Shortstop Starlin Castro, who injured his right hamstring on a stolen-base attempt in a March 2 spring game, spent the next few days recovering.
The ailment was expected to keep Castro out of the lineup for seven to 10 days, and no one with the Cubs seemed overly concerned.
However, Castro's minor injury put the media and fan attention on shortstop prospect Javier Baez. The focused increased after Baez hit two home runs in three days during Cactus League play.
Baez is arguably the Cubs' No. 1 prospect, and he possesses prodigious power, as evidenced by his 37 home runs last year between Class A Daytona and Double-A Tennessee. However, the Cubs maintain Baez will begin the 2014 season at Triple-A Iowa as the shortstop.
First-year manager Rick Renteria said he didn't mind the focus being on Baez, but he was quick to temper talk of a faster track to the big leagues for the 21-year-old.
"It's great, great for Javy, great for the Cubs," Renteria said. "He's an exciting player, as you guys all have seen. It's not like you can hide it."
However, Renteria said others would get looks at shortstop in Castro's absence, including veteran Emilio Bonifacio, who is trying to make the club as a non-roster man.
Castro, 23, injured his left hamstring last year in spring training.
"It's not too bad, like last year," he said. "We don't want to take a chance. It's early right now. You take a couple days to get better."
If and when Baez is ready, either he or Castro would have to change positions. All parties say there is no negative rivalry between the young players.
"If it helps the team win and you're there, I'm there, whatever," Castro said he told Baez. "I don't care."
Ditto for Baez.
"I'm just trying to play relaxed and not worry about what happens on the field," he said. "I'm just trying to play my game."
--RHP Jeff Samardzija had no decisions and a 5.40 ERA after his first two Cactus League starts. He said he was still working on pitches. "I want to come out and establish my other pitches and work on pounding the zone," he said. The 29-year-old was the Cubs' Opening Day starter last year. Manager Rick Renteria had not announced his starter for the March 31 opener in Pittsburgh, but Samardzija is preparing to be the guy. "I'm going into the season with the mindset of being ready for Opening Day and really working towards that and seeing what I need to do to prepare for that so we can hit the season running," he said.
--LHP James Russell did not appear in a game during the first week of Cactus League action. Russell said he had nothing more than "regular dead arm" and that he was scheduled to throw a bullpen session at the end of the week of March 3-9. Russell, 28, is the workhorse of the Cubs bullpen, appearing in 74 games last year and 77 in 2012. The Cubs backed him down on several occasions during the latter part of 2013.
--2B Darwin Barney started at shortstop for the first time since July 2012 in a March 6 exhibition game against Cleveland. Barney, who won the Gold Glove at second base in 2012, was drafted and came up as a shortstop. Barney got a look-see at short with Starlin Castro nursing a hamstring injury. Top prospect Javier Baez will see plenty of time at short, and manager Rick Renteria also will look at non-roster man Emilio Bonifacio and prospect Arismendy Alcantara.
--RHP Jake Arrieta threw 10 pitches off the mound in early March as he recovers from tightness in his right shoulder. Arrieta came to camp with the discomfort. "It felt awesome," he said of his first mound session of the spring. He is probably a long shot at this point to make the season-opening rotation, as the Cubs will ease him along in spring training.
--3B Mike Olt, who hit his first Cactus League homer March 4, is trying to win a job after a miserable 2012, when vision problems wrecked his season. Olt came to the Cubs last summer in the trade that sent RHP Matt Garza to Texas. The Cubs have a gaping hole at third base, and Olt could fill it. "It's being there and seeing the ball well," he said. "That's my main goal in spring training. Obviously, you want hits and you want to perform. But the main goal of spring training is to get there and get comfortable."
--LHP Travis Wood had his first Cactus League start pushed back five days, until March 6, because of rain. However, he came out sharp, as he worked three scoreless innings against the Indians. Wood gave up one hit while walking none and striking out three. He's a candidate, along with RHP Jeff Samardzija, to start the March 31 regular-season opener at Pittsburgh. "I've got no control over it," Wood said. "(Manager Rick Renteria is) going to pick whoever he wants to pick, so I'm just going out there to get ready for the season."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "When you're younger, you don't realize the pressure or severity of the situation, I guess you could say. You're out there young and dumb and just winging the ball around." -- RHP Jeff Samardzija, on the possibility of starting on Opening Day.
