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Spring Training is Here! Now When Does Regular Season Start?

There are 38 days and six hours from the time of writing this article until Opening Day for the Cubs against the Houston Astros, and even longer before the Cubs play at Wrigley Field, as their first two series are on the road against the Astros and Milwaukee Brewers.

But for now, we have only the first two Spring Training games to talk about, so lets take a look at what we have.

The Cubs were able to take the first Spring Training game against the Dodgers (wonder how that got scheduled) by the final of 5-3, however, pitcher Jeff Samardzija gave up two runs, both in his second and final inning of work.

“Actually, I felt a little better in the second inning,” Samardzija said. “It’s funny how that works. You make some decent pitches and get out of an inning one, two, three, and then you make some good pitches and give up a couple runs.”

Also in the game, Micah Hoffpauir hit a grand slam and Cubbie hopeful Mitch Atkins gave up one run and three hits over two innings.

In the Cubs second Spring Training game, they took down the Brew Crew 7-3 in Sean Marshall’s first shot to prove that he can handle the fifth starting spot this season.

Marshall gave up one run on four hits in two innings, nothing stellar but not horrible either.

We also had our first Carlos Mamol showing, he pitched one inning, allowing one run and one hit.

Jake Fox, another Cubbie hopeful, started at first base and hit a three-run home run.

Ted Lilly makes his lone Spring Training today against the Rangers, as the Cubs look to continue their perfect Spring Training (maybe not a good thing after the Detroit Lions).

Although Spring Training is a nice warm-up for the regular season, I look forward to, in 38-days, watching the Cubs take on the Astros as the regular season starts.

-Joe Willett

Come to Think of It: Cubs Light on List of 100 Best Prospects

Baseball America’s Top 100 Prospects list, the respected organization’s 20th annual ranking, is out, and only two Chicago Cubs players are on the list. Neither is in the top 50.

In fairness to Jim Hendry and his management team, however, part of the reason is that, under Lou Piniella, the team has been more willing to call up young players and have them help at the major league level.

In fact, they had the 2008 NL Rookie of the Year in Geovany Soto, as we know.

And, they have traded away prospects in order to bring in other players that can help the team. Though none of them made this list, in the past, Marlins pitchers Renyel Pinto and Ricky Nolasco have made this list, as well as Felix Pie and Corey Patterson. Additionally, Lou Montanez is a fringe player on the Orioles roster, who did well in a brief late season stint as an outfielder (he was drafted as a shortstop).

Oft-injured fan favorite Kerry Wood left to join the Indians, and Jon Garland has had a nice career.

There have been many draft failures, however, too. Mark Pawelek, Ryan Harvey, Bobby Brownlie, and Ben Christiansen were all first-round picks by the Cubs in the last decade. And 2006 first-rounder Tyler Colvin is being projected as no more than a fourth outfielder.

And we all know what happened to Mark Prior, who is throwing towels with the Padres now.

But let’s get back to the list. To qualify, BA follows standard prospect guidelines, which means any player who has not exceeded the rookie limits of 130 at-bats or 50 innings in the major leagues (without regard to service time) is eligible for the list.

For the Cubs, 19 year-old third base prospect Josh Vitters comes in at No. 51, while Jeff Samardzija is at No. 79.

BA mentions that Vitters had the third highest hit total in the Midwest League last season.

As for “The Shark,” BA focuses on the dichotomy between his minor league ERA (4.26) versus his major league ERA with the Cubs (2.28). They don’t elaborate, but the implication is clear. They are questioning if his brief showing in 2008 with the Cubs is truly indicative of his future projections.

I like Jeff; he has a plus fastball, an improving splitter, and he continues to work on adding other pitches to his arsenal. And I really like the former Notre Dame football player’s makeup.

The question with him is whether he will be a starter this year or in the bullpen.

In my opinion, he will continue to be groomed as a starter. If he doesn’t make the team as the fifth starter, I believe he will go down to Iowa to continue being stretched out. He likely would be called up whenever Rich Harden can’t go, or if another injury befalls a starting pitcher.

Hopefully, it won’t be about Carlos Zambrano’s shoulder.

