The full squad reported to Spring Training last week and the Cubs opened Cactus League play on Thursday to a league record crowd of 14,486. By all accounts, the new park is beautiful. The Cubs lost their 2014 spring debut 5-2 to the Diamondbacks. The highlights included Starlin Castro’s two hits, including a run-scoring double, in two plate appearances. According to Carrie Muskat, Castro is responding positively to new skipper Rick Renteria’s approach:
“I hope to see basically a young man who is trying to put himself back on the level of playing that he did a few years ago,” Renteria said of Castro, a two-time All-Star who scuffled last season, batting .245. “That kid is still there.
“The reality is he’s been working really hard,” Renteria said. “He’s been working with [coach Gary Jones] very hard, and obviously, he’s worked with everybody. I just hope he comes out and starts to enjoy himself a little more again, play the game the way he’s capable of playing by maybe releasing some anxieties he may or may not have had, I don’t know.
“The reality is, he knows all our eyes are on him, and they’re on him not because we’re looking to hammer him, but they’re on him because we want him to do well.
Top prospect Dan Vogelbach reported to the Cubs’ Minor League mini-camp this week weighing 30 pounds lighter than he did in Spring Training one year ago. One of the concerns about the 6’ 0” Vogelbach has been his weight – which has hovered in the neighborhood of 250 pounds for the past few years. Already one of the Cubs’ top 10 prospects according to most rankings, Vogelbach wants to demonstrate that he can be more than a DH at the big league level. There is no question Vogs can hit. Now, says Vogelbach, “I feel much better, I feel looser, a lot more athletic. I feel I can do a lot more things I wouldn’t be able to do the last couple of seasons.” After hitting .284 and a combined 19 homers at Kane County and Daytona in 2013, the 2011 second-round pick from Bishop Verot HS in Fort Myers, FL, expects bigger things in 2014, according to Gordon Wittenmyer: “Last year I had a good year; I didn’t have a great year. I want to have great years. So this is a big year for me to come out and have a better year than last year.”
Eric Chavez hit the first home run in the new ballpark’s history on Thursday. The home run reminds us of what a brilliant start Chavez had to his career with Oakland in the early ‘00s, when he was a perennial 30 HR, 100 RBI, 4.5 WAR player, and won 6 consecutive Gold Glove awards at 3B, before his career was derailed by injuries. The wheels fell off after his age-28 season in 2006, and he has only twice since had more than 300 plate appearances in a season. Since July 2007, Chavez has had three back surgeries and three shoulder surgeries; he also sustained a broken foot in 2011. His Baseball Prospectus comps are Bobby Bonilla, Craig Nettles, and Johnny Bench. That tells you he was a pretty good baseball player before the injuries. He is hanging on with the Diamondbacks at age 36 and looks to continue his resurgence as a productive part-time player in 2014.
In breaking news, the Kids can play. The Cubs lost 15-3 to the Angels in their second Spring Training game today. Several top prospects saw action: Javier Baez got the start and the other kids (Alcantara, Almora, Bryant, Soler) entered the game in the middle innings. In the 7th inning, Albert Almora lined a double into the left-field corner. A few batters later, in his first AB of the spring, Kris Bryant hit a mammoth home run to center field, picking up right where he left off in the Arizona Fall League. (Thanks to Jesse Rogers @ESPNChiCubs for the live updates on Twitter!) The future continues to beckon!