will be putting on what I expect to be a great event featuring Bloomberg Sports and Cubs’ Assistant to the GM Shiraz Rehman at 7pm at Hub51 in Chicago. I believe some BN’ers will be in attendance, but, for those who can’t attend (like me), the event will be streamed live on CSN Chicago, and I’ll likely be writing about it tonight.
  • colocubfan

    Is there any way to get Garza to learn how to bunt???

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      Not really.

  • Cliffy

    Please Please say that Lopez doesnt make this team coming out of Spring training. If he does we are in big trouble.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      Very hard to see him making the team unless a couple guys are traded or injured. He’s not even likely to be one of the top two choices to be the swing-man in the bullpen (which would likely be either Sonnanstine or the loser of the Volstad-Wells-Wood competition).

  • daveyrosello

    Maples is one of those guys that, 12 months from now, he’s either going to be one of the top 30 prospects in all of baseball, or a guy that disappears from view. Let’s hope it’s the former.

    Castillo might well be the slowest non-pitcher runner in all of professional baseball. Yikes. Shoot, most pitchers can out-run Castillo as far as that goes.

    McNutt is a safe bet to bounce back this year, he was hurt last year, and like so many young pitchers, decided to keep quiet about it and “pitch through it.” Bad decision.

    • http://cubbiescrib.com Luke

      McNutt did sit on the DL twice last season; once for finger blisters and once for some serious bruises on the rib cage due to a harsh collision. I don’t think he really tried to pitch through either.

      Hayden Simpson did pitch through some injuries that he should have rested. His struggles were blamed largely on his weight loss / effects of mono, only discover after the season that he had two small tears near his pitching elbow.

      The good news? So far as I know, both are healthy and should be near full strength.

    • http://www.viewfromthebleachers.com Norm

      I disagree. I’d say there is zero chance Dillon Maples disappears from prospect status after his first year as a 20 year old.

      • Frank

        Might he disappear after his second year as a 20 year old? (Sorry Norm–I just had to)

        • http://www.viewfromthebleachers.com Norm

          hahaha, touche.

  • Max

    Maybe I’m just getting antsy for March Madness to start, but I am surprised that no one has put together a bracket for the Cubs bunt tourney. I clicked the Muskat link in anticipation, but of course, no bracket. Is there some obstacle to putting the tournament into a 64-team bracket complete with first round match-ups and seeds? I should probably just do it myself, I know, but I’m sure someone out there in the Cubs blogosphere can do it better than me. If anyone out there has the time to do it and would be willing to post it, I’d be much obliged.

  • die hard

    Lopez could be auditioning for the player to be named later in the Bosox deal. I like the emphasis on bunting. Maybe the same effort can be made as to walks. There was a drill used by the Dodgers back in the 60’s where numbers were written on the ball and the players had to call out the numbers as the ball crossed the plate. Sharpened batting eye. Also, in the cage, the pitching machine should be adjusted to throw so ball is not down the middle and they should be required to “walk” by taking enough bad pitches to do so. I am sure there are other drills to sharpen eye and learn to lay off pitches out of the strike zone.

    • Stinky Pete

      Somewhere I heard about Graig Jeffries doing all sorts of these drills (Call out the number on the ball, swinging a bat under water, etc.) and Cal Ripken Jr. essentially making fun of him. “The only way to get better at hitting, is hitting. If you’re looking for a number on the ball in training, you’ll be looking for a number on the ball in the game.”
      I’m sure there is some sort of middle ground, but I tend to take Ripken’s word for it. Granted he did not have one of the greatest September callups in the history of the game (Hmmm. That would be an interesting study…) but He did win some awards or something.

      • die hard

        Thats discouraging. There must be some way to focus on walks like they are doing on bunting. Possibly calling balls and strikes during batting practice? Also imposing a policy of no swinging until one strike called as this is a practice followed by disciplined great hitters like Hank Aaron, Wade Boggs etc…The more the pitcher has to work the easier it will be to get to him after the 5th inning when hes thrown over 100 pitches already.

