Chicago baseball report: It’s City Series Southwest today as Cubs face White Sox in Cactus League opener

GLENDALE and MESA, Ariz. — Let the games begin.

Left-hander Jordan Wicks gets the start Friday in the Cactus League opener at Sloan Park, his first chance to build a case for why he should open the season at the Chicago Cubs No. 5 starter. Veteran Jesse Chavez, a nonroster invitee, will be the first of several relievers to get work in for the White Sox in the City Series spring training edition.

After Thursday’s workout, manager Pedro Grifol declared the White Sox “are ready for games.”

“These guys did a really good job these last four days,” Grifol said. “We sped them up right off the bat, they responded. Today their legs were a little heavy. They really grinded through it. I was proud of these guys.

“That was a good four days and now it’s time to play some games.”

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

What’s the next step for Sox first baseman Andrew Vaughn?

Count Grifol among those curious about Vaughn.

“Because he’s a really good major-league hitter and he’s not even close to really being who he’s going to be for a really long time,” Grifol said. “He’s got the characteristics and capabilities of being a middle of the order guy for a long long time and he’s hungry, another guy who had a great offseason.

“He’s in the right frame of mind. He’s in a good place and he knows what he’s got to do.”

After spending two years mostly in the outfield, Vaughn last season moved to his natural position of first base. He set career highs in home runs (21) and RBIs (80) while slashing .258/.314/.429 in 152 games.

“I feel like there’s always room to grow,” Vaughn, the No. 3 pick in the 2019 draft, said. “Nobody in this game is hitting .500. Best of the best hit .300. I want to try to be one of the best of the best hitters, everybody in here I think personally thinks that as a hitter.”

Along with continuing to work on his swing, Vaughn, 25, spent a portion of his offseason focused on his agility.

General manager Chris Getz said recently that Vaughn was one of the players expecting to take a step forward.

“Just hold myself to higher standards,” Vaughn said. “Work my butt off in the offseason to come into this season and play the best baseball I can.”

Mike Tauchman will have to again earn playing time in the Cubs outfield

One of the indelible images from the Cubs’ 2023 season is Tauchman’s walk-off, home-run-robbing catch in St. Louis before the trade deadline.

The Palatine native earned a May call-up and became an important piece in the lineup, posting .252 average, .363 on-base percentage and 100 OPS+ in 108 games. Tauchman, 33, again has an opportunity to seize a role this year. Center field is currently the most obvious path to regular playing time, and the Cubs could use another lefty bat in the lineup.

Manager Craig Counsell has always admired Tauchman and how every year he has had to work for it. His production in 2023 doesn’t change the familiar scenario for the veteran.

“Last year he found himself in a good spot and played really well and earned himself some consistent playing time. But he’s going to have to earn it again,” Counsell said. “For Tauch, that’s always going to kind of be the story with his big-league journey. He’s had success though.”

Counsell believes Tauchman is in a sweet spot right now at which nothing will surprise him.

“He knows what he’s good at, he knows what he brings to the team,” Counsell said. “And I hope to get the same version of him this year and that’s a helpful player and he’s going to help us win games.”

The center-field and backup-outfield mix features Tauchman, Alexander Canario and Pete Crow-Armstrong among the 40-man options. If Canario makes the team, Counsell envisions him as a role player who will face lefties and fill in to give others a day off. David Peralta, 36, is also expected to get a look after the Cubs agreed to a minor-league deal with a camp invite for the left-handed-hitting veteran.

“(Canario’s) in competition for this roster right now,” Counsell said. “It’s a young player, just get better, improve, learn, listen. His first exposure to the big leagues, helpful so that’s not new.”

Number of week

Chavez, 40, has appeared in at least one major-league game for nine teams, including 35 relief appearances with the Cubs in 2018 and 2022.

Weekend ahead: Cubs

  • Friday: White Sox at Cubs, 2:05 p.m.; Marquee

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

  • Sunday: Padres at Cubs, 2:05 p.m., Marquee

The Cubs will keep an eye on Shota Imanaga’s workload as he adjusts to a five-day schedule, one fewer than starters get in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball. But Counsell doesn’t want the focus of finding extra off days to be solely on Imanaga.

Counsell believes every starter can benefit from extra rest over the course of the season. The Cubs can set a rotation schedule to maximize that and they likely will early in the season. Counsell anticipates using six starters at times, particularly with how they can take advantage of some starters having minor-league options, but doesn’t foresee them utilizing a six-man rotation.

Photos: Inside Cubs spring training camp

“An extra day for starters is helpful to not make a bunch of starts in a row on four days (of rest),” Counsell said. “I’ve always found that to be helpful and helps guys recover. That’s when the bad stuff happens is when they get into a cycle and they’re just not recovering quite into their starts.

“We’ll look at that not only for Shota but all the guys who make starts on a regular basis.”

Weekend 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.

Nicholas Padilla is one of the pitchers scheduled for work Friday.

“We train all offseason for this,” Padilla told the Tribune on Thursday. “Now we get to actually showcase our skills and what we’ve improved on and worked on.”

Chavez, Joe Barlow, Fraser Ellard and Alex Speas also are among those slated to pitch.

“It’s a lot of bullpen guys, trying to get them out there and get them going,” Grifol said. “We’ll see these guys before we start throwing our starters out there.”

Photos: Inside White Sox spring training

Padilla, 27, saw time with the Sox in 2023, going 0-1 with a 5.79 ERA, six strikeouts and one walk in three games. He had 5.52 ERA in 44 appearances with Triple-A Charlotte, striking out 54 in 45⅔ innings.

“I was really proud of myself for the 2023 season, being able to go up and down and compete at both levels — just showed a lot of resilience for myself,” Padilla said.

The right-hander is in camp as a nonroster invitee and has felt “really good” through is first sessions in camp.

“I’m from New York City so we throw indoors, so it feels nice to get some cleats on and feel some dirt and warm sun,” he said.

His mindset has been to “take it day by day.”

“Just control what I can control,” he said.


“There’s more time than I expected so I don’t have to rush myself and hopefully I can be able to use that as my strategy instead of being rushed to pitch. I’ll see where that goes next time.” — Imanaga on learning to work with the pitch clock for the first time in his career after throwing live batting practice Thursday