The Rundown: Cubs Camp Opens Today, Heightened Optimism Surrounds Team, MLB Strives for Greater Diversity

“This is one time where television really fails to capture the true excitement of a large squirrel predicting the weather.​” – Phil Connors, Groundhog Day

Despite whatever sorcery you may believe in when it comes to predicting winter weather, one thing that’s for certain every mid-February is that professional pitchers and catchers report to spring camps to start playing baseball. Though today represents nothing more than a number of meetings, some calisthenics, and a little ball toss, Cactus League games start in 12 days and the excitement is palpable.

I’m no scout, but I’ve got my eyes on three pitchers and one catcher this spring, all of whom could be breakout players this season.

First on my list is Burl Carraway, who was on my list of draft hopefuls last June. My guess is he will be the team’s closer in 2022, so it will be interesting to see how he does against major league hitters in game situations after basically taking a year off. He was reportedly quite impressive at the team’s alternate site in South Bend, though, so he did get some professional experience.

I’m also interested in Zach Davies. He hasn’t received a lot of love from Cubs fans yet, but he finished fifth in the National League in ERA, eighth in WHIP, and second in wins last season while pitching for the Padres. He’s not Yu Darvish, but Davies is an elite pitcher because what he lacks in strikeouts he makes up for by keeping batters off the basepaths.

The third hurler I’m going to be watching is Adbert Alzolay, who comes to camp sporting that nasty new slider. His stuff really improved last season and he now looks like a potential top-of-rotation starter. In 21.1 innings late last season, the still-rookie-eligible starter struck out 29 batters against 13 walks while allowing just one home run. He turns 26 in two weeks and he’s my pick for this year’s breakout player and potential Rookie of the Year.

As far as catchers, I’m going to be keeping an eye on Miguel Amaya, just because Willson Contreras could be a midsummer trade candidate. If the Cubs can’t work out an extension with their incumbent starter, Amaya, who is entering his fifth year with the organization, will need to prove he is ready for the big leagues. For the past few seasons, the Cubs have rotated a third catcher onto the roster at times. At the very least, Amaya is a candidate for doubleheader recalls, so expect to see him at some point this season.

The Cubs are incredibly deep at catcher system-wide and Amaya leads the pack. The young backstop was stellar in winter ball this year and regardless of how things play out, he represents the team’s future at the position.

Cubs News & Notes

  • Jed Hoyer said he intends to have conversations with all of the team’s impending free agents, including Kris Bryant, Javier Báez, and Anthony Rizzo, during spring training in Arizona. I’m assuming he’ll have talks with Davies, too, though I don’t believe Craig Kimbrel is in the team’s long-range plans. The Cubs hold a $16 million option on Kimbrel with a $1 million buyout.
  • Hoyer also said that he is no longer engaged in trade talks with other teams and that the spring roster is pretty much set.
  • It’s worth noting that the players are aware this could be their last hurrah, so expect that to be the driving force behind their attempt to win one more championship.
  • David Ross met with the media and expressed confidence in Kimbrel, indicating that the almost-33-year-old reliever will open the season as the team’s closer. “He worked his way back into being himself,” the skipper said. “The videos he’s sent in, he looks really polished already. He’s a veteran guy — knows how to prepare himself for Spring Training. We’ll give him a pretty long runway to get ready. As long as Craig is who we know he can be, he’s going to be our closer.”
  • Ross also indicated he may have been a little too patient last season and he vowed to be more openly communicative with his players this season.
  • The second-year manager and his pitching coach, Tommy Hottovy, have ruled out the idea of a six-man rotation for the time being.
  • Kohl Stewart will be given the opportunity to be Chicago’s swingman this season, so expect him to work as a long reliever and spot starter.
  • Kyle Ryan will get a late start to camp as he will be initially sidelined by COVID-19 protocols. That’s not to say Ryan has been struck by the coronavirus, but he may have been in contact with someone who is sick or presumed to be infected. Rowan Wick, who is battling an intercostal injury, may be slowed for a while as well.
  • Hoyer teased a new deal for a reliever yesterday and it was reported Wednesday morning that the Cubs have signed righty Brandon Workman.
  • Ian Happ will likely retain his spot at the top of the order. With that in mind, who could forget how he opened the 2018 season? This is actually a “where were you” moment for me as I was picking up lunch for my co-workers at Chicken Planet when Happ launched his Opening Day bomb against (former) Marlins starter José Ureña.

Odds & Sods

If we’re talking about current Cubs, give me Kyle Hendricks for deadly aim and Kimbrel for unbridled power. Otherwise, I’ll take Greg Maddux — who’ll never miss — and Shawon Dunston.

Spring Training Notes

Former Mets hitting performance coach Ryan Ellis, let go by the organization in January, has been accused of sexually harassing three former employees in 2018, continuing a despicable pattern within the organization.

Michele Meyer-Shipp, MLB’s chief people and culture officer, said the league needs to strive to further diversify the game at all levels.  “We need our guys from baseball out there building a brand for Black talent in the game,” Meyer-Ship said. “I think that would really make a difference.”

A Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Forum, consisting of a five-member panel that included Meyer-Shipp, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, Marlins outfielder Lewis Brinson, former Astros manager Bo Porter, and Red Sox coach Bianca Smith, was streamed yesterday on

White Sox manager Tony La Russa kicks off the first camp of his second tenure with the team today, and he’s well aware of the scrutiny he will face this year.

La Russa’s No. 1 starter, Lucas Giolito, said the team is coming to camp with the expectation that the White Sox have an opportunity win the World Series.

After one season managing the Phillies, Joe Girardi is already on the hot seat with the team’s fanbase.

The Giants have reportedly agreed to a one-year deal with right-handed pitcher Aaron Sanchez.

The Brewers are bringing back pitcher Brett Anderson and infielder Travis Shaw.

Let’s not forget that three of the game’s top free agents — Jackie Bradley Jr., Jake Odorizzi and Taijuan Walker — remain available. Same goes for Trevor Rosenthal, Rick Porcello, and Yasiel Puig.

Fox Sports’ announcer Joe Buck admitted he sometimes drinks tequila in the booth before games.

Extra Innings

It’s like Christmas morning!!

Sliding Into Home

My next surgery is Friday at 3pm. Barring any tragedies, I should be back on schedule Sunday or Monday morning. I was told the recovery time is 48-72 hours. If I have any further surgeries after this one I’m just going to go full Iron Man.

They Said It

  • “I’ll definitely sit down with those guys during spring training and talk to them about their futures and we’ll talk about contracts. We’ll have those discussions over the course of spring, and it’s a perfect time for it.” – Jed Hoyer
  • “These guys have been fantastic Cubs that did something historic together. I think rightfully Cubs nation sort of owes that group a debt of gratitude, and they’re always going to be legends for the Cubs. … I’d love to have that continuity and have some of these guys going forward. But we’ve said, financially it’s impossible for any team to continue with that group indefinitely.” – Hoyer
  • “If your starters are not built up and going 5 innings or not quite 6-7-8 innings, now all of the sudden you’ve lost one extra bullpen arm and they’re covering more innings. So you’re in really dangerous territory of getting relievers hurt and increasing their workload too much.” – Tommy Hottovy
  • “If [Bryant, Baez, and Rizzo] get their numbers offensively, we’re going to be monsters.” – David Ross

Wednesday Walk Up Song

Monster by Mumford & Sons – “I’ll do my best with the time that’s left, sworn with your spirit, fully fleshed.”

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