Cactus Catchup: Marching On

The march through March continues, as we draw ever closer to baseball games that count. That does not mean, however, that the games being played now are meaningless; quite the opposite, actually. Veterans and young players alike are playing for a chance to make the Opening Day roster, and the professional and financial implications of that competition are enormous. I find the personal stories of fringe roster candidates to be the most intriguing part of the spring, which is why an injury such as Christian Villanueva’s stings as much as it does. Injuries happen, but the timing for the young man was particularly unfortunate, as he is out of options and will likely hit the waiver wire when he is ready to return.

Putting in Work:  Javier Baez started Friday’s game at first base, as Joe Maddon continues to move him around to establish him as the team’s designated super-utility tool. Contrary to a handful of mishaps he labored through while playing center field, he looked smooth during his limited action at first base.

The back-of-the-rotation competition continues, with Adam Warren taking the ball on Sunday and allowing two earned runs on three hits. Warren topped out at 90 mph, and appeared to be easing into things in the early going. Trevor Cahill started Saturday in a fashion opposite to Warren, touching 95 mph before settling in between 91-93. Cahill did not allow a run in his two innings, striking out three and walking no one. Pierce Johnson’s start on Friday impressed observers, despite giving up a 410-foot blast to Mike Trout that fell just short of being a three-run home run. Johnson won’t break camp with the team, but it is good to see what the near future might have in store.

The future was on display on Saturday, as the precocious Gleyber Torres started at shortstop and Albert Almora started in center. In typical fashion, Almora impressed with his defensive prowess; the young man was seemingly born to glide effortlessly into the gap. He is a few significant strides with the bat from contributing at the big-league level.

The battle for the last spot (or two) in the bullpen rages on, as Spencer Patton, Rex Brothers, Armando Rivero, Carl Edwards Jr., Andury Acevedo, Ryan Williams, Edgar Olmos, Stephen Fife and several other fringe candidates all put in work over the weekend. Brothers had the most notable outing—though not in a positive manner—giving up two runs on two hits in just two-thirds of an inning.

Dearly Departed (and returned): Pitching prospect Frank Batista sustained the only injury of note, coming up lame while attempting to field a ground ball. He was assisted off the field while suffering from an apparent quadriceps injury.

Ryan Kalish rejoins the club, after missing 2015 with yet another series of injuries. You may remember Kalish from his stint with the Cubs in 2014, when he surprisingly broke camp on the 25-man roster after a strong spring. I spoke with Kalish in Round Rock in 2014, and he impressed me with the maturity of his answer when I asked him whether he felt he should be with the big-league club in Chicago. He said: “I do not think I should be up there right now. I have too much to work on, and need to play every day here in Triple-A.” Here’s hoping he can stay injury free and find a way to contribute this year. Kalish joins the team on a minor league contract.

Camp Happenings: The team once again participated in the Respect Bald campaign to raise funds and awareness for pediatric cancer research, with many players and coaches happily contributing their luscious locks for a great cause. The club raised more than $29,000 for their efforts. This video was my personal favorite:

On another note, this happened, and I’m really not sure I have words to describe it:

Finally, Joe Maddon dug into the depths of his impressive lexicon to inspire his young team with eloquent words of inspiration:

Game scores:

3/7/16 Royals 3, Cubs 2; Rockies 4, Cubs 2: The Cubs lost a couple of close ones, but there were several bright spots of the long ball variety. Jason Heyward hit his first homer as a Cub, Anthony Rizzo hit his first of the spring, and Addison Russell hit his second in as many games.

3/6/16 Diamondbacks 8, Cubs 3: While the outcome wasn’t favorable, the Cubs did manage five extra-base hits, including another Almora double, and this majestic shot from Dexter Fowler that immediately took me back to last April:

3/5/16 Reds 4, Cubs 2: Miguel Montero had three hits including a home run, and Albert Almora cracked a double, but the Cubs managed just five total hits and came up a bit short against Cincinnati.

3/4/16 Reds 4, Cubs 2: The Cubs grabbed their first win of the spring in their second game, quickly eliminating the hand-wringing that ensued after an 0-7 start in 2015. A couple of worthwhile highlights from the victory:

This for the BPWrigleyCast crew:

And this clip is for all of the grandfathers out there:

Lead photo courtesy Joe Camporeale—USA Today Sports

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