        • Drew

          I find it hard to believe that those guys actually followed that rule religiously. Even without advanced scouting and video technology like we have today, once word got around to the other teams that a player ALWAYS took strike 1, theyd be at a tremendous disadvantage. Tough to hit for the average that Boggs did when your behind 0-1 every single at-bat.

          • die hard

            No, in fact Aaron used to talk about setting up pitchers that way so later at bats he would get a first pitch strike that he could drive. I am sure Boggs did that also.

            • Frank

              I have heard that where other batters might get anxious, Boggs was at his best with 2 strikes against him–he loved when the count was against him.

            • Dave H

              Boggs rarely would swing at the first pitch. His strategy would be if was a strike the pitcher would be inclined to throw it again as to “fool” him again. He was never fooled. It would end up in left center as he rounded first.

              • DocWimsey

                Boggs was taking 100 walks a year long before anybody accepted that this actually helped him score runs.  (He always outscored the much faster Vince Coleman, because Boggs was on base so much more often: but supposedly Vince’s speed was “game changing.”)

                Boggs is a good example of how standards change.  Back in the 1980s and early 1990s, Boggs was actually criticized by the Boston media for not expanding his strike zone with men on base or for hitting balls to left with men on 2nd and nobody out.  This was because Boggs was “selfish” and interested in only his batting average, you see.

                The 15-20 years later, the Red Sox embarked on a playoff binge that included 2 WS by preaching this approach up and down the order as well as up and down their minor leagues!

                • ty

                  who are you Doc Wimsey? Who are you?

                  • DocWimsey

                    That’s the universal question.  No, wait, sorry: that’s Doctor Who.  Um, I’m both a Cubs and Sox fan who hasn’t abandoned one team for the other because of the Theo Custody Case!  (Grounders under Durham’s legs and then Buckner’s legs are my major emotional traumas still….)

                    • ferrets_bueller

                      Dr. Who!!! Huge fan here.

                      I miss the Tenth Doctor a lot….

                    • bluekoolaidaholic

                      “I’m both a Cubs and Sox ”

                      Figures

                    • DocWimsey

                      Tennant was good.  I think that the 2nd (Troughton) might still be my favorite, though.  (Matt Smith is good, but, geez, he’s young enough to be my son….)

                      And I keep wishing for the episode where he goes to San Diego in October 1984 and gets Frey to yank Sutcliffe an inning earlier….

                    • ferrets_bueller

                      I think Matt Smith could be good, but the show’s writing and stories just aren’t nearly as good since the departure of Russell T. Davies.

                    • Frank

                      Dr. Who! Yes! Still have to say Tom Baker was my favorite–first one I ever watched. I liked Christopher Eccleston and David Tennant as well though.

                    • Stinky Pete

                      “And I keep wishing for the episode where he goes to San Diego in October 1984 and gets Frey to yank Sutcliffe an inning earlier….”

                      Sorry. Fixed point.

                    • DocWimsey

                      Fixed point?!?!?  The Cubs-Tigers WS should have been the fixed point…. :grumble:

                    • Stinky Pete

                      You can change it, but then you’re going to have the giant dragon like things trying to eat us all until Lee Smith understands what he must do in order to repair the cracks in time and save us all.

                • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

                  I literally just read that part of ‘Moneyball’ last night (which, by the way, how in the WORLD did I wait so long before reading this book? It’s magnificent, and, in some ways, even better now with the benefit of hindsight).

                  • ferrets_bueller

                    Dude…you never read Moneyball before now? Man…its so good. Especially without hindsight, because you knew about, and were a fan of, Kevin Youkilis before he’d ever played in the majors. Awesome foresight provided. It was so cool to see what the book said become true. Same with Nick Swisher.

                    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

                      See, but now with foresight, I get to see things like how obsessed they were with Jeremy Brown. And I get to go, “who?” In fact, that entire chapter on the draft reads somewhat embarrassingly now. Swisher and Joe Blanton are, like, the only guys on the A’s draft board who amounted to anything, and they were OBVIOUS first round picks.

