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Maddon giving Happ time to work through woes

Zobrist bothered by back issues; top prospect Alzolay joins Triple-A Iowa
MLB.com

CHICAGO -- Ian Happ homered on the first pitch of the Major League season on March 29, but it's been a struggle for him since then. The switch-hitting outfielder was batting .204 in his first 13 games, but Cubs manager Joe Maddon said Thursday he's seeing encouraging signs.

Happ was not in the Cubs' lineup for the finale against the Cardinals, and part of that was to give him time to focus on the lessons.

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CHICAGO -- Ian Happ homered on the first pitch of the Major League season on March 29, but it's been a struggle for him since then. The switch-hitting outfielder was batting .204 in his first 13 games, but Cubs manager Joe Maddon said Thursday he's seeing encouraging signs.

Happ was not in the Cubs' lineup for the finale against the Cardinals, and part of that was to give him time to focus on the lessons.

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"I've talked to [hitting coach] Chili [Davis] a lot about it," Maddon said. "[Happ] feels much better on the right side of the plate than the left side, which is normally not the case. Hopefully, he can maintain that as he works through the left-handed problems he's got. I really like the way this guy is. He'll work through it. I like the plan Chili has set forth for him."

Happ was 4-for-13 (.308) from the left side with six strikeouts, and 6-for-36 (.167) from the right side with 19 K's. His 47.2 strikeout percentage (25 K's in 53 plate appearances) is the highest of any qualified hitter in the Majors this season. Will Maddon pick his spots for Happ?

"Probably a little bit," Maddon said. "My main thought is to talk to Chili every day and Ian to see how they're feeling about things. If I hear from both of them that they feel strongly about what's going on, then I'll start pushing it again."

Last season, Happ batted .253 in 115 games, hitting 24 home runs.

"First of all, I believe in Ian a lot," Maddon said. "He's really a unique young man. He's introspective, he's bright. He has a really high emotional IQ. He understands and accepts and works through moments, as opposed to becoming overly emotional about them."

Video: ATL@CHC: Zobrist races to third for an RBI triple

Ben Zobrist did not start Thursday because of back problems that Maddon thought were similiar to what kept the versatile veteran sidelined most of Spring Training. However, Zobrist said it's a different problem.

"In Spring Training, it was stuck," Zobrist said of his back. "It was stuck when I got in certain spots. It's not stuck at all [now]. In certain spots, it's just a little uncomfortable. That's why they held me out. Today was a 'Hold me out again and tell us how you feel' kind of thing."

Zobrist did work in the batting cages during Thursday's 8-5 win, but wasn't needed to pinch-hit.

"It was a step in the right direction," Zobrist said. "These things, you have to be more cautious when you have a little history."

Zobrist would've been leading off against the Cardinals if he was available, Maddon said. Instead, Maddon went with Albert Almora Jr. against right-hander Luke Weaver and moved Javier Baez into the No. 2 spot for the first time this season.

"I wanted to get some energy at the top," Maddon said of Baez. "He's been doing well. I could have left him at six or seven [in the order]. I'm just shuffling the chairs up a little. There's nothing brilliant about it whatsover. It's just to provide some energy at the top of the batting order."

• After 15 games, the Cubs' starting pitchers ranked 14th in the National League with a 5.31 ERA. That's not what they expected, but Kyle Hendricks said part of the problem has been because the schedule keeps getting interrupted by the weather. The Cubs have had five games postponed.

"This has been weird," Hendricks said. "I've never been through anything like this. Once this weather clears up, we'll be ready to go."

There was plenty of sunshine on Thursday. Hendricks, who will open the Cubs' three-game series in Colorado on Friday, said he's pitched in the cold before.

"In college, I pitched in a game April 5 and it was snowing, and that was the worst I'd seen until now," Hendricks said. "It's out of our control. You just have to get your work in and whenever we can play, we'll play."

