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Hoyer happy with depth at third, eyes pitching help

Cubs GM touts club's prospects at hot corner, targets another outfield bat

ORLANDO, Fla. -- The Cubs used six different players at third base last season, and as general manager Jed Hoyer rolls the clock forward to the 2014 campaign, he views the hot corner as one of the club's most promising areas.

"I actually think it's probably our position of greatest depth in the organization," Hoyer said. "It really is a position we feel great about in the organization."

Hoyer said Tuesday that the Cubs are pleased with their in-house options at third base, which include Luis Valbuena, Donnie Murphy and Mike Olt.

Saying that he considers Valbuena "a really talented player," Hoyer added that the club is "excited" to see what Olt can do in 2014, one year after he was widely touted as one of the game's top prospects.

"We'll consider that depth as we move forward at the Major League level, because at some point that depth will bubble up and be in the big leagues," Hoyer said. "We're probably not that far from it."

That checks one of the boxes for the Cubs this winter, but Hoyer has plenty to attend to as he and his staff roam the JW Marriott Orlando Grande Lakes for the General Managers and Owners Meetings this week.

Hoyer said the Cubs have been busy "looking at a lot of pitching," and their stated desire to add a starting pitcher has held true through initial conversations with other clubs and agents.

Despite reports about possible trade interest in Jeff Samardzija, Hoyer indicated that the Cubs continue to eye a future that includes the hurler, who is under team control for two more years.

"It's in the public record that we've talked to his agent about an extension," Hoyer said. "He's obviously a fairly local guy from Indiana, from Notre Dame, so he's a guy that we love the way he competes, we love the way he pitches."

The Cubs continue to work on finalizing manager Rick Renteria's coaching staff, and Hoyer said that an official announcement will not likely be made until operations return to Chicago.

Former big leaguer Bill Mueller has been named among the candidates to serve as hitting coach, a position which is an area of importance to Hoyer considering the Cubs' stated focus on improving their on-base percentage next season.

"It's really important," Hoyer said. "We've got a lot of young hitters in the big leagues, we've got a lot of young hitters coming up. I think that position in general will be incredibly important for us.

"Some of our young hitters are going to have to learn over time how to control the strike zone, how to get on base. As an organization, we have to get on base more, and that's obviously something we're going to be talking about in the hitting coach interviews."

Hoyer said that while Ryan Sweeney could slot in as the Cubs' center fielder, the team is continuing to look for outfielders because Sweeney is not a prototypical defense-first center fielder.

Still, Hoyer was pleased that the Cubs were able to swiftly complete one of their first items of offseason business by agreeing to a deal with Sweeney, who agreed to a two-year, $3.5 million deal last month.

"We like a lot of what Ryan does for us. He gets on base, he's a tough at-bat," Hoyer said. "It was unfortunate when he got hurt last year. We felt like he was showing a little more power than he had and having real good at-bats. He's a guy we've liked. It was a very reasonable deal, fair for both sides."

Hoyer has said that the Cubs would like to add veteran depth to replace players like Alfonso Soriano and David DeJesus. Considering the center-field needs, free agents like Jacoby Ellsbury and Shin-Soo Choo could fit the bill, but at a high price tag.

A middle-ground fit on the open market might be Curtis Granderson, who patrolled center field for the Yankees before being bumped to the corner spots last year and has strong Chicago roots.

"I think that he's obviously got a fantastic reputation," Hoyer said. "People in Chicago think very highly of him, understandably. Certainly as a human being and what he does for Chicago, I don't know him, but it sounds like he's got a great reputation for a reason."

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and read his MLBlog, Bombers Beat.
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