                    • http://www.viewfromthebleachers.com Norm

                      Billy Beane should never have written that book!
                      :)

        • DocWimsey

          Of all the batting skills, pitch identification is the one that (probably) is the most difficult to teach or alter.  We do not have a perfect measure of this, but if you look at walk rates (which reflect this more than any other set of outcomes), you’ll see that most guys walk rates come from the same distribution throughout their career, or at least until middle-age ruins their eyesights.

          This is a big reason why the Sox farm system under Theo was so much more successful than the Cubs farm system under Hendry: the Sox assumed that pitch recognition was a basic tool and often did not draft guys without it (unless they had monster power); the Cubs assumed that it was a learnable skill and then got confused when nobody every learned it.

          • Turn Two

            I will argue that pitch selection is a learned skill and that good organizations that teach it all throughout their levels find that their players possess that skill, rather than simply good drafting. Problem is very few people stay in the same organization anymore from their first signing to their successful career and therefore do not get the continuity that a good organization breeds.

            • DocWimsey

              Which organizations teach batting eyes?  For all of the walks that their players draw, the Sox, Yanks and Rays do not: they select guys who have batting eyes through the draft, but also trades and free agent signings.

              As for changing organizations, that really applies at the MLB level, not the minor league level, which is where this would have to take place.  However, walk rates (which is our best proxy for pitch selection) rarely change too much there.  Again, this is a big reason why Cubs prospects go bust: the Cubs believed that minor leaguers could learn this, but they (?almost) never do.

  • Jay Anderson Jr

    1. Lopez will never make this team out of ST.

    2. Volstad will not get a rotation spot. Garza, Dempster, Maholm, Wells and Wood would be my five, with Sonnastine as the sixth starter. That’s before you consider Smarj into the eqaution. Maybe Volstad could be a closer or a middle relief innings eater.

    3. Wells has earned his spot and should get the first look out of the fringe guys to start the season in the rotation.

    4. Javier Baez is great, however, I think he needs to play at his “future” position, where ever that may be, before he makes his big jump.

    • CubFan Paul

      The cubs are paying $18M to Volstad (& zambrano) so he’ll be the 4th or 5th starter over Wells guaranteed. Wells has NO upside and hasn’t earned a thing on this team besides a salary that’s got him on the trade block because he’s too expensive to be the 6th or 7th starter.

      Travis Wood & Volstad have middle rotation upside (Wells doesnt) with enough team control to discover it. That team control will Not be wasted on a jim Hendry “guy”.

      Theo&Co built this rotation and purposely left Randy Wells out

      • Jay Anderson Jr

        That is the dumbest thing I think I have ever heard. “Won’t be wasted on a Hendry guy.” If that’s how Theo thinks, he can pack his bags and head back to Boston. Doesn’t matter who brought the player in, if he can play, he can play. You would have more validity if you just said Wells sucks, and won’t make the team. Fortunately, he doesn’t think like you. I almost willing to bet the house, Volstad won’t make this rotation. I’m actually curious if he could become a dominant reliever. Kind if like Marshall. Surprised he hasn’t been tried there.

        BTW, if we are not going to waste roster spots on Hendry’s guys, then let’s make sure we trade Garza, Soto, Barney, Castro, Brett Jackson, Soriano, Dempster, Marmol, Smarj and every other player he brought in by the end of ST.

        • CubFan Paul

          i NEVER said Wells couldn’t play. i said he has LESS upside than Volstad & T.Wood. Thats a known Fact. You can be “good” and still not be “good enough” without Sucking.

          Wells’ upside is: Fifth Starter/Back of the rotation, if that.

          & as far as trading garza, soto, barney, castro, bjax, soriano dempster, marmol, samardzija makes a lot of senses because releasing and trading off the whole 40 man roster at once is genius for a new front office.

          Jay Anderson Jr, you sir are no ignoramus.

          • Bric

            Both of you have good points to consider. If Volstad’s gonna get rocked it’ll be in the next few weeks of the thin, dry Arizona air. But Wells has had 3 more years age wise of ball to show he’s legit and by his own admission he was on again off again. Since splashing into the scene he really hasn’t shown much. Despite all the stats mongering, his record doesn’t show it and that’s the only stat that counts- hence the reason pitchers are the only position that’re credited with wins and losses. In any case, neither have even pitched a spring training game yet so this will all hash itself out in the next 6 weeks. Let’s not jump to conclusions.

