Jody Davis Has High Expectations

Former Cubs catcher managing Daytona

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – You can count on a few things every year when spring time rolls around in Daytona Beach: Bike Week, spring-breakers, and for the past 15 years, Cubs minor league baseball.

After a 2006 season that saw the Cubs finish just one game short of the playoffs, expectations are high for another strong year.

With a new manager at the helm and a strong new nucleus on the field (as well as perhaps the best starting rotation in the Florida State League), Daytona should compete for a post-season berth yet again.

Leading the Cubs this season will be Jody Davis, a familiar face in a new place within the Cubs organization.

In 2005, Davis guided the Class A Peoria Chiefs to a 75-64 record that earned them a trip to the Midwest League playoffs.

"We should have a great team that's going to be competitive," Davis said of his new squad at the Cubs' annual media luncheon on Tuesday. "We're not a big offensive team, so (our success) will depend a lot on our pitching."

That pitching includes former Davis pupils Mitch Atkins (13-4, 2.41 ERA in 2006), Scott Taylor (3.39 ERA in 140 2/3 IP), Matt Avery (2.15 ERA, 18 SV) and the highly-touted Jeff Samardzija, the former Notre Dame wide receiver.

Samardzija, who likely would have been a first-round selection in this month's NFL draft, chose to focus solely on baseball, much to the delight of the Cubs brass.

Samardzija combined to go 1-2 with a 2.70 ERA in seven starts for Class Low-A Boise and Peoria in 2006. He left the Chiefs after two starts to rejoin the Notre Dame football team, where he was named a first team All-American.

The offense will be led by first baseman Ryan Norwood (.307 AVG., 15 HRs, 69 RBIs) and outfielder Jesus Valdez (.302 AVG., 5 HR, 61 RBIs), who both were with the Chiefs last season.

And of course, Tyler Colvin (.268 AVG., 11 HR, 53 RBIs, 12 SB), the 2006 first-round pick, will be making the jump straight from short-season Boise this season. Colvin earned his spot on the Daytona roster after a solid spring in big league camp, where he batted .318 (7-for-22).

Joining Davis on the coaching staff will be pitching coach Rich Bombard, who served as the pitching coach for the Chiefs in 2006, and hitting coach Richie Zisk. A former two-time American League all-star with Chicago and Texas, Zisk is returning for his second year as Daytona's hitting coach after spending the 2005 season as the team's manager.

Along with expectations, excitement is also high around Jackie Robinson Ballpark this season. The Daytona Cubs franchise was named the Bob Freitas Organization of the Year for Class A teams in 2006 after setting yet another attendance record, and "the Jack" will play host to the Florida State League All-Star game this June for the first time since 1983.

"Things are moving in the right direction," said Daytona General Manager Bill Papierniak. "We're excited."

As for moving in the right direction on the field, the Cubs are doing that, too.

"Hopefully," said Davis, "we can bring home that championship that we're looking for."

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