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Chicago baseball report: Garrett Crochet ready for opening day, while David Bote embraces role as mentor with Iowa

The final days of spring training provide opportunities for players to make one more impression as they try to break camp with their teams.

“Every roster spot is critical for us,” Chicago White Sox manager Pedro Grifol said. “From the very last guy in the pen to the very last position players, they’re all critical. They all serve a purpose to what we want to do.”

The Cubs are honing in on their opening-day group. They made five more camp cuts Thursday when right-hander Daniel Palencia was optioned to Triple-A Iowa and four nonroster invitees were assigned to minor-league camp: right-hander Colten Brewer, left-handers Richard Lovelady and Thomas Pannone and infielder David Bote. The Cubs have 37 players still in big-league camp, including seven NRIs, though catchers Jorge Alfaro and Joe Hudson have been told they won’t be on the team.

Every Monday and Friday during spring training, Tribune baseball writers will provide an update on what happened — and what’s ahead for the Cubs and Sox. Want more? Sign up for our new Cubs and White Sox newsletters.

Garrett Crochet finds positives in final outing before opening-day start

Crochet looked beyond the box score while evaluating his final spring outing Thursday against the Kansas City Royals in Surprise, Ariz.

“I feel like there’s a lot of positive stuff to take away,” Crochet said. “Slider shapes were good. Few sliders, in my opinion, that (they) had no business not swinging at. But sometimes guys are going to take good pitches.”

Crochet allowed three runs on five hits with two strikeouts and a walk in 3 2/3 innings. He threw 80 pitches, 49 of which were strikes. Thursday gave Crochet the opportunity to work with catcher Martín Maldonado in a game for the first time.

“He’s a big target,” Crochet said. “Felt like it went well.”

Grifol said that it was important to pair the two before the start of the season.

“That’s basically why Maldonado’s here, his ability to handle a staff, his ability to navigate through (a) lineup, his ability to recall between at-bats,” Grifol said.

Crochet allowed a two-run homer to Nick Pratto in the third inning. He finished the day with a perfect fourth inning.

“I felt I was able to finish strong, just can’t have long innings,” Crochet said.

Crochet wrapped up spring training with a 2.13 ERA and 14 strikeouts in 12⅔ innings. Up next: starting the March 28 season opener against the Detroit Tigers at Guaranteed Rate Field.

“Going to have a lot of family in town,” Crochet said. “Excited to kind of lead the charge for the team.”

David Bote embraces role as mentor at Triple-A Iowa

Some moments live on forever among fans.

Regardless of whether Bote ever plays another game for the organization, he always will be remembered for his pinch-hit “ultimate” grand slam — coming on a two-out, two-strike pitch in the bottom of the ninth inning with the Chicago Cubs trailing the Washington Nationals 3-0 — on Aug. 12, 2018.

“I don’t think it has set in yet still,” Bote told the Tribune last week. “But I think later down the road it could be more fun to look back on that.”

For Bote, his focus since the Cubs drafted him in the 18th round of the 2012 draft has been to be a good teammate and work hard. It’s a mantra Bote kept last season when he spent the whole year at Triple-A Iowa after the Cubs outrighted him off the 40-man roster in November 2022. Bote called it “really hard,” and the reality is a lot of injuries would need to happen for Bote to get another big-league opportunity with the Cubs this season.

“I firmly believe I’m a big-leaguer and continue to show it and just keep continuing to show it and that’s out of my control in a lot of ways,” Bote said. “So the best I can do is just come out and play and continue to play like I did last year and continue to this year and just keep keep pushing that door. And at the end of the day, just keep having fun and being joyful about it.”

Bote, who turns 31 next month, will earn $5.5 million in 2024 during the final guaranteed year of the contract extension he signed in April 2019. The Cubs hold club options for the next two years, each with a $1 million buyout. If the Cubs were to add him back to the 40-man roster and designated him again, Bote could reject the assignment to Iowa and become a free agent, which complicates any path back to the majors with the organization.

Bote leads the Cubs with five home runs and nine RBIs this spring.

“I mean, you still dwell on it, it’s always in the back of your mind, but being able to use it in a productive way — it’s just being able to not lose your confidence,” Bote said. “Continue to press forward, continue to work hard, be your best. Find things to make your game better, be more valuable and just use it in your situation to the best that you can. And that’s all you can do.”