    • http://www.viewfromthebleachers.com Norm

      Randy Wells – It all depends on his velocity in the Spring. If he gets back to 2009 and 2010 velo, he might go back to a valuable contributor.
      Travis Wood, and Wells, have an option remaining. I think one of them starts in AAA.

  • Andy

    I dont believe a 5 ERA “earns” you a spot in the rotation. He admittedly coasted last year and his poor ERA and record shows that. I dont have a problem with Wells in the rotation if he has a good spring, but would prefer someone with more upside like the Shark to grab the last spot.

    • CubFan Paul

      Jinx

    • Jay Anderson Jr

      Earned means if they all come out even after ST, Wells is the only one who has pitched in this division, therefore he has the advantage because he knows the hitters bettter. I believe in a matchup against unfamiliar opponents, the hitters have the advantage. Wells eliminates that advantage with his prior experience against them.

      • ogyu

        That is the dumbest thing I think I have ever heard. “He has the advantage because he knows the hitters better.” If any such advantage exists, it’s very temporary. whoever gets the job will gain the same experience. The Cubs are building for the long haul and they should pick whoever they think is most likely to give them the best performance over the long haul. If it takes that guy a month or two to learn some new hitters, so be it.

        • Jay Anderson Jr

          So you think Brett is pretty dumb then, huh. Because he made a similar comment when talking about the Garza potential trade. He said the Yankees, Red Sox and Blue Jays should look into Garza because of his familiarity with the division. In fact, players are signed all the time because of that. I think that happens more then a GM getting rid of players only because the prior GM signed him, not taking into account rather they player can.play or not. Wells and Volstad have had similar success, and I personally wood like to see Smarj and Wood get the nod with Maholm, Garza and Dempster. But we will see.

          • Jay Anderson Jr

            BTW Brett, not calling you dumb, just using your comment to male a point.

          • CubFan Paul

            so now you’re comparing Wells to Garza. hilarious. You should stop now while your behind. this site isnt for relatives of players who have a one sided view ..no upside to your factless arguement or Wells

            • Brian

              Guys just making a point he believes in. That is what this site is supposedly about.

              • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

                It is, indeed.

              • CubFan Paul

                his point is: Wells deserves to be in the rotation. I havn’t seen one valid point why. Maybe he doesnt know that Jim Hendry was fired and the new Front office has been wheelin&dealin all winter to bring in young Upside guys (out with the old, in with the new like when a new front office takes over 100% of the time)

                • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

                  Whether you agree with his particular rationale, there are certainly arguments that could be made for having Wells in the rotation (his 3.80 ERA over his final 13 or so starts last year, his good 2009 and 2010 seasons, for example), though.

                  • CubFan Paul

                    my rationale is ‘upside’. Wells has less and is paid more than Volstad and travis Wood.

                • Brian

                  Maybe his point is valid, in the same respect that you like a certain color, car, suit, what have you, in that he likes Wells and hopes he is the best pitcher for the Cubs when spring training is over. Just because you disagree doesn’t make it wrong.

            • http://www.casualcubsfan.com hansman1982

              I don’t think he was saying that Wells = Garza in terms of production, only in terms of the situation.

              • CubFan Paul

                the situations are Completely different. Garza pitched successfully in the AL East for 3 years, so of course the yanks, sox and jays want him

            • Deer

              Volstad has been promised and earned nothing. There will be a competition and the best pitcher between him, Wells, and Shark will be in the rotation, unless you think Theo and Sveum are lying. Volstad can continue his search for his upside in AAA if he doesn’t impress in ST.

              • TWC

                Who has promised him a spot?  Didn’t seem like Sveum did in his rotation comments last week.

            • Jay Anderson Jr

              Wow, I never once said Wells = Garza. Comprehension my friend, comprehension.