BA estimates Vitters’ ETA as 2010, though I personally think that’s a bit optimistic. Maybe a cup of coffee in September, but at his age, and with Aramis Ramirez firmly established at third base, there is no sense in rushing the young man.

Of course, there is always the possibility that the Cubs could move Vitters to another position. At third, his footwork is improving, and his arm is plenty strong, but he isn’t projected to ever be a plus defender.

His value clearly is his bat. He has a sweet swing, makes hard contact, and he will generate more power once he fills out.

One question I have is, where is Mitch Atkins on this list? Isn’t he a young pitcher who is being projected as a dark horse candidate for the fifth starter role?

In any event, while it has always been true, in this economy, it is especially important to develop your own players. You don’t necessarily have to keep them—they can be used as trading chips—but you need a strong farm system so you can avoid always having to rely on overpriced free agents.

There are other good prospect lists to review, including Keith Law of’s Top 100 prospects.

Law has Vitters ranked much higher, at No. 14. Law also has another Cub on his list, with righty pitcher Jay Jackson coming in at No. 98.

Come to think of it, it’s fun to come to think of Cubs prospects.

-Bob Warja

How Close is the Competition for Closer?

Lou Piniella has stated already that there will be an open competition between former set-up man Carlos Marmol, who has been looked at as the likely successor for closer for the past few years, or newcomer Kevin Gregg.

Both are capable and both seem like they want to take the challenge on full force.

“Everybody wants to be the closer,” Marmol said. “That’s what I want to be.”

Marmol has already shown his skills to the coaching staff when he was the fill-in closer last year while Kerry Wood was out last season.

Gregg, however, has a lot more experience as a closer, saving 61 games over the past two season, but his career ERA of 4.0 is a red flag for a reliever. But he has said that he is ready for the season and can’t wait to get going.

“I know Carlos Marmol is a great pitcher himself, and I just look for Lou to pick who he’s comfortable with and go from there,” Gregg said of the competition. “I’m more looking forward to winning and getting back in the playoffs and going deep in the playoffs, that’s the most important thing. As far as what my expectations are, it’s to come in, show what I’m capable of and see what Lou wants to do.”

Gregg also showed love to the fans when talking about why he thinks that he will be better with the Cubs than he was in Florida with the Marlins.

“Going to Florida was kind of a culture shock for me,” Gregg said. “It’ll be nice to go back to 40,000 fans and fans who are intense about the game and expect to win.”

Although Piniella has said that the closer position is going to be openly competed for, he has also shown a preference to go with Marmol as the closer.

“Let them compete,” Piniella said. “I feel comfortable with Marmol, there’s no question. But we traded for this other young man [Gregg] and he was a closer over there with success. Give him a chance, too.”

As for pitching coach Larry Rothschild, he has stayed completely neutral about who he thinks will be the closer this season, and says that he has seen both of them enough for Marmol’s time with the team to not be a factor.

“You know what they both can do,” Rothschild said. “You look at their track records. Kevin has pitched against us enough that we’ve seen him.”

Whoever wins the closer competition can expect a lot of work, but as of now, I have to give the upper hand to Marmol, who has a lot more youth, already knows the staff, and seems primed for a chance at stardom.

-Joe Willett

Corked Bats and Steroids? Yes, That’s What This World has Come to

Katelyn Grabarek is back as a writer for The Daily Cub. Expect more strong work from her.

He is part of the reason I so loved baseball.

My heart broke when the corked bat incident happened. His career should not have ended this way, however, with his retirement pending after the World Baseball Classic in March, Sammy Sosa’s name will only continue to remain known as another one of the steroid guys.

As Mark McGwire continues to be denied entrance into the Hall of Fame, Sosa’s chances of making it are slim to none.

There is no doubt in my mind that Sammy Sosa’s name is part of those that have yet to be completely released from the Mitchell Report.

While I never put Sosa in the same category as Alex Rodriguez, the man who saved baseball by not using steroids, every kid has their idols and does not want to believe that he would do such a thing.

However, as many of the young adults of our generation have come to realize, our sports superstars were just average guys hyped up on steroids.

My dad used to tell me that Sosa was another one of those guys, but even coming from your dad, who wants to believe it right?

