Cubs Spring Training quick hits

Cubs Spring Training quick hits

2005 record
79-83, fourth place NL Central

Projected batting order
1. CF Juan Pierre:
  .276 BA, 2 HR, 47 RBI in 2005
2. 2B Todd Walker:
  .305 BA, 12 HR, 40 RBI in 2005
3. 1B Derrek Lee:
  .335 BA, 46 HR, 107 RBI in 2005
4. 3B Aramis Ramirez:
  .302 BA, 31 HR, 92 RBI in 2005
5. RF Jacque Jones:
  .249 BA, 23 HR, 73 RBI in 2005
6. LF Matt Murton:
  .321 BA, 7 HR, 14 RBI in 2005
7. C Michael Barrett:
  .276 BA, 16 HR, 61 RBI in 2005
8. SS Ronny Cedeno:
  .300 BA, 1 HR, 6 RBI in 2005

Projected rotation
1. Carlos Zambrano, 14-6, 3.26 ERA in 2005
2. Greg Maddux, 13-15, 4.24 ERA in 2005
3. Mark Prior, 11-7, 3.67 ERA in 2005
4. Glendon Rusch, 9-8, 4.52 ERA in 2005
5. Jerome Williams, 6-8, 3.91 ERA (with Cubs) in 2005

Projected bullpen
Closer: Ryan Dempster, 33 saves, 3.13 ERA in 2005
RH setup man: Bob Howry, 2.47 ERA in 2005
LH setup man: Scott Eyre, 2.63 ERA in 2005

The new guys
Eyre: Free agent signed Nov. 17 to a two-year contract with player option for 2008. The hyper lefty set career highs for games (86) and ERA (2.63) with the Giants last year. Eyre is solid against both lefties and righties. He'll team with LHP Will Ohman, and can close if needed.

Howry: Free agent signed to a three-year contract on Nov. 29. The right-hander also set career bests in games (79) and ERA (2.47). He will complement Eyre, and can close if needed. Both Eyre and Howry were teammates on the White Sox, but they are complete opposites as far as personalities.

Jones: Free agent signed a three-year contract. Injuries to several Twins players prompted Jones to feel as if he had to carry the entire team on his shoulders. The end result was he was pressing too much, and batted a career low .249. Embarrassed by that, Jones has vowed to return to .300 form.

IF/OF John Mabry: Free agent signed a one-year contract on Dec. 7. A versatile veteran, Mabry batted .265 off the bench for the Cardinals. He could play the corner outfield positions or sub at third or first if needed.

Pierre: Acquired from the Florida Marlins on Dec. 7 for pitchers Sergio Mitre, Ricky Nolasco and Renyel Pinto. Pierre is a bona fide leadoff man and exactly what the lineup needs. The Cubs leadoff hitters combined to hit a paltry .245 in 2005, and scored 83 runs. Pierre and Lee were teammates on the 2003 world champion Marlins. Maybe there's some karma left.

Prospects to watch
Rich Hill: The lefty pitched at all levels in 2005, although the Class A start was simply to keep him on schedule. He wasn't fazed by the different teams or different locales, and the coaching staff was impressed at his mental makeup. Hill also has a nasty curve ball.

Felix Pie: The highly touted outfielder had a humbling experience this winter playing for Licey in the Dominican Republic, where he hit .209. Pie has bulked up to 200 pounds, and he's healthy. He'll start at Triple-A and try to give the Cubs a reason to call him up.

Returning from injury
Ramirez: He battled groin problems early, sprained an ankle, then injured his left quad in late August and missed the final month of the 2005 season. Two members of the Cubs training staff went to the Dominican Republic this winter to monitor Ramirez's workouts, and reported that the third baseman was running well and his legs were strong. He needs to be in the lineup.

Kerry Wood: He pitched out of the bullpen in 11 games in hopes of helping the Cubs reach the postseason before finally having arthroscopic surgery Aug. 31 on his right shoulder. Wood began his throwing program in January but wasn't expected to throw off a mound until mid-February. He isn't expected to be ready by Opening Day and may pitch out of the bullpen again to strengthen his arm. Wood's goal is to get back in the rotation. POLL
Who should bat second behind leadoff man Juan Pierre?
Ronny Cedeno
Jerry Hairston
Matt Murton
Todd Walker

On the rebound
Jones: Jones will finally be in a lineup with some big boppers and won't have to be the main guy. Plus, Wrigley Field may be perfect for him. He worked this winter with Tony Gwynn.

Maddux: He's coming off his first losing season since 1987, and it marked the first time Maddux hasn't won at least 15 games after 17 consecutive seasons in which he reached that mark. It's hard to dis a guy who totaled 225 innings, but he begins this year with a career ERA over 3.00 (3.01) and needs a strong season to get that back to Maddux-like status.

Long gone
Nomar Garciaparra: The Cubs decided Garciaparra's best positions were first or third, and they have two pretty good corner infielders already. He signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Jeromy Burnitz: The Cubs weren't sure Burnitz was going to keep playing, even though he's one home run shy of 300, and chose not to pick up his option. A .237 average in the second half didn't help convince the team to keep him. He signed with Pittsburgh.

Corey Patterson: It's time for a change of scenery for the center fielder, who is coming off a disappointing season. He was dealt to Baltimore on Jan. 9 for two Minor Leaguers.

2005 hitting leaders (min. 200 at-bats)
Avg.: Lee, .335
OBP: Lee, .418
SLG: Lee, .662
Runs: Lee, 120
RBIs: Lee, 107
Hits: Lee, 199
2B: Lee, 50
3B: Lee, Barrett, Walker, Corey Patterson, 3 each
HR: Lee, 46
SB: Lee, Patterson, 15 each
2005 pitching leaders (min. 30 IP)
IP: Maddux, 225
W: Zambrano, 14
L: Maddux, 15
Win %: Michael Wuertz, 6-2, .750; Zambrano, 14-6, .700
S: Dempster, 33
ERA: Will Ohman, 2.91
K: Zambrano, 202
K/9: Wuertz, 10.59; Prior, 10.15
WHIP: Zambrano, 1.15

Triple play: Three questions that need answers

1. Pierre will lead off, but who bats second? And if Pierre gets on, will anybody drive him in?
The only sure things in the Cubs' lineup are Pierre first, Lee third and Ramirez fourth. Cubs manager Dusty Baker needs to find the right combination. Somehow, the Cubs led the NL in hits in 2005 but ranked ninth in runs scored, which is almost impossible.

2. Can Prior, Wood, etc., stay healthy?
The two starters are the big horses the Cubs want to count on, and they need to shed the injury prone label, even if some of the aches are freakish like line drives off the elbow. The duo were All-Stars in 2003. Either one could win 18 games.

3. Can they catch the ball?
The Cubs ranked eighth in the NL in defense and turned 136 double plays (which is low considering how many ground-ball pitchers they have). Cedeno may be young, but he's athletic and solid defensively, and that's what's needed now.

The bottom line
The Cubs could only watch as the Houston Astros celebrated their NL Wild Card win on the final day of the regular season. Then, the crosstown White Sox won the World Series. Seeing that firsthand gave several players a bad taste -- and one they can only get rid of by getting to the postseason in 2006.

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.