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Chicago baseball report: Cactus League games open Friday with White Sox at Cubs — and the latest from both camps

Sunny skies, the crack of the bat and mitts popping — all signs baseball is back.

Cactus League games begin at the end of the week, with the White Sox heading to Mesa, Ariz., to face the Cubs on Friday. Before that, players at both camps continue to jell with full squad workouts.

The Cubs are looking to move past a disappointing end to last season and bring back a largely intact roster looking to get the team back into the postseason.

“We do have a really good group here and if anything does happen still, that’s great,” pitcher Jameson Taillon said. “We have a top farm system and baseball. We do have a good core group of players here and stuff like that so yeah, I think everyone’s really excited.”

There are plenty of new faces at White Sox camp from the front office to the coaching staff and on the field.

“These guys are hungry,” manager Pedro Grifol said. “Everybody’s got something to play for as an individual, we’ve got something to play for as an organization.”

Every Monday throughout the season, Tribune baseball writers will provide an update on what happened — and what’s ahead for the Cubs and Sox.

Carl Edwards Jr. is nervous and excited for a chance to make the Cubs bullpen

Perhaps there can be some nostalgia coming back to where a player has experienced his greatest success, now years later looking for another shot to stick in the majors.

For right-hander Carl Edwards Jr., his five seasons with the Cubs featured plenty of team success — winning a World Series title after a June call-up — and the best stretch of his career (3.30 ERA and 130 ERA+ in 192 appearances). But since a trade deadline deal in 2019 sent him to San Diego, Edwards has battled injuries. When healthy, Edwards showed effectiveness. During his last two years with the Washington Nationals, Edwards owned a 3.07 ERA and 133 ERA+ in 89 games.

“I look at it like I would going into any other spring training,” Edwards said. “As long as I take care of my business and do what I’ve got to do and prove my durability, I think I have a good chance to make the team. But at the end of the day, it comes down to me being CJ and me going out there every day competing and just giving it my all.

“My biggest thing is to just go out there, have fun and I won’t put more on there that I can’t handle.”

Photos: Inside Cubs spring training camp

Despite the years away from the organization, Edwards still has one familiar face in the Cubs clubhouse. He isn’t surprised that fellow World Series champ Kyle Hendricks remains, highlighting both sides’ loyalty and his continued fit in the rotation.

“He learned from the guys before him, the ′16 team, he understands what it takes to be a veteran,” Edwards said. “He understands what it takes to really lead a pitching staff. His work says it all.”

‘Be ready to compete’ is the message at White Sox camp

Grifol has never been at a camp with 70 players — until now.

The group will gather for its first full squad workout Monday at Camelback Ranch.

“Seventy just tells the story of this camp,” Grifol said Saturday. “Be ready to compete — that’s what it tells us.”

The players are embracing that challenge.

“It used to be you kind of show up to camp to get going, now it’s changed a little bit, you’ve got to be ready to go,” pitcher Jesse Scholtens told the Tribune on Saturday. “Especially when you’ve got the talent that we’ve got in here, a lot of guys are going to be fighting for jobs.”

Just how the rotation and bullpen spots shake out are among the questions to be answered.

Photos: Inside White Sox spring training

The Sox will also have new starters behind the plate (adding Martín Maldonado and Max Stassi in the offseason) and in the middle infield (Paul DeJong and Nicky Lopez are among the options). And one of the top position battles in camp is in right field — with Dominic Fletcher, Zach DeLoach, Kevin Pillar and returning player Gavin Sheets among those in the mix.

“You can say a higher percentage of the position players are locks to be on the team, more than the pitchers, but there’s still a lot of competition out there,” Grifol said. “And there’s still a lot of adjustments to make on the style of baseball that we want to play and how we want to play it.

“So the evaluation not only goes from talent and competition, but it also goes to be able to buy into the philosophies that we’re incorporating here and the style of baseball that we want to play.”

That style, Grifol said, is “fast.”

“We’re not going to deviate from this,” Grifol said. “This is who we are and this is how we want to play. And that’s part of the competition. You’re either buying in or you’re not. And if you’re not, the train is leaving the station. You might not be on it, you’re probably not going to be on it.”

Number of the week

791

Reliever Bryan Shaw is closing in on 800 career appearances. The right-hander, who agreed to terms on a minor-league deal with the Sox on Saturday, has 791 career outings (two starts) during his 13 big-league seasons. The 36-year-old is one of 30 non-roster invitees at Sox camp.

