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.