• Cubs top prospect Adbert Alzolay will make his first start of the season on Friday, pitching for Triple-A Iowa. Wednesday's game was postponed, so Luke Farrell will start on Thursday and Alzolay will go Friday.

Alzolay, ranked No. 1 on MLB Pipeline's list of the Top 30 Cubs prospects, was 7-1 with a 2.98 ERA in 15 starts at Class A Advanced Myrtle Beach last season, then went 0-3 with a 3.03 ERA in seven starts for Double-A Tennessee. He was in extended spring camp before joining Iowa.

• The Cubs raised $1.8 million on Wednesday night at the Bricks and Ivy Ball, including $50,000 from the sale of one of the paintings Maddon revealed during Spring Training.

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat.

Chicago Cubs, Ian Happ

Caratini beats out Gimenez for backup catcher

Cubs go with prospect, knowing veteran will be ready at Triple-A
MLB.com

MESA, Ariz. -- The Cubs resolved the only real position-player roster decision that was pending this spring, picking Victor Caratini to be the backup catcher and sending veteran Chris Gimenez to Triple-A Iowa.

"We felt Victor was ready for this," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said Saturday. "We also know he may not get enough opportunities to play in the beginning. Even possibly sitting there, going through the prep every day and getting in some action on occasion, maybe pinch-hitting once in a while, picking up some later innings, that's equally as valuable for him as it is for him to go back to Triple-A, where he's done a really good job in the past, and you know he can do that."

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MESA, Ariz. -- The Cubs resolved the only real position-player roster decision that was pending this spring, picking Victor Caratini to be the backup catcher and sending veteran Chris Gimenez to Triple-A Iowa.

"We felt Victor was ready for this," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said Saturday. "We also know he may not get enough opportunities to play in the beginning. Even possibly sitting there, going through the prep every day and getting in some action on occasion, maybe pinch-hitting once in a while, picking up some later innings, that's equally as valuable for him as it is for him to go back to Triple-A, where he's done a really good job in the past, and you know he can do that."

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:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

Maddon and pitching coach Jim Hickey both know Gimenez, 35, well from their time together in Tampa Bay.

"'Gimmy' is the perfect backup, he's made for that job," Maddon said. "He is the backup quarterback. He knows how to sit there, and he knows how to come and play two games in October or November and get you through that month and then you have a winning record at the end of the season.

"We felt this was the right thing to do right now. We know if it doesn't play for Victor early and he doesn't get enough at-bats, we can flip-flop at some point."

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Caratini, 24, made his Major League debut last season and batted .254 in 31 games. He is ranked by MLB Pipeline as the Cubs' No. 8 prospect and the No. 10 catching prospect in all of baseball.

"Victor has demonstrated he's Major League ready," Maddon said. "'Gimmy' has demonstrated he's one of the better backup catchers in all of baseball."

Video: CHC@SEA: Happ hits a homer on the very first pitch

Happ hits 7th spring homer
Ian Happ belted his seventh Cactus League home run on Saturday, sending the first pitch from Felix Hernandez over the left-field wall in the Cubs' 7-3 split-squad loss to the Mariners. 

"It's been fun to watch Ian leading off all spring," Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said on Saturday. "He wants to do it. Part of what makes guys good in that role is wanting to do it. Some guys, you put them in that spot and they don't like it and they don't want to do it. It's served him well."

Happ, who hit 24 home runs in 115 games last season, isn't a typical leadoff batter.

"Having a guy who's dangerous at the top of the lineup is not a fun way for a pitcher to start a game," Hoyer said. "There could be a guy at second pretty quickly and then you have to deal with the big guys we have coming behind. To me, I'd love having a guy who gets on base and speed, the traditional leadoff guy, but having power at the top of the lineup, there is an intimidation factor. No pitcher wants to be pitching out of the stretch four pitches in."

