The Cubs are cautioning people not to take anything for granted as far as the second-base battle…
Hands-on Quade ready to grasp busy camp
Former manager Lou Piniella was basically a hands-off, laid-back manager in his four springs with the Cubs. Like Piniella, Quade will delegate to his coaches. But Quade is a high-energy guy, and it will be hard to imagine him not being involved in some hands-on way throughout the length of the spring. When he was the third-base coach, he also worked with the outfielders and spent countless hours hitting flyballs in the high sky of Arizona.
As far as position players go, this team is pretty well set. The Cubs likely will platoon at second base with Jeff Baker and Blake DeWitt. In right field, Tyler Colvin and Kosuke Fukudome (both left-handed hitters) figure to share time, with Colvin providing power and Fukudome bringing good defense and a high on-base percentage.
The Cubs have plenty of power, but they don't have a true leadoff hitter or any team speed to speak of. Quade probably will go with a committee of his two second basemen and Fukudome, depending on matchups.
The bullpen also is set, with Carlos Marmol closing, Sean Marshall setting up from the left side and Kerry Wood from the right.
Where the real intrigue will come from is in the rotation. The Cubs believe they have a solid 1-2-3 with Ryan Dempster, Carlos Zambrano and Matt Garza (although their order to start the regular season isn't set yet).
Right-hander Randy Wells is under the gun to prove his rookie season of 2009 was more the norm than a down sophomore season in 2010. Veteran right-hander Carlos Silva battled a heart ailment and arm issues late last year, but he says not to count him out. The Cubs also have youngsters in the mix to start, most notably right-hander Casey Coleman, who finished strong last year.
Right-hander Jeff Samardzija is out of minor league options and has a no-trade clause, so if he doesn't make the rotation, the Cubs might have to stick him in the bullpen.
--Marmol avoided an arbitration hearing by agreeing to a three-year, $20 million contract. The salary split are $3.2 million this year ($1 million of it up front), $7 million in 2012 and $9.8 million in 2013. Marmol was asking for $5.65 million in arbitration, and the Cubs offered $4.1 million. He made $2.25 million last year.
--RHP Robert Coello was acquired from Boston for 2B Anthony Thomas in a trade of minor-leaguers. Coello, who had been designated for assignment last week, reached the majors last season and had a 4.76 ERA in six outings. Thomas, a third-round draft pick in 2007, hit .276 with 11 homers and 73 RBI last year at Class AA Tennessee.
--3B Aramis Ramirez will be a man on the spot this spring as he enters his contract year. Ramirez got off to a horrible start last year and then battled nagging injuries. As he goes, so have gone the Cubs in recent years.
"We need Aramis to be the guy he has been most of his career here," said GM Jim Hendry. "He's a high-end RBI guy, a clutch hitter."
--C Geovany Soto is expected to report for camp 100 percent healthy after undergoing a surgical cleanup of his right shoulder last fall. Soto looked to be in good shape from a conditioning standpoint at the team's winter fan convention. Soto won Rookie of the Year honors in 2008 before falling out of shape in 2009 and batting .218. He hit .280 last season.
--Coleman is a longshot to win a job in the rotation, what with Wells and Carlos Silva following a top three of Ryan Dempster, Carlos Zambrano and Matt Garza. But don't count Coleman out. He went 3-1 over the final month, and his confidence seemed to grow. A protege of former Cubs pitcher Greg Maddux (now an assistant in the front office), Coleman fields his position well, economizes on his pitches and can handle the bat. He could force some tough decisions.
--RHP Justin Berg is a young reliever to watch after he appeared in parts of the last two seasons for the Cubs, pitching in a total of 52 games. Berg's sinker is his best pitch. He'll face competition from RHP Esmailin Caridad, who is on the comeback from elbow problems last year.
RHP Marcos Mateo also showed flashes late last year, and RHP Thomas Diamond worked as both a starter and a reliever. He could claim a long-relief spot or head to Class AAA (Des Moines) Iowa to start.
--Rookie C Welington Castillo faces an uphill battle to make the team, with Soto locked into the top spot and veteran Koyie Hill the backup. The Cubs like Hill's defensive skills and his handling of pitchers. Castillo turns 24 in April, and the Cubs liked the progress he made, especially with the bat, at Iowa, where he hit .255 with 13 homers last year. He spent seven games with the Cubs, and if either Soto or Hill gets injured, the Cubs will turn to Castillo first. He figures to catch plenty of the Cubs' veteran pitchers in early spring drills.
BY THE NUMBERS: 5 -- Former No. 1 draft picks of Cubs who will be in camp: OF Brett Jackson (2009), RHP Andrew Cashner (2008), 3B Josh Vitters (2007), RF Tyler Colvin (2006) and OF Lou Montanez (2000). The Cubs signed Montanez as a minor league free agent this winter after he spent time with the Baltimore Orioles.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "You better out-talent the living daylights out of people, and I think it's just a very rare situation where you've got so much talent that you can relax in all these other areas and still win." -- Quade on the need for strong fundamentals
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