It seems like we can hardly go two months without another name being leaked or hearing more about Barry Bonds’ case.

What kind of images are now being sent to the younger generations. They are going to grow up wondering how many of their favorite athletes have used steroids.

It is sad, that my idol most likely used them, I can’t imagine the damage it would do to someone much younger than I am.

-Katelyn Grabarek

Pitchers and Catchers Report: This Calls for a Breakdown of Sorts

I apologize for being MIA over the past few days, I’ve been having internet troubles which could hinder the posting to this site over the next few days, but once I get everything straitened out, we should be ready for regular posting.

Now, on to what this article is truly about, baseball and the Chicago Cubs.

Pitchers and catchers reported on Friday to start getting ready for the season. I figured that this would be the perfect time to break down how our pitching staff is going to play this year.

Last season, the Cubs had one of the best pitching staffs in the majors, and late in the season the the trio of Jeff Samardzija, Carlos Marmol and Kerry Wood shut down opposing offenses after the seventh, and Carlos Zambrano, Ryan Dempster and Rich Harden rarely let teams get the lead before that.

But that was a year ago, how are the Cubs going to fare this season? Lets start with those that will pitch the most innings.

Starting Pitching

The Cubs are one of the best pitching teams in the majors from their first through fourth pitchers.

Carlos Zambrano is a fiery player who has a ton of passion, which leads to some games where he lets his stuff get away from him, but when he is on, he is one of the best in the Majors and deserves to be the ace of this staff.

Ryan Dempster came on last season and was a real surprise last season, and re-signing him was major for the Cubs this offseason because it allowed them to stay away from Jake Peavy and save the farm system. He was strong all year and if he keeps it up, he could help the Cubs go deep this year.

Rich Harden was the big acquisition during last season. When he came to the Cubs, he was lights out posting an ERA of just over two and going 10-2, an outstanding second half.

Ted Lilly is a great fourth starter, his ERA was about four last season and he got a lot of strikeouts. The best part about him, his 17-9 record is fantastic for a fourth pitcher in the rotation.

The fifth spot in the rotation this year is going to be decided in spring training, but the spot is likely to either go to Sean Marshall or Aaron Heilman.

Marshall has shown signs of brilliance and he has also faltered at times. However, he kept his ERA under four last year in about 65 innings.

Heilman is a new addition to the Cubs and would bring more experience and reliability to the Cubs if he were to start, but his above five ERA scares me a little bit.

Relief Pitching

The Cubs also had a lockdown bullpen last season, but they lost Wood and it has been said that Samardzija would start the season with the Triple-A Iowa Cubs.

However, it looks like the Cubs have two viable options for the closer this year. Although it Marmol will likely take the job, Lou Piniella has publicly stated that newcomer Kevin Gregg will have an opportunity to be the closer as well, and it will be an open competition.

If Marmol does become the close and Samardzija stays on (he should after the way he played last year) the Cubs could still have a strong bullpen with Gregg, Samardzija and Marmol as the most used pitchers.

Either way, the Cubs should still have a solid bullpen this season.

Expect the pitching staff this season to be just as strong if not stronger than last year, I like Marmol as a closer and I think that he could be one of the best in the majors within the next few years.

Our starters are also among the best in the league, and I love the way our pitchers are set up.

Look for an outstanding pitching year from the Cubs.

Evaluating the Offseason: Breaking Down the Cubs Biggest Offseason Moves

Just about a day away from pitchers and catchers reporting, it’s time to start looking at the Chicago Cubs and what they are going to be doing next season.

However, to move forward, you have to look backwards as well. The Cubs have had yet another busy offseason as they try to finally avoid a first round sweep (last year by the hand of the Dodgers, you gotta hate Manny being Manny).

First lets start with some of the moves that I disagree with. Just to get this out in the open and out of the way, I have to disagree with Jim Hendry on these few moves.

Letting Kerry Wood go was a big mistake in my opinion. The move hurts the Cubs bullpen which was finally getting strong. They could have kept the shutdown rotation of Jeff Samardzija, Carlos Marmol and Kerry Wood, along with another reliever who will be talked about in a better section.