Video: Rizzo helps Cubs out in La Stella prank war

Front office has last laugh in prank war with La Stella
Tommy La Stella tipped his cap to the Cubs' front office for their efforts in putting together a video prank that aired during Friday's game at Sloan Park. Anthony Rizzo narrated the video, saying La Stella needed a life partner, and it ended nearly giving out the infielder's phone number right before hinting he was headed to Iowa, where the club's Triple-A affiliate is located. This spring, La Stella has been parking in spaces reserved for Hoyer and Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein.

The video, which aired after La Stella lined into a double play to end the third inning, combines outtakes from a video promo La Stella did in 2015 along with Rizzo's narration.

"Tommy's a perfect candidate to be able to take something like that," Rizzo said. "All day I was telling him that I loved him and 'Tommy, I want you to know I love you and you're a good friend.' I'm buttering him up. He lined out and I'm on deck and I said, 'Hey, this is the reason I've been telling you this all day.'"

Said La Stella: "I should've known. [Rizzo] kept coming up to me the whole day, 'Hey, man, I love you.' I was like, 'I love you, too.' ... [After seeing the video] I was like, 'OK, man, give me a hug. You're wearing me out.' They got me good."

Before displaying his entire phone number, the video asked La Stella to nod if he was OK with a truce, and he did. His reaction when he saw the numbers?

"Panic," La Stella said.

Is it over?

"That was beautifully done," La Stella said. "It might truly be a touche moment for the time being. That was awesome. I'm glad they chose me."

Up next
On Sunday, Kyle Hendricks will close the Arizona portion of the Cubs' exhibition schedule, facing the Royals in Surprise. The Cubs have games Monday and Tuesday against the Red Sox at JetBlue Park in Fort Myers, Fla., before the regular season opener on Thursday against the Marlins in Miami. Sunday's game will be available live on MLB.TV and will be broadcast on WGN-TV and 670 The Score.

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat.

Chicago Cubs, Victor Caratini, Tommy La Stella

Cubs trim roster, optioning Maples, Zagunis

Baez, Strop making progress in rehab from injuries
MLB.com

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- As the Cubs whittle down the spring camp roster to the final 25 for Opening Day, they have to consider which players still have options remaining.

Cubs players who are out of options include first baseman Efren Navarro and pitchers Mike Montgomery and Eddie Butler. The Cubs most likely will carry eight relievers, and Montgomery is set. On Thursday, the Cubs released Justin Grimm, who was out of options, which could create an opening for Butler in the bullpen.

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GLENDALE, Ariz. -- As the Cubs whittle down the spring camp roster to the final 25 for Opening Day, they have to consider which players still have options remaining.

Cubs players who are out of options include first baseman Efren Navarro and pitchers Mike Montgomery and Eddie Butler. The Cubs most likely will carry eight relievers, and Montgomery is set. On Thursday, the Cubs released Justin Grimm, who was out of options, which could create an opening for Butler in the bullpen.

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Players with one option remaining include infielders Tommy La Stella and Mike Freeman, and pitchers Carl Edwards Jr., Alec Mills, Dario Alvarez, Cory Mazzoni, Kyle Ryan and Randy Rosario.

Players on a 40-man roster are given three Minor League options. An option allows that player to be sent to the Minor Leagues without first being subjected to waivers. When a player is optioned to the Minors for a span of more than 20 days, he loses an option.

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Dillon Maples and Mark Zagunis were both optioned to Triple-A Iowa on Friday. Maples made his Major League debut last September, appearing in six games.

"I think he learned some things this camp," Maddon said. "He's the kind of guy we have to have a specific plan with. Maybe when he gets more consistent catching, meaning the same guys, you'll probably see a better result. I like where he's headed."

A top prospect (No. 13 for the Cubs) who was a 14th-round pick in 2011, Maples seemed much more relaxed in camp this year.

"The conversation we had a couple hours ago was impossible last year at the same time," Maddon said. "He's definitely arriving at that point where he feels he belongs here. I think he's still in survival mode a little. His stuff is outrageously good. He's come through quickly, but when he gets here, he'll stay for a long time."

