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Saturday, February 9, 2013
Cubs spring training preview: A guide

By Jesse Rogers

MESA, Ariz. -– The Chicago Cubs officially begin their 2013 season Sunday when pitchers and catchers report to Fitch Park in Arizona, with position players due one week later. The team will eventually move to Hohokam Park, where games will take place.

Here are the top things to know as the Cubs continue their quest for their first championship since 1908:

Pitchers and catchers: They’ll actually report on Sunday and Monday, with their first official workout set for Tuesday. With an especially long spring training due to the World Baseball Classic, all major league teams will have to rework their normal pitching routines to prepare for the regular season. In other words, there’s no rush to ramp up the arms just yet.

Position players: They report Feb. 17, though many are already in Mesa working out and preparing. Anthony Rizzo, the team's only participant in the World Baseball Classic, will leave the Cubs to play for Team Italy.

Jed Hoyer and Theo Epstein: They’ll address the media Sunday with the focus on 2013. Though they acknowledge their long-term plans, Epstein said recently that once spring training commences, it’s all about this year. Their eyes in camp will be focused on the prospects, which ESPN.com recently ranked fifth overall in baseball.

Spring games: They begin Feb. 23 and go through March 30, with the final two exhibition games played in Houston against the Astros. The Cubs will take on the White Sox on March 7 (at home) and March 15 (away). They’ll play two split-squad games against the Texas Rangers in Las Vegas on March 16 and 17.

Position battles: Believe it or not, there probably aren’t many for a team that lost 101 games a year ago. The starting infield is set; only the backups needs to be determined among a group that includes Luis Valbuena, Alberto Gonzalez and Brent Lillibridge. There isn’t a lot of room in the outfield; the only question is if speedster and fan favorite Tony Campana will break camp with the club. Health might help determine roster spots for the pitching staff, as Scott Baker is returning from Tommy John surgery. The battle for the final two spots in the rotation might be the best of camp. Carlos Marmol is the closer at the moment, but newcomer Kyuji Fujikawa could push him.

Major questions: In the spring, a lot revolves around health. Is Ian Stewart fully recovered from wrist surgery? Will Matt Garza (elbow) and Baker be ready as April approaches? As for performances, Welington Castillo is one to watch behind the plate. Can he handle the load of being the No. 1 catcher, and will spring games help determine that? If Fujikawa is getting hitters out by going after them –- something the Cubs said they liked about him -– will he push Marmol, who relies on his slider too often? And an eye has to be kept on Alfonso Soriano. At any time, a team could decide it needs his bat, but he has to approve the deal while the Cubs have to determine how much of the $36 million he’s owed they will pick up.

Analysis: Without a lot of questions at different positions, the focus in camp might be on the highly touted prospects the Cubs have. Javier Baez got a big league invite to spring training and should get into a handful of exhibition games before heading out to minor league camp. Brett Jackson and Josh Vitters will also get long looks, though neither is expected to make the team. How Garza throws coming off an injury and who wins those back-end rotation spots are the most important pitching questions. As always, how the Cubs actually fare in Cactus League play has little consequence on the regular season.