Tuesday, March 11, 2014
Five things we've learned in camp
By Jesse Rogers
MESA, Ariz. -- The Chicago Cubs have 20 Cactus League games remaining on their schedule, including Tuesday afternoon against the Colorado Rockies. Much will be determined between now and then from their final roster to naming an Opening Day starter.
Here are five things we've learned so far in camp:
1. Baez, Bryant have power: OK, so this isn't something we learned so much as it was confirmed. In a small sample size the Cubs' top picks of 2011 and 2013, respectively, lead the team with two home runs apiece. In fact, Kris Bryant has hit two in just nine at-bats. His bomb to dead center field at Diablo Stadium in Tempe -- in his very first time at the plate this spring -- might be the best at-bat by a Cub so far. Meanwhile, Javier Baez went opposite field for his first home run giving them both hope that their power will play to all parts of Wrigley Field -- someday -- in all conditions.
Kris Bryant didn't waste any time flashing his power at the plate this spring.
2. Olt still a question:Mike Olt struck out for a team-leading seventh time on Monday and is just 4 for 17 this spring. Again, it's a small sample size but Olt needs to impress the Cubs to win a job after coming off a down year due to vision problems. He hasn't quite done that yet. Considering the strikeout total it would be easy to jump the conclusion he's still not seeing the ball well. But he claims that's not the case, and he has had a couple of hard-hit balls that have made it to the outfield grass and one that went over the fence. Only he knows if he's seeing it the way he wants to, but either way production will tell his story. And he hasn't played any third base yet due to shoulder soreness.
3. Power arms in 'pen: Led by Arodys Vizcaino's fastball, which has hit 98 mph, the Cubs have more power arms in camp than in previous years. Justin Grimm throws hard as does Hector Rondon, Blake Parker and Pedro Strop to name a few more. The competition from the right side should be fierce in the final weeks of spring training with no sure things besides the back-end of the bullpen in Strop and Jose Veras. Pitching coach Chris Bosio has made Rondon one of his projects, trying to get him to the next level on the mound. Vizcaino remains the X-factor whether he starts the season at Triple-A or the majors. He may finally start to live up to his potential.
4. Renteria's style: New manager Rick Renteria is definitely more hands-on than his predecessor, according to players. During drills he can be seen and heard which isn't always the case for a skipper. He's living up to his reputation as a communicator, talking Spanish to players and even some Japanese when necessary. On paper it's the right need for a young club in transition. Renteria might not always have to be so hands on, but he knows right now when he talks to his team he's talking to a slew of prospects who will be playing for him soon enough. He's setting the tone for them while also stressing winning. That might seem hollow to an outsider, but for players such as Jeff Samardzija, they want to hear the words.
5. Cubs fans are loyal: So maybe that's not a revelation. Granted, Cubs Park is brand new but a team that lost 197 games over the last two seasons leads all clubs -- in Arizona and Florida -- in spring attendance. In fact, they've set Cactus League records on several occasions already. That may not carry over to the regular season but hope springs eternal for Cubs fans more than any other fan base. A walk down the street in Mesa, Tempe or Scottsdale reveals people wearing Cubs shirts and hats like they just won the World Series -- instead of the one 105 years ago. All this knowing that almost assuredly by the end of the season, if not this spring, fans will hear the usual Cubs mantra: Wait 'til next year.