Injury updates

• Second baseman Javier Baez, sidelined since March 8 because of a sore left hamstring, was expected back in the Cubs' lineup Saturday and Sunday in the split-squad games in Mesa, Ariz.

• Reliever Pedro Strop, who has been slowed because of a tender left calf, threw a bullpen session on Friday and needs to have a live batting-practice session before he gets into a game. Strop's comeback was slowed when he became ill.

• Lefty reliever Justin Wilson has been dealing with a blister, but was able to pitch one inning on Wednesday against the Royals.

Butterfield not lacking in jerseys

Cubs third-base coach Brian Butterfield is a man of many talents, and apparently, several nicknames, too. The Cubs have made sure Butterfield has a jersey to match each of his monikers.

There's a jersey that says "Butterfield," of course, but also a "Butter-Field" shirt, one that says "BT Hustle" and another that's butter in Spanish, "Mantequilla."

Maddon came up with them.

"I like hyphenated last names, like Julia Louis-Dreyfus," Maddon said. "I dig the hyphenated last name. I think it stands out. It's more difficult autograph wise."

The "BT Hustle" stands for "Big Time Hustle." That also is a favorite.

"I don't want to let that one die either," Maddon said.

Camp battle 

With less than two weeks remaining in Spring Training, the Cubs still have to decide who will back up catcher Willson Contreras. On Thursday, Victor Caratini was behind the plate to catch Kyle Hendricks, who complimented the young catcher. The decision may come down to whether the Cubs want Caratini to play every day at Triple-A Iowa or prefer a veteran in Chris Gimenez.

Up next: The Cubs have split-squad games this weekend, with half the team headed to Las Vegas and the other half playing games at Sloan Park in Mesa. On Saturday, Jose Quintana will start in Las Vegas (6:05 p.m. CT on MLB.TV) while Butler starts in Mesa against a split-squad Indians team at 3:05 CT on MLB.TV. Saturday's game in Las Vegas will be televised on WGN-TV.

On Sunday, Tyler Chatwood will start in Mesa against the Royals and Rob Zastryzny will face the Indians in Las Vegas.

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat.

Chicago Cubs, Dillon Maples, Mark Zagunis

Court trying to live out dream by playing for Cubs

29-year-old infielder has been a lifelong fan of franchise
MLB.com

MESA, Ariz. -- Where were you on Nov. 4, 2016? If you're a Cubs fan, you were probably one of the millions crammed along the parade route in Chicago to cheer on the 2016 World Series champions. Ryan Court was there.

Court, now a non-roster invitee in Cubs camp, played for the Red Sox's Double-A and Triple-A teams that season. He batted .277, saw action at all four infield positions plus left field, and cheered on the Cubs from afar.

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MESA, Ariz. -- Where were you on Nov. 4, 2016? If you're a Cubs fan, you were probably one of the millions crammed along the parade route in Chicago to cheer on the 2016 World Series champions. Ryan Court was there.

Court, now a non-roster invitee in Cubs camp, played for the Red Sox's Double-A and Triple-A teams that season. He batted .277, saw action at all four infield positions plus left field, and cheered on the Cubs from afar.

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An Elgin, Ill., native, Court, now 29, grew up a Cubs fan.

"I'm a Cubs fan for life," Court said. "I went to the parade for the World Series. I caught the 7 a.m. train and went down to the city."

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He and his father were in the throng along Michigan Avenue near the Chicago River, then decided it was so crowded, they'd rather watch the celebration on a television in a bar.

And after spending last season with the Red Sox's Triple-A team, then playing in the Dominican Republic this winter, Court decided he was going to play for the Cubs.

"I knew that's where I wanted to go," Court said. "Talking to the front office, it was a no-brainer for me. I'm 29, I don't have any big league time. If I'm going to make the big leagues, I want to earn it."

