This week, the Cubs announced the hiring of a new front office employee. Former Cub pitcher Ted Lilly returns to the organization as a Special Assistant to the General Manager. Lilly’s job duties will include working with young players in spring training as well as scouting for the draft.
While the Cubs added a former player to the organization, they also lost one this week. Former Cub first baseman and 1980 batting champion Bill Buckner retired as the organization’s short-season Class A Boise Hawks hitting coach. Buckner held that position for two years during which time he worked with a number of young Cub prospects who appear destined to make their way to Wrigley Field within the next few years. Kris Bryant and Albert Almora are among the Cub prospects who speak highly of Buckner.
Spring training attendance at the new Cubs Park in Mesa, Arizona, remains high. After setting a Cactus League single-game attendance record in its inaugural game, the new ballpark continues to draw fans at a record-setting pace. Several remaining games are already sold out – almost unheard of in spring training. Wrigleyville Nation will travel to Mesa in two weeks to provide a comprehensive analysis of Cubs Park along with a live remote.
This week in Cubs’ spring training provided a glimpse of the future. Cub prospects Javier Baez and Kris Bryant launched impressive home runs, while Albert Almora, Mike Olt, and Jorge Soler showed good approaches at the plate with several successful at bats. Olt’s progress is of particular interest, because he is the only one of the aforementioned prospects in a position to make the opening day roster.
Anthony Rizzo is off to a hot start in spring training. Meanwhile, Starlin Castro began hot, but suffered a hamstring injury that will cost him seven to ten games. Some view Castro’s injury with indifference because it affords Baez an opportunity to gain more playing time. Based on Castro’s performance last year and his efforts to improve his strength and conditioning in the off-season, we believe that it’s Castro who needs as much playing time as possible in spring training to ready himself for the regular season.
Hopefully not a cause for concern, but Cubs’ relief pitcher James Russell has yet to appear in a spring training game due to discomfort in his throwing arm. Given that Russell has pitched in 151 games over the past two seasons, news of an arm injury is unwelcome, albeit not completely unexpected. Russell becomes eligible for free agency at the end of the 2015 season, so a strong start this year makes him an attractive target for contending teams at the trading deadline. In order to have trade value, however, Russell needs to establish his health and effectiveness.
Cubs regular season single-game tickets went on sale Friday. Get them while they’re hot.
Finally, Fangraphs has a few interesting articles this week. According to Fangraphs, the Cubs play the third toughest schedule in the National League this season. Interestingly, twelve American League teams play tougher schedules. Fangraphs also projects that the Cubs will play in the fifth toughest division in baseball (out of six).