Week ahead: Cubs

  • Friday: vs. White Sox, 2:05 p.m., Marquee

  • Saturday: at Giants, 2:05 p.m., Marquee

  • Sunday: vs. Padres, 2:05 p.m., Marquee

Christopher Morel isn’t wasting any time.

After reporting to camp Saturday, Morel was already getting reps at third base during his first workout day Sunday. Morel headed to the half field at the team’s complex after taking live batting practice off left-hander Jordan Wicks and right-hander Caleb Kilian. Bench coach Ryan Flaherty hit grounders to Morel, tossing his throws to minor-league infield coordinator Dai Dai Otaka, who was positioned at first base. Major-league coach Jonathan Mota, who works with the Cubs’ infielders, looked on during the workout. All four gathered for a brief chat on the infield grass afterward.

Morel, 24, knows he has an opportunity to seize playing time at third base rather than move around the field or be slotted into the designated hitter role, which he called a challenge last year.

Morel said Sunday he likes the idea of playing one position, an opportunity he now gets at third. The biggest challenge there has been more consistent control with his throws, something he’s working on.

“I’ll give my best and try to show the Cubs I can play third base,” Morel said.

Week ahead: White Sox

  • Friday: at Cubs, 2:05 p.m., NBCSCH, Marquee

  • Saturday: vs. Mariners, 2:05 p.m., NBCSCH

  • Sunday: at Diamondbacks, 2:10 p.m.

Jared Shuster is among the pitchers continuing to ramp up for 2024.

The left-hander was acquired as part of the six-player trade in November that sent reliever Aaron Bummer to the Atlanta Braves.

Shuster was watching “Thursday Night Football” when he was informed of the deal.

“I was pretty shocked when I got the call,” Shuster told the Tribune on Friday. “I was excited when I heard.”

Shuster called the opportunity “huge.”

“I enjoyed watching that ′05 team when I was growing up, so it means a lot,” he said. “A great franchise and I’m happy to be here.”

Shuster went 4-3 with a 5.81 ERA and 30 strikeouts in 11 starts during his rookie season with the Braves in 2023. He was 5-6 with a 5.58 ERA and 45 strikeouts in 16 starts with Triple-A Gwinnett that season.

“I know he’s always working every day to get to where he wants to be,” said pitcher Michael Soroka, who was also part of the trade. “It’s nice to have a familiar face over here, too. Jared’s going to do his best to get what he needs to on the table. I know he’s been working on a few things this offseason, so I’m excited to see what he’s got.”

Grifol has been impressed with Shuster’s bullpens.

“He’s a finesse guy that knows what to do with the baseball,” Grifol said Sunday. “Those guys throw quiet bullpens. You’ve really got to focus on what they get accomplished because he’s going from corner to corner and he’s doing what he needs to do to get himself ready.”

What we’re reading this morning

This week in Chicago baseball history

Feb. 19, 2008: Then-Cubs Chairman Crane Kenney addresses the team before the first full squad workout and updates the media on a plan to sell Wrigley Field to the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority.

Kenney said they hoped to get a deal done by opening day on March 31.

“It’s a challenge in this budget environment to talk about any municipal or state support for a stadium deal,” Kenney said. “We have to convince them that it’s good for just about everyone — the city, the state, our local community, and the team, obviously.”

The deal never came to fruition. The Cubs also considered selling name rights to Wrigley, and joked that the players were asked if they wanted to buy it. “Nobody raised their hand,” Kenney cracked.

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Feb. 19, 1995: For the second straight day during the spring when major leaguers were on strike, White Sox prospect and former Chicago Bulls star Michael Jordan hit a batting practice home run at the Sox complex in Sarasota, Fla.

Jordan said he spent the previous night watching the Bulls-Milwaukee Bucks game on cable TV, and was interested in the speculation over the “the next Michael Jordan.”

“The next me?” Jordan said. “Who’s that?” It was Detroit Pistons rookie Grant Hill. “He’s closer to Scottie Pippen than to me in terms of his style,” Jordan said. “But I like his game.”

The next Jordan would be Jordan, who left the Sox in spring training and returned to the Bulls, winning three more NBA titles.

Quotable

“I’m so focused on 2024, I’m not thinking about 2023. We all know what happened. It wasn’t the year we wanted. It didn’t look like the year we wanted it to look like. But I’ve turned the page on that. I’m focused on 2024 with this roster.” — White Sox manager Pedro Grifol

— Reported from Glendale, Ariz., and Mesa, Ariz.