Number of the week: 7

Sox first baseman Andrew Vaughn is finding a rhythm ahead of spring training, collecting a hit in seven consecutive games entering Thursday. He had struck out just once in 18 plate appearances during that span. The streak ended Thursday (0-for-4), but he’s still hitting .308 this spring.

Week ahead: Cubs

  • Friday: vs. Giants (SS), 3:05 p.m., Marquee, at Giants (SS), 3:05 p.m.

  • Saturday: vs. Brewers, 3:05 p.m., Marquee

  • Sunday: at Mariners, 3:10 p.m., Marquee

  • Monday: vs. Cardinals, 3:05 p.m., Marquee

  • Tuesday: vs. Cardinals, 2:05 p.m., Marquee

  • Wednesday: off

  • Thursday: opening day at Rangers, 6:35 p.m., Marquee

Right-hander Yency Almonte was excited when he was included in the Cubs’ offseason trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers that centered on infielder Michael Busch. Almonte’s success comes from attacking hitters with his fastball and using his slider as a put away pitch (31.6% last season) while generating a 47.9% whiff rate with it in 2023.

Almonte is looking for a bounce-back season after posting a 5.06 ERA, 86 ERA+ and 4.59 FIP for the Dodgers. His mechanics have been a focal point this spring. Assistant pitching coach Daniel Moskos noticed after a couple outings that his front side kept opening up early whenever he threw his slider. While his slider is not yet where he wants it to be with its consistency, Almonte has seen improvement. Of the three he threw Thursday against the Rockies, two produced whiffs and one landed for a called strike.

“It was hurting me where I was leaving my arm behind and it was just spinning, not turning,” Almonte said of his slider before the tweak. “It helped me a lot because I think everybody knows across the league that the slider is my best pitch and that’s the first thing I tell everyone. When I first got here I was like, if my slider’s good, it’s going to be a good day.”

Almonte gives the Cubs another reliever with some big-league experience. He has appeared in 196 games between the Rockies and Dodgers since debuting in 2018 with a career 4.51 ERA and 104 ERA+.

“It’s just shows a younger bullpen and what you can really do,” Almonte said of the Cubs’ bullpen last year. “Obviously, you can’t change what happened last year, but you can always get better. … I think it’s going to be a good group.”

Week ahead: White Sox

  • Friday: vs. Athletics, 3:05 p.m.; at Angels, 3:10 p.m.

  • Saturday: vs. Mariners, 3:05 p.m., whitesox.com

  • Sunday: at Rockies, 3:10 p.m.

  • Monday: vs. Charlotte, noon

  • Tuesday: Off

  • Wednesday: Off

  • Thursday: opening day vs. Tigers, 3:10 p.m., NBCSCH

The fourth inning of Sunday’s Cactus League game against the Oakland Athletics provided a test for Nick Nastrini. The right-hander walked the leadoff batter. And with one out, he surrendered a single.

“I had to dial it in a little bit,” Nastrini said afterward. “I had to really focus, make pitches when I had to.”

The next two batters grounded out as Nastrini escaped without allowing a run.

“I felt I did a pretty good job of bearing down and making pitches when I needed to,” Nastrini said. “To be able to do that, the first time I go four innings in spring training, that’s pretty huge.”

Nastrini pitched four scoreless innings Sunday in Mesa, Ariz., continuing his spring as one of the standout pitchers at Sox camp. He has a 0.82 ERA and 11 strikeouts in 11 innings.

Nastrini, the No. 8-ranked prospect in the Sox system according to MLB.com, will start Saturday against the Seattle Mariners at Camelback Ranch.

While it remains to be seen whether Nastrini, 24, breaks camp with the team, he has put himself in a position to help the Sox at some point in 2024.

“If it happens at the end of spring, I break with the team, then that’s going to be awesome,” Nastrini said. “But if I get the chance in the middle of the season or some time during it, then that’s going to be awesome too.”

What we’re reading this morning

Quotable

“Ultimately you’re looking for a way to get people out, and that’s what he’s looking to do. Velocity gives you more room for error. Luke’s going to walk people from time to time, but that’s OK. He’s demonstrated that he’s got stuff that makes hitters uncomfortable.” — Counsell on lefty reliever Luke Little