Some Cubs prospects worth watching

March, 15, 2011
3/15/11
1:44
PM CT
Levine By Bruce Levine
ESPNChicago.com
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[+] EnlargeJosh Vitters
Kyle Terada/US PresswireJosh Vitters has impressed Cubs management with his attitude.
The Chicago Cubs made their first roster moves of the spring on Tuesday, sending 18 players to minor league camp. Of that group, there are some impressive young players.

Outfielder Brett Jackson, third baseman Josh Vitters, pitchers Jay Jackson, Chris Carpenter and Trey Mcnutt are players to watch for call-ups during the season.

Vitters, a former No. 1 pick, has improved his defense and overall attitude. The Cubs feel much better about his progress compared to a year ago.

With another solid start on Tuesday, Randy Wells should lay claim to the fourth spot in the rotation. That leaves Andrew Cashner, James Russell, Braden Looper and Carlos Silva as the only realistic contenders for the fifth spot.

Casey Coleman and Todd Wellemeyer are likely fighting for a bullpen spot.

If Cashner doesn't make it in the rotation, he'll return to the bullpen. In the case of Russell, he may end up in the rotation at Triple-A, along with Coleman.

This should not be looked at as a punishment for Russell, but rather an opportunity to grow and be ready for a major league call-up. The team does not have any other viable left-hander to start. So Russell could be called up quickly if someone gets hurt or doesn't produce.

Carlos Silva will most likely be in the bullpen if he's not part of the rotation. There's no scenario at this point where he'll be cut. A number of teams are watching him, as well as Looper and Wellemeyer, in hopes of adding a veteran to their staff if one is cut by the Cubs.

Second base is up for grabs. Neither Blake DeWitt nor Jeff Baker has won the spot. Darwin Barney has impressed the coaching staff with his Ryan Theriot-like tenacity at the plate. In comparison, Barney is a superior defender than Theriot at similar points of their careers.

The battle for the fifth outfielder spot is still evolving. Neither Fernando Perez nor Reed Johnson have hit for average so far this spring.

People consistently talk about the Cubs making trades, however their payroll is locked in at $131 million, and if Jim Hendry is going to make a trade, it has to be on a dollar-for-dollar basis.

Bruce Levine | email

Chicago baseball beat reporter
Bruce Levine has covered sports in Chicago for over 28 years and hosts "Talkin' Baseball," heard Saturday mornings on ESPN 1000.

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TEAM LEADERS

WINS LEADER
Jake Arrieta
WINS ERA SO IP
10 2.53 167 156
OTHER LEADERS
BAS. Castro .292
HRA. Rizzo 32
RBIA. Rizzo 78
RA. Rizzo 89
OPSA. Rizzo .913
ERAT. Wood 5.03
SOJ. Arrieta 167