          • ogyu

            I have no very strong views this subject. There are decent arguments both ways. But I did think that your earlier remark that someone else’s comment was “the dumbest thing I think I have ever heard” was exaggerated to the point of rudeness. So I used your own words in commenting on your point, because what goes around comes around.

      • Beer Baron

        Travis Wood pitched the past two years in Cincinatti, which is in the Cubs’ division, so he should be pretty familiar with it too. And for the record, Volstad has over 100 career starts, which is considerably more than Wells. So the past should be irrelevant in this competition – it will come down to performance in the spring and who has options remaining.

        • CubFan Paul

          but Wells has earned it!. You can’t win against the clueless/uninformed.

        • Jay Anderson Jr

          If you look, I put Wood in the rotation. I clarified the comment by saying if all else if even, which I think it is, the Wells had earned the right. I think there are a lot of “cubfan”s drinking Theo’s Kool-Aid. It’s funny though, because I dont think Theo even drinks Theo’s Kool-Aid.

          • CubFan Paul

            feel better now that you got the last word little buddy? Good. No need to be rattled before your nap.

  • jim

    Is there a spring training tv sked? Wells is in rotation cuz he has never relieved.

  • Matt

    Very encouraging to see our pitchers and speed guys get bricked in the bunt contest against coaches and catchers.

  • oehly37

    Brett have you listed the rules of the bunt tournament? how do they score? how do you win to advance?

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      You get several bunts, as does your opponent. You get points by bunting the ball into a designated square (different squares are worth different point totals). Whoever scores more, you or your opponent, wins.

  • Edward

    I just get the feeling this team will suprise some people this year. I don’t think they’ll make the playoffs, but I don’t think .500 is out of the question. Either way, I am far more excited about this year than I was last year.

    Hoping to see some of the top prospects in action when Iowa comes to take on the Sounds this season in Nashville. Think Rizzo and Jackson will be in Chicago by June 30th? That’s the first home game vs. Iowa.

    • NL_Cubs

      I’m really looking forward to this season for one reason…I think the Cubs will play hard while being held accountable for that level of play and expectation.

      There is some upside potential for them to surprise and shooting for a .500 record is a good goal. Anything more this season will be bonus entertainment.

    • Jay Anderson Jr

      With 2 wild cards, don’t be supprised if the Cubs are in it until late August early September. I do believe the deadline moves we make will ultimately decide rather we finish .500 or not. Trading Garza, Byrd, Soto, Soriano and such.

  • Jay Anderson Jr

    The point is Garza, Dempster and Maholm are locks in the rotation. Wood would be a game changer because hes a lefty, giving him an advantage. That leaves Volstad, Wells, Smarj, Sonnastine, Lopez and a Hungry McNutt lerking in the minors. That’s 6 pitchers for one spot and even if Wood spot is not assured that’s 7 pitchers, 2 spots. Wells and Lopez add absolutely no value to the bullpen, so its rotation or AAA for them. With the lefties already in the pen, Wood also has more value in the rotation, though I think he could be a good reliever. Smarj is a good reliever, but all sign point to him eventually being a starter, so he also gets a nod. Sonnastine, I believe already knows his spot, long relief and spot starts( double headers, slight injuries and such). Then there Volstad, great stuff but can’t maintain through more then a few innings. I am really starting to think he can become a dominant reliever.

    However, if McNutt has a strong start in the minors, stays healthy and all these guys struggle, McNutt will be up sooner rather then later.

    • daveyrosello

      I disagree with this comment. Every team needs a long reliever, the 6th man in the pen (the 7th man being the LOOGY). Lopez can certainly be a long man. You need someone that can give you 4-5 innings on that day when your starter gets rocked and needs to be pulled in the 2nd or 3rd inning. In all likelihood, you’re not going to win that game anyway, you just want someone to eat the innings, “take one for the team.” And you certainly don’t want to waste a legitimate reliever or a young prospect on that job.

      Hence, the utility of the Rodrigo Lopez’ of the world……

  • cubchymyst

    I think the MLB can match nascar in on field fires if the sox try another disco demolition night

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