MESA, Ariz. -- Rick Renteria gets to work this week as the new Cubs manager but may spend most of Spring Training answering questions about the players who won't be in the lineup on Opening Day, March 31.
Up-and-coming prospects Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Albert Almora and Jorge Soler are part of the Cubs' future, but giddy fans can't wait. After losing 197 games combined the last two seasons, the No. 1 question this spring is "When?" As in, "When will the so-called core four be ready?"
Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein believes in giving the kids time to develop, so the quartet is projected to open in the Minor Leagues, which is why they're not listed in the "Prospects to Watch" section below.
"The challenge for me is, more than anything, to look forward," Renteria said. "You talk about patience. I think having a true belief in the final product helps us get there. Believe me, I have a lot of faith in the guys who are here and the guys who are coming."
One of the reasons Epstein picked Renteria was because of his skill in handling the kids.
"If we're going to be so youth-centric and we're putting so many eggs in that basket, we have to make sure they're in a position to thrive here," Epstein said. "That's one thing Rickey does well. Not only does he have a great feel for dealing with young players and young players from all different demographics, but he believes in them."
Pitchers and catchers report to the Cubs' new facility in west Mesa on Thursday, and for many, it will be their first face-to-face visit with Renteria, 52, who shifts from what was an anonymous job as the Padres' bench coach into the spotlight. He's the Cubs' 53rd manager and fourth in the last 5 1/2 seasons. He's also the second for Epstein, who dismissed Dale Sveum after two seasons.
Now that his hip surgery is over, Renteria expects to be throwing three rounds of batting practice a day. During a Cubs Caravan stop, a high school kid challenged Renteria to do situps, and the silver-haired manager kept pace with the youngster.
Renteria has said his experience as a father of four will help him deal with the young players.
"These are going to be my kids now," he said.
And that includes Baez, Bryant, Almora and Soler.
Pitchers and catchers report
Full squad reports
First Spring Training game
Home vs. D-backs, Feb. 27, 2:05 p.m. CT
Away vs. Pirates, March 31, 12:05 p.m. CT
Triple play: Three questions that need answers
1. Can Castro get back on track?
Castro batted .300 in his first two seasons in the big leagues but struggled last year. Toward the end of the season, he announced that he needed to "be me." Can new hitting coach Bill Mueller help the shortstop find himself and his aggressive swing? Could batting leadoff be the answer?
2. Can Mike Olt handle the hot corner?
The Cubs do have Luis Valbuena and Donnie Murphy as options at third base, but Olt was once an untouchable prospect in the Rangers' system. Chicago's lineup showed how much it needed more power after Alfonso Soriano was traded last July. Could Olt fill that gap?
3. Will any of the top prospects make the big league team?
The Cubs' front office has been adamant that players like Baez, Bryant and Almora need more time to develop. But what if they have super springs? Bryant has been on the fast track since he was drafted last June. Baez has been impressive at the plate and needs fine-tuning on defense. Could we see any of them on Opening Day in Pittsburgh?
66-96, fifth in the NL Central
Projected batting order
1. SS Starlin Castro:
.245 BA, .284 OBP, .347 SLG, 10 HR, 44 RBIs in 2013
2. 2B Darwin Barney:
.208 BA, .266 OBP, .303 SLG, 7 HR, 41 RBIs in 2013
3. 1B Anthony Rizzo:
.233 BA, .323 OBP, .419 SLG, 23 HR, 80 RBIs in 2013
4. LF Junior Lake:
.284 BA, .332 OBP, .428 SLG, 6 HR, 16 RBIs in 2013
5. RF Nate Schierholtz:
.251 BA, .301 OBP, .470 SLG, 21 HR, 68 RBIs in 2013
6. C Welington Castillo:
.274 BA, .349 OBP, .397 SLG, 8 HR, 32 RBIs in 2013
7. 3B Luis Valbuena:
.218 BA, .331 OBP, .378 SLG, 12 HR, 37 RBIs in 2013
8. CF Ryan Sweeney:
.266 BA, .324 OBP, .448 SLG, 6 HR, 19 RBIs in 2013
1. Jeff Samardzija, 8-13, 4.34 ERA in 2013
2. Travis Wood, 9-12, 3.11 ERA in 2013
3. Edwin Jackson, 8-18, 4.98 ERA in 2013
4. Jake Arrieta, 5-4, 4.78 ERA in 2013
5. Chris Rusin, 2-6, 3.93 ERA in 2013
The new guys
OF Justin Ruggiano: The Cubs acquired Ruggiano from the Marlins in exchange for Brian Bogusevic because they wanted another right-handed bat in the outfield. Last season, Ruggiano batted .222 overall, and he fared better (.248) vs. left-handed pitchers. He could share center with Sweeney.