He wanted a challenge. The Cubs' 25-man Opening Day roster is pretty much set. Court was batting .375 this spring and hit his third home run on Wednesday, but he isn't going to bump Addison Russell or Anthony Rizzo off the infield. He could provide valuable depth. If the versatile Court had tried out for another team, he might have a better chance of getting to the big leagues.

Video: CWS@CHC: Court beats the tag, steals second base

"I want my debut to be with a team where I earned it and the team's a contender," Court said. "I think making the big leagues with this team, this group of guys, fighting for a World Series, would be very cool.

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"Everyone in the clubhouse genuinely cares about one another," he said. "You talk to Joe [Maddon], you talk to everybody and it's like talking to your friend."

A 23rd-round pick by the Diamondbacks in 2011, he spent last season with Triple-A Pawtucket and also played 22 games for Escogido in the Dominican Republic. Former Cubs outfielder Moises Alou was Escogido's general manager.

"It took me awhile to be normal around him," Court said, sounding like a Cubs fan. "I mean, this is Moises Alou, I watched you, the catch, [Steve] Bartman. It's so hard to not ask you these questions that I want to ask you. He was awesome."

Alou took care of the Americans on the team, inviting them to his house in Santo Domingo for a four-course meal on Thanksgiving and also hosting a New Year's Eve party at his beach house.

Video: CHC@LAA: Court rips a two-run double to left-center

Alou wasn't Court's favorite player growing up. He liked watching Sammy Sosa and Mark DeRosa.

"Derrek Lee was my favorite for sure," he said.

And even though he's played with other teams, it would be a dream come true to play in the big leagues for the Cubs.

"I don't think anything compares to here," he said, smiling.

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat.

Chicago Cubs, Ryan Court

Cubs send three top prospects to Double-A

Roster trimmed to 49 after 13 players are reassigned
MLB.com

MESA, Ariz. -- The Cubs trimmed the spring roster to 49 players on Friday, assigning top prospects Adbert Alzolay, Oscar De La Cruz and Duane Underwood Jr. to Double-A Tennessee.

The three pitchers ranked No. 1, 3 and 30, respectively, on MLB Pipeline's top 30 Cubs prospects list.

MESA, Ariz. -- The Cubs trimmed the spring roster to 49 players on Friday, assigning top prospects Adbert Alzolay, Oscar De La Cruz and Duane Underwood Jr. to Double-A Tennessee.

The three pitchers ranked No. 1, 3 and 30, respectively, on MLB Pipeline's top 30 Cubs prospects list.

Thomas Hatch, the Cubs' top Draft pick in 2016 and ranked seventh on MLB Pipeline's list, also was assigned to Minor League camp. Neither he nor Alzolay appeared in any of the Cubs' Cactus League games but that was by design.

"That was part of the plan coming in to be protective," manager Joe Maddon said Friday. "[Alzolay's] got a great arm. I'm talking to the kid in there -- I had the meeting before never having seen him pitch, I had the meeting after and never saw him pitch. I'm eager to watch him. I've heard nothing but accolades.

"[Alzolay and Hatch] both handled it well and they understood it," Maddon said. "They approached this camp as we asked them to approach the camp."

In addition to Hatch, the Cubs also assigned nine non-roster invitees to Minor League camp, including right-handed pitchers Craig Brooks and David Garner; left-handed pitchers Alberto Baldonado, Daniel Camarena and Michael Roth; infielder Jason Vosler; outfielders Charcer Burks and Bijan Rademacher; and catcher Ian Rice.

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat.

Chicago Cubs

Pipeline Q&A: Cubs right-hander Thomas Hatch

MLB.com

MESA, Ariz. -- As part of MLB Pipeline's visit to all 30 Spring Training camps, we'll sit down with prospects and get to know them a little better. At Cubs camp, it was No. 7 prospect Thomas Hatch.

