It's D-Lee vs X-Man in Steel Cage Showdown!
The Cubs moved their Spring Training operations a half-mile north up Center Street to HoHoKam Park this morning.
Manager Lou Piniella doesn't like to play intrasquad games, so the team engaged in a two-hour work-out consisting of pick-off drills for the pitchers, baserunning and infield & outfield practice for the position players, and traditional pre-game type BP (coaches throwing soft-toss from in front of the mound).
The team was split in two for the pick-off and fielding drills, with the "A" Squad (Pitchers Justin Berg, Esmailin Caridad, Andrew Cashner, Ryan Dempster, John Gaub, John Grabow, Ted Lilly, Carlos Marmol, Sean Marshall, Carlos Silva, Randy Wells, and Carlos Zambrano, catchers Welington Castillo, Koyie Hill, and Geovany Soto, first-basemen Micah Hoffpauir and Derrek Lee, second-basemen Jeff Baker and Mike Fontenot, shortstops Andres Blanco and Ryan Theriot, third-basemen Aramias Ramirez and Chad Tracy, and outfielders Alfonso Soriano, Sam Fuld, Marlon Byrd, and Kosuke Fukudome) working on the main field in the stadium. (Still rehabbing from 2009 TJS, Xavier Nady is assigned to the "A" Squad, but he does not participate in fielding drills). Tom Gorzelanny and Jeff Samardzija are also assigned to Squad "A," but they did not participate in the pick-off drills with the other Squad "A" pitchers today, possibly because they were likely scheduled to throw a two-inning "sim" game in preparation for their first Cactus League outings this weekend (Samardzija and Gorzelanny are scheduled to start the split squad games on Sunday). Angel Guzman is assigned to Squad "A," too, but he is rehabbing from both off-season knee surgery and a recent shoulder problem that has temporarily delayed his progress.
After the pick-off, baserunning, and fielding drills were completed, the pitchers ran sprints in the outfield while the position players took BP. Each of the 31 position players took about 50 swings in the BP session, with six groups (five or six players in each group) hitting on the two HoHoKam Park fields (Dwight Patterson Field and the back field located northeast of the stadium).
The three groups consisting of the "A Squad" guys were (naturally) assigned to hit in the stadium (Dwight Patterson Field), and so the youngsters who were part of these groups at Fitch Park had the unexpected pleasure of hitting in the stadium, instead of on the back field that time has forgotten. As a result, Andres Blanco, Sam Fuld, Micah Hoffpauir, and Chad Tracy were sent over the back field to hit, while Starlin Castro, Brett Jackson, and Josh Vitters came over to Dwight Patterson Field from the back field, joining the "A" Team in the stadium. (Blanco, Hoffpauir, and Tracy hit in a group with Kevin Millar and Chris Robinson, while Fuld hits with Darwin Barney, Blake Lalli, Bobby Scales, and Brad Snyder).
The first group to hit in the stadium was the "Theriot Group" (Ryan Theriot, Jeff Baker, Koyie Hill, Josh Vitters, and Mike Fontenot). Although he didn't hit a HR, The Riot looked great, drilling line drives all over the yard, from foul line to foul line. Jeff Baker hit two bombs in his first ten swings, but then cooled-off in his later rounds and started to hit pop ups and grounders. K. Hill hit two home runs (one left-handed into the RF bullpen, and one right-handed over the LF fence) toward the end of the group's session. Vitters (who played at HoHoKam Park last Fall while a member of the AFL's Mesa Solar Sox) started slowly, but then caught fire in his last two rounds (that's when he knocked out his two dingers). Fontenot just looked sluggish at the plate from beginning to end, continuing his (so far) unimpressive Spring Training BP work.
The next group to hit (the "Derrek Lee Group") consisted of Derrek Lee, Xavier Nady, Geovany Soto, Brett Jackson, and Marlon Byrd. D-Lee and Nady had a knock-down, drag-out Home Run Derby, matching tater-for tater throughout their five rounds. Lee and Nady both finsihed with eight home runs a piece (eight being by far the most any player hit at Dwight Patterson Field today). It's too bad the N. L. doesn't employ the DH, because it sure would be nice to get Nady's power into the Cubs lineup behind D-Lee and Ramirez on Opening Day. But if he can't throw, he certainly can't play RF. D-Lee started out like a house afire, smashing out six of his eight home runs in his first 20 ABs. Nady was also hot from the outset, and he hit the highest and longest HR of the day (landing just to the CF side of the scoreboard in LF). Soto started very slowly, but then he began to drive the ball about 2/3 of the way through the group's session. He hit all three of his home runs toward the end, all three screaming line drives that cleared the LF fence. Cubs 2009 #1 draft pick Brett Jackson looked very bad, and didn't hit the ball well at all. He looks kind of messed-up at the plate, just like he did at Instructs last October. Marlon Byrd did not hit any homers, but I give him extra credit for rifling the first 30 pitches he saw to right field, at one point putting Mike Fontenot on a merry-go-round at 2nd base, spinning the little guy back & forth, first to his right, and then to his left, with balls lined just out of his reach in each direction, until he finally made an outstanding diving stop on a ball hit to his left (generating a nice hand from the Cubs fans in attendance). Byrd couldn't stop laughing. Manager Lou Piniella was watching the session closely from behind the batting cage, and I'm sure Byrd's bat magic was not lost on Lou. Don't be surprised if Byrd hits 2nd in the batting order at some point in 2010 (especially if Fukudome is benched against LHPs).