RHP Veras: The closer's job was unsettled last season until Kevin Gregg claimed it in late May. Gregg was not re-signed, and Veras takes over. The right-hander went 19-for-22 in save situations with the Astros before he was traded to the Tigers and used in a setup role. Veras was a strong presence in the Astros' young clubhouse, especially among the Latin players, and once called a team meeting. The Cubs need that experience.
LHP Wesley Wright: Russell will now have some help in the bullpen with the addition of Wright. Last season, Wright appeared in 70 games with the Astros and Rays. He has held left-handed hitters to a .231 average in his career. Wright also has fond memories of Wrigley Field, having grown up watching Cubs games on TV. He picked up his first big league win there in relief.
RHP Jason Hammel: Hammel was the Orioles' Opening Day starter last year but battled a right forearm strain that sidelined him from late July until early September. He finished 7-8 with a 4.97 ERA in 26 games (23 starts). The last two seasons, the Cubs have signed free agents Paul Maholm and Scott Feldman and then flipped them at the non-waiver Trade Deadline for prospects. If Hammel has success, that may be his fate as well.
C George Kottaras: Kottaras was signed to help mentor young catcher Castillo. A career .214 batter, he is familiar with the NL Central, having played for the Brewers from 2010-12.
Prospects to watch
3B Olt: The Cubs tried to acquire Olt from the Rangers in the Ryan Dempster deal in July 2012, but Texas said no. Last July, Olt was included in the Cubs' deal that sent Matt Garza to Texas. What changed? Olt suffered a concussion and had vision problems, which he now feels have been corrected. He's been working out in Arizona, and the Cubs are eager to see how he handles live pitching. A first-round pick in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft, Olt belted 28 homers in 2012 at Double-A Frisco.
RHP Hector Rondon: A 2012 Rule 5 Draft pick, Rondon improved steadily as the season progressed last year and became one of the top right-handed setup options. At 25 years old, he has plenty of upside. The right-hander, who was the Indians' Minor League pitcher of the year in '09, ended the season well, as he did not give up a run in his final nine outings.
RHP Justin Grimm: The Cubs acquired Grimm, 25, in the Garza deal as well, and the right-hander will be among the candidates for a spot in the rotation. He had a rough outing on July 12 against the Tigers when he gave up five runs in the first and lasted 3 1/3 innings. He exited that game with a strained forearm and was sent to the Minors. He was used in relief in September with the Cubs, appearing in 10 games.
LHP Zac Rosscup: Rosscup was promoted last September and impressed the Cubs in his 10 appearances. He does need to work on command after issuing seven walks in 6 2/3 innings, but he also struck out seven and only gave up three hits.
On the rebound
RHP Kyuji Fujikawa: Fujikawa was limited to 12 games in his first season in the U.S. because of elbow problems, which ultimately resulted in him needing Tommy John surgery in June. The right-hander spent the year rehabbing in Mesa and has progressed well. The Cubs don't want to put a timetable on his return, but don't expect to see him until June at the earliest.
RHP Arodys Vizcaino: Acquired in July 2012 in the Maholm deal, Vizcaino has yet to appear in a game for the Cubs as he continues to rehab from Tommy John surgery. He had a minor setback last year but was able to pitch this winter at the Cubs' Dominican facility, which is an encouraging sign. He was used in relief by the Braves and could win a spot in the bullpen if healthy.
C Dioner Navarro: Navarro belted 13 home runs, including three in one game, and batted .300 in 2013, but the Cubs are high on Castillo as their No. 1 catcher. Navarro wanted a long-term deal and got it with the Blue Jays. The jovial catcher will be missed in the clubhouse.
RHP Gregg: Gregg literally saved the Cubs. After he was released by the Dodgers on April 3, he signed with the Cubs 11 days later and took over the closer's job later that month after Carlos Marmol struggled and Fujikawa was injured. Gregg finished with 33 saves in 38 opportunities, but the Cubs decided to look elsewhere this year and signed Veras.
RHP Scott Baker: When the Cubs signed Baker, they knew he still needed time to rehab following Tommy John surgery. He was described as the type of pitcher the team was looking for. However, Baker's rehab was slow, and he didn't get into a game until Sept. 8. He made three starts and ended up signing a Minor League contract with the Mariners for 2014.