The Cubs selected Hatch in the third-round of the 2016 Draft, but promptly shut him down, citing his heavy workload in college. The right-hander made his professional debut in 2017 and posted a 4.04 ERA with Class A Advanced Myrtle Beach. The Cubs had him improve his arsenal, working on a changeup and adding a four-seamer after he relied heavily on a two-seamer and a slider in college.

MESA, Ariz. -- As part of MLB Pipeline's visit to all 30 Spring Training camps, we'll sit down with prospects and get to know them a little better. At Cubs camp, it was No. 7 prospect Thomas Hatch.

The Cubs selected Hatch in the third-round of the 2016 Draft, but promptly shut him down, citing his heavy workload in college. The right-hander made his professional debut in 2017 and posted a 4.04 ERA with Class A Advanced Myrtle Beach. The Cubs had him improve his arsenal, working on a changeup and adding a four-seamer after he relied heavily on a two-seamer and a slider in college.

Pipeline report from Cubs camp

:: MLB Pipeline Spring Training reports ::

MLB Pipeline: Because of your college workload, the Cubs shut you down after the Draft in 2016. Making your debut in full-season ball can be a challenge. What was 2017 like for you?

Hatch:  It was a tough in a way that I was thrown into the fire. I didn't know what to expect competition-wise. You go in with no experience. I was a little overconfident, I feel like, and I was humbled quick because that's how the game is. I felt like I made some good adjustments and finished the season strong and had a good month in the middle of the season.

MLB Pipeline: You were tasked with working on a four-seamer and refining your changeup last season. What is your confidence level with those pitches now?

Hatch: We saw that most guys, especially lefties, kind of ran into my two-seam, and the four-seam kind of kept them off [balance]. Also, it's a little bit easier to command the four-seam, especially glove side. That definitely added to the repertoire. Now the thing is going to the other side of the plate with both. Typically, I would go arm side with the two-seam and glove side with four-seam, and now we need to flip that. With the changeup, lefties had a little bit of success against me last year, so continuing to develop that will be huge, especially getting into the upper levels.

MLB Pipeline: Compare the first half to second half? You had a great June.

Hatch: When it's going good, it's going good, and there's not much to think about, and then you're going through struggles, and all of a sudden you start thinking about it again. Sometimes it's just part of baseball. The first part of that year was mainly getting adjusted and getting comfortable. I felt the more I went on, I got better. I had a little bit of a struggle at the beginning of the second half. I felt I finished the year strong and made some adjsutments.

MLB Pipeline: Numbers went down a bit during second half. Did you tire any since it was your first full season?

Hatch: I really didn't. I felt great at the end of the year. The second half, I could only go five innings [in each start], no matter what my pitch count was. Obviously, with my arm history, they want to keep me healthy. That was the main concern. I know they were happy with the workload.

MLB Pipeline: Now knowing what a full season is like, how did you approach this offseason? Any different than past offseasons?

Hatch: Yeah. I took classes, and I was able to hang out in Stillwater [Oklahoma] and work out there. I've got 15 hours more [to finish his degree in finance]. It was definitely different. The concern is staying healthy, so the arm health aspect is definitely an area of not concern, but focus as well as getting my body strong so I can go 130 innings.

MLB Pipeline: How beneficial has Spring Training been, getting to be around the veterans? What's been the biggest thing you've learned so far?

Hatch: Just to be around the guys and see how they go about their business, that was the goal. Obviously, I'm not going to make the team out of camp. Just to see how they go about it and take it to wherever I end up and see the adjustments they make in-game and see what they're thinking about out there, too. Growing up, you're not around them and you see them as kind of superstars and it kind of humanizes it. They make mistakes, too. It's just how they adjust and how quickly they get to those adjustements.

MLB Pipeline: Your locker is between Yu Darvish and Kyle Hendricks -- that's good company.

Hatch: It's two studs. They're both kind of quiet guys, but both very diligent in their work. I can watch and from time to time, I'll pick their brains, too.