The final group of five to hit at Dwight Patterson Field this morning was the "Alfonso Soriano Group" (consisting of Alfonso Soriano, Aramis Ramirez, Kosuke Fukudome, Starlin Castro, and Welington Castillo). Soriano had some impressive BP sessions at Fitch Park over the previous week or so, but he did not have a particularly good one today, crushing just one homer while mixing line drives with pop ups & grounders. A-Ram started VERY slowly, reaching & feeling for pitches in his first two rounds, before he finally started hammering the ball consistently toward the end, including three towering HRs over the LF fence. Fukudome hit line drives to all fields, but when he tried to elevate the ball toward the end of his last round, the result was several lazy fly balls, not home runs. He might be better off just hitting liners, and forget about hitting home runs. Somewhat surprsingly, Starlin Castro had a very poor session today, even swinging & missing a couple of times (which is hard to do with a coach throwing soft-toss). But Welington Castillo looked very good, blasting two home runs to LF while knocking three more off the fence. Like Byrd and Theriot, Castillo appeared to make a conscious effort to take outside pitches to right field, lining several balls the opposite way. He got some extra yips from the other guys in his group when he completed his final round.
The first Cubs Cactus League game of 2010 is tomorrow at HoHoKam Park versus the Oakland A's, as the Cubs get to renew acquaintance with old friends Jake Fox, Eric Patterson, Michael Wuertz, Jerry Blevins, and Josh Donaldson.
This might be old news but Hammel was on ESPN 1000 and said that he changed his diet and workout routine over the off season and tweaked his delivery so it'd be more repeatable so he'd have a better second half. So...some cause for optimism anyway.
CHILDERS: RHSP Dylan Cease and LHSP Bryan Hudson are probably the top two SP prospects in the organization right now.
LHSP Jose Paulino has electric stuff (91-94 MPH fastball with sinking action and a mid-80's slider), but he also has trouble commanding it.
RHP Jose Albertos (2015 IFA - Mexico - $1.5M bonus) just turned 17 in November, and his fastball already sits at 95-96. He also throws a curve and a change-up, and is fairly advanced for a kid his age.
AZBOBBOP: Most of 2016 draft picks will get assigned to either Eugene or AZL Cubs, but the Opening Day Eugune roster will probably be almost 100% from the Extended Spring Training squad roster (pending the arrival of draft picks).
I think I can probably tell you which pitchers and players at EXST are in contention for roster slots at Eugene and which are in contention for slots with the AZL Cubs - AS THINGS STAND RIGHT NOW - (listed alphabetically):
* bats or throws left
# bats both
Eloy Jimenez atop the leader board for minor-league home runs in the Cub system, with seven. Tied with Balaguert and Vogelbach, two 24-year-olds. Jimenez won't be 20 until late November. Leads the Midwest League in SLG and OPS. Maybe he'll get promoted to the Myrtle Beach squad that visits Woodbridge, VA, in June or Frederick, MD, in August.
Watched two Pelican games at Frederick the other week. Was most impressed by Stinnett and Happ. Happ may swing harder than Javier Baez, though more compactly. (Also got to see Brockmeyer hit a bomb.)
E-MAN: Jose Paniagua isn't a string-bean, but I wouldn't say he necessarily bulked-up during the 2015-16 off-season either, He led the DSL Cubs in HR and doubles in 2014, and he showed XBH power when he arrived in Mesa last year, leading the AZL Cubs in HR, doubles, and RBI in 2015. It's just that he has taken his HR power to a new level this year.
Paniagua displayed plus-HR power in Cactus League Minor League Spring Training games in March, and that got him a slot on the South Bend Opening Day roster. But he was sent to EXST after only six MWL games.
More on the Cub Way.
Martinez is one of my least favorite pitchers in baseball. I'd love to see a game like yesterday's against him.
Send Soler down!
Awesome thanks AZ
Great report, Phil! This organization has so many hitters to be excited about.
Ben Zobrist is very enjoyable to watch!!!!!!
given that he seems to only be throwing low 90s these days rather than the 93-96mph he used to throw, along with his wildness issues this year, he may end up passing through.
i dunno if something is wrong with him physically or his past shoulder issues has rendered him what he currently is, but he's been throwing a lot of sliders he can't control well and his fastball isn't as sharp. even when his slider wasn't working in a game he was still throwing a lot of them.
Any scuttlebutt on where Neil Ramirez gets traded?
He seems better than some of the relievers on competitive teams. He ought to bring more than the waiver fee.
My guess? Toronto.
PHIL: It seems as if Paniagua has always played 1B with the Cubs. At 6'2 and 180#, what is his frame like? String bean? Have you seen him bulk up? Where do you project him? Thanks.
Phil, what's your thoughts on which position players are going to Eugene and who is staying in AZL?
Ahhh...way to bring me down BB.
Still - a win tomorrow will be an acheivement regardless.
Don't mean to spoil your mood, but with tonight's win the are 3-5 on the trip with one to play.
While I'm bringing the room down -- Richard comes in to pitch the 9th with a 12-1 lead...and can't finish the game. Woof.