Come on, Cactus League championship …
- The Cactus League – as in, Spring Training baseball games in Arizona – gets underway today for the Chicago Cubs, who’ll face the Arizona Diamondbacks in the opener at Cubs Park. The Cubs will play 34 Cactus League games this year, including six split-squad days. The Cubs finished 16-19 last year in the Cactus League, good for 10th out of 15 teams (who knew that would be the high point of the year, in terms of a final record?). The Royals (25-7) and Mariners (22-11) blew away the field last year, which should tell you all you need to know about the relative merits of a good Spring Training record. Always keep perspective on Spring Training results and stats. You can divine some meaning from some things, but it’s easy to go too far too quickly.
- But for those of you who just can’t help but be into the results, and for those of you who are more optimistic about the Cubs, or who want to arbitrage your happiness by betting against the Cubs, click here for the best MLB lines and odds this preseason.
- Jeff Sullivan at FanGraphs takes a look at the most and least improved teams this offseason – not just based on transactions, but also on improvement/regression/etc. - with an eye toward pegging the better teams in 2014. The top team? The Astros, with a projected +18 WAR over last year. Of course, most of that is merely projected positive regression. The Cubs aren’t listed, but I can tell from the mentioned teams that they fall somewhere between +4 and -5, which sounds about right. The Cubs probably have more positive regression candidates than negative, but they also lost (and did not really replace) guys like Alfonso Soriano and Matt Garza. Calling them flat going into 2014 is fair.
- Mark Gonzales talked to Jake Arrieta about his shoulder. The righty isn’t yet throwing off of the mound, and says he’s trying to get to the point where he knows he can give the bullpen a breather if they’re worn out. I guess Arrieta is saying his arm strength will take a while to fully come back? That’s probably true of every pitcher in Spring Training, so I’m not entirely sure I get what he means, and I don’t want to speculate.
- Bruce Miles offers his thoughts on the Cubs’ center field picture in the near and long-term. Among other guys discussed, there are reasons for modest optimism about Ryan Sweeney and Justin Ruggiano.
- A profile on Albert Almora from Mark Gonzales, which serves as a reminder that Almora is uniquely mature and polished for a soon-to-be 20-year-old who hasn’t played above Low-A. Assuming he starts the year at High-A, it’s not inconceivable that Almora could get a quick promotion to AA, and then maybe even a taste of AAA late in the year.
- Rick Renteria says that Jorge Soler is a very, very calm guy, and is very composed (Patrick Mooney). Those thoughts, and the questions that drove them, are obviously tied to the bat-wielding incident last year, which the Cubs’ front office has described as very out of character for Soler. Renteria added that Soler is a high-ceiling guy who needs more experience.
- For his part, Soler says he learned from the incident, and he’s now 100% healthy from the leg injury that scuttled his 2013 season (Jesse Rogers). What is Soler working on right now? Keeps his bat in the zone longer.
- Vine Line produced a cool video on a number of the Cubs’ top prospects in camp, chatting with them about their experience and their goals for the season ahead.