I just hate losing Mark DeRosa this offseason. He was a great player who everybody loved. The middle of DeRosa and Ryan Theriot just made every Cubs fan warm and fuzzy inside, although I don’t hate his replacement, I still love the player.

Now that we got that out of the way, time to look at some of the better moves to help pump up the 2009 Chicago Cubs.

Re-signing Ryan Dempster was ginormous (the only word I can use to describe his impact) in keeping the Cubs a World Series-caliber team. He creates a triple threat almost unrivaled, and he gave them a great third starter without having to give up everything but the kitchen sink (sorry Jake Peavy…I know you’re reading this).

Another pitching move to help the team is the addition of Kevin Gregg. He is going to allow the Cubs to move Carlos Marmol into the closer spot while keeping a good reliever to help as a set-up man. This still allows the Cubs to be set by the seventh inning.

Making up for the loss of Mark DeRosa, Aaron Miles will be a pivotal part in helping the Cubs offensively this season. He is a guy that can get on base consistently, as shown by his .317 batting average last season, higher than any player last season for the Cubs.

Now it’s time to get to the big signing of the offseason. Two years ago it was Alfonso Soriano. Last year it was Kosuke Fukudome. This year it’s Milton Bradley.

Bradley is going to have to keep his temper in check, which is the same for a lot of major parts of the Cubs team this season (I’m looking at you Carlos Zambrano and Lou Piniella). With all of these moving parts, the Cubs could implode at any point in time this season.

However, we could just as easily make it all work and have a dream season. Who knows, if the Red Sox can do it, so can the Cubs…right?

But anyway, the 2009 Chicago Cubs are looking to become the first team to pull it all together. Nobody likes waiting 101 years for a championship, but these new parts could be ready to pull it all together.

At least, lets hope so, I don’t want to jinx anything this early.

Be ready for the new Daily Cub, and hopefully, be ready for the new Chicago Cubs.

Pitchers and catchers report Friday, and I know that we are all excited, are you ready for some baseball?

-Joe Willett

Come to Think of it…Could This be Sweet Lou’s Swan Song?

According to a report in, “An MLB source says this will definitely be Lou Piniella’s last year managing.”

The source claims that Sweet Lou “does not still enjoy dealing with running a clubhouse and all that comes with the job…(and) didn’t do that great of a job with some of the players last year.”

While the site isn’t “totally convinced,” this should not come as a complete surprise to Cubs fans who have followed the Cubs skipper since being hired in 2006.

He wasn’t three months into the job before he started complaining about the local media. Hey, if he thinks they’re tough here, he ought to try managing in New York or Philadelphia. But I digress.

There have been other reports which have seemed to indicate that Lou hasn’t been having fun managing anymore. He has expressed frustration about how the fans and media treat each game as do or die in this town.

When we win, we’re going to the World Series. When we lose, we’re cursed again.

And he couldn’t have been very happy about Ryan Dempster’s comments that the team wasn’t prepared for the playoffs last year. Though Demp quickly backed off the comments, the point was taken.

Another thing to consider is that Lou isn’t getting any younger. At 65, he truly doesn’t need this any longer.

He has already won a title as manager of the Reds. Overall, he has won 1,701 regular season games as a big league skipper.

And, he had a pretty nice career as a player too. He hit .291 during the regular season and .305 in 44 postseason games.

Additionally, he is said to have a cushy consulting job with the New York Yankees in his hometown of Tampa, Florida waiting for him when he decides to hang up the managerial reigns. That has to be appealing to him.

And the team has seriously under-performed during the playoffs, winning a total of zero games with Lou as manager. Even the hated Dusty Baker not only won some games during the playoffs, he took them to within nine outs of a World Series appearance.

I really believe that Lou saw the Cubs as a chance to cement a Hall of Fame berth if he could be the savior that finally led us to the promised land.

Perhaps he realizes now that this isn’t likely to happen.

Anyway, there are no guarantees that the new owner will want to bring Lou back.

Well, if this truly is his last hurrah, perhaps former Cubs great and current minor league manager Ryne Sandberg will take over as the next Cubs manager.

Come to think of it, we’ve tried everything else, maybe having a former Cubs Hall of Famer as manager is a good idea.

It has to be better than the “college of coaches,” right?

-Bob Warja