RHP Jeff Samardzija
LHP Travis Wood
RHP Edwin Jackson
RHP Jason Hammel
RHP Carlos Villanueva
The top three remain in place from last season. Hammel is a recent free-agent acquisition, signed to give the Cubs some much-needed depth in the rotation. The No. 5 spot is in flux. The Cubs had hoped RHP Jake Arrieta would be ready to resume starting after he finished last year in the rotation, but he came down with a tight shoulder over the winter and will be brought along slowly in spring training.
Villanueva is a veteran swingman. He prefers to start and opened last year in the Chicago rotation before moving to the pen. RHP Kyle Hendricks could be a candidate later in the year. He was the organization's Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2013, and he'll open this year in the rotation at Triple-A (Des Moines) Iowa.
RHP Jose Veras (closer)
LHP James Russell
LHP Wesley Wright
RHP Pedro Strop
RHP Justin Grimm
RHP James McDonald
The Cubs feel a whole lot better about the depth of their pen than they did at the end of 2013. Veras and Wright were signed in the offseason to provide veteran presence. Wright will help ease the load off Russell, who has had his arm nearly pitched off the past two seasons. They could give the Cubs a potent lefty combo.
Strop could be the heir apparent as closer, but Veras' presence will allow the Cubs to ease him into the role after he got a look-see late last year. Grimm and McDonald (signed at the start of spring training) give the Cubs options at long and middle relief, and both could be used as spot starters. LHP Chris Rusin, who has logged big-league time, could crack the pen or end up in the starting rotation at Triple-A (Des Moines) Iowa.
1. SS Starlin Castro
2. LF Junior Lake
3. 1B Anthony Rizzo
4. RF Nate Schierholtz
5. CF Justin Ruggiano/Ryan Sweeney
6. C Welington Castillo
7. 3B Donnie Murphy/Luis Valbuena
8. 2B Darwin Barney
However the Cubs line it up in the batting order, they must get on base more. Castro's .284 on-base percentage was unacceptable, but the Cubs don't have a true leadoff hitter, and he may be the best option.
Rizzo's 23 homers and 80 RBIs were OK last year, but the Cubs want more, especially with his batting average and OBP. Schierholtz was a pleasant surprise for the first half of the season before tailing off after the All-Star break. Castillo had his 2013 season end with knee surgery, but he should be healthy to start spring training. The Cubs like his bat. Third base will continue to be a problem, perhaps until top prospect Kris Bryant is ready. For now, Murphy and Valbuena will platoon, but Mike Olt could steal the job with a good spring. The Cubs got him last year from Texas in the Matt Garza trade, but vision problems wrecked his 2013 in the minor leagues.
TOP ROOKIES: SS Javier Baez, 21, will start at Triple-A Iowa after being named the organization's player of the year for 2013. He tore it up between Class A Daytona and Double-A Tennessee, combining for 37 homers and 111 RBIs. The Cubs will expose him to several positions in spring training with Starlin Castro the shortstop for the big-league team. Baez could be up sometime this season. 3B Kris Bryant, 22, the team's No. 1 draft choice last year, also could be up in 2014. Among three stops last year, Bryant went .336/.390/.688 with nine homers and 32 RBIs in 36 games. He figures to start this year at Tennessee. RHP Kyle Hendricks, 24, could come up and join the rotation late in the summer, especially if the Cubs trade pitching again at the July 31 deadline. He was the organization's pitcher of the year in the minor leagues. He went 13-4 with a 2.00 ERA and only 34 walks in 166.1 innings last year between Tennessee and Iowa.
--SS Starlin Castro (sore right hamstring) was hurt March 2. He was expected to sit out seven to 10 days, but the injury wasn't considered serious.
--RHP Kyuji Fujikawa (Tommy John surgery in June 2013) began throwing off a mound in late February. There was no timetable on his return to the major leagues, but June does not seem out of the question.
--RHP Jake Arrieta (right shoulder tightness) threw off flat ground Feb. 22, then threw off a mound in early March. He might open the regular season on the disabled list and then go on a rehab stint.
--LHP James Russell (dead arm) did not appear in the first week of Cactus League games. He was expected to throw a bullpen session by March 9.
- Sports & Recreation
- Javier Baez
- Jeff Samardzija
- Cactus League
- Rick Renteria
- James Russell
- Starlin Castro