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat.

Chicago Cubs

Pipeline report: Cubs camp

Chicago farm focused on developing pitchers
MLB.com

Every Spring Training, prospects get a chance to show what they can do as they prepare for the upcoming season. Some compete for jobs in big league camp, while others vie for spots on Minor League affiliates. MLB Pipeline will visit all 30 camps this spring, and today we check in on the Cubs.

The Cubs have done a masterful job of acquiring and developing position prospects. They advanced to their third straight National League Championship Series last year with homegrown products Albert Almora, Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Willson Contreras, Ian Happ, Addison Russell and Kyle Schwarber as mainstays their lineup.

Every Spring Training, prospects get a chance to show what they can do as they prepare for the upcoming season. Some compete for jobs in big league camp, while others vie for spots on Minor League affiliates. MLB Pipeline will visit all 30 camps this spring, and today we check in on the Cubs.

The Cubs have done a masterful job of acquiring and developing position prospects. They advanced to their third straight National League Championship Series last year with homegrown products Albert Almora, Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Willson Contreras, Ian Happ, Addison Russell and Kyle Schwarber as mainstays their lineup.

Cubs' Top 30 Prospects list | Q&A with Thomas Hatch

Chicago ranked fourth in baseball in scoring last year (5.07 runs per game) with MLB's fifth-youngest lineup (27.1 years of age). The Cubs had so much hitting talent that they used the surplus to bolster their pitching staff, trading elite prospects Gleyber Torres and Eloy Jimenez to acquire Aroldis Chapman for their 2016 World Series club and add Jose Quintana to their rotation last summer. They've also dealt Dan Vogelbach, Jorge Soler, Jeimer Candelario and young shortstop Isaac Paredes for bullpen help.

:: MLB Pipeline Spring Training reports ::

Chicago hasn't been nearly as successful at growing its own pitching. Carl Edwards, Kyle Hendricks and Hector Rondon were the only key arms on their 2017 staff who came up through their farm system, and none of them were originally signed by the Cubs. That's something they're determined to change.

"Over the past three or four years, everything we've done through the Draft or international signings, we've focused our time and energy on pitching," farm director Jaron Madison said. "We know we have a roster full of young impact players. We did a deep dive this offseason, looking at everything we do from our throwing program in the Minor Leagues to when to push players to the next level to communicating with the big league staff, just trying to have synergy on the pitching front.

"We're definitely emphasizing changing the narrative and developing quality pitching."

The Cubs best pitching prospects are all right-handers signed on the international market. A bargain at $10,000 out of Venezuela in 2012, Adbert Alzolay has No. 3 starter upside and could be ready for Wrigley Field by the end of 2018. Oscar de la Cruz ($85,000 out of the Dominican Republic in 2012) and Jose Albertos ($1.5 million from the Mexican League's Tijuana Bulls in 2015) have higher ceilings but are further away.

Chicago also has stocked up on pitching in the last two Drafts, taking college arms with 13 of its first 14 picks in 2016 and its top five last year. Right-hander Alex Lange and left-hander Brendon Little, its dual first-rounders from 2017, and righty Thomas Hatch, its top pick (third round) in 2016, all could advance quickly. So could righties Keegan Thompson and Erich Uelmen, third- and fourth-rounders from last June.

Fortunately for the Cubs, they control every member of their current rotation -- Yu Darvish, Jon Lester, Hendricks, Quintana, Tyler Chatwood -- through at least 2020. That should give their system time to start churning out pitching.

"I think you'll see some relievers come up sooner than the starters," Madison said. "It's going to be a year or two before you see some starters have an impact. We're going to have a big battle at [low Class A] South Bend and [high Class A] Myrtle Beach this year. We probably aren't going to have enough rotation spots for all the impactful arms from the last two Drafts, but that's a great problem to have."

Video: Alzolay, Caratini look ahead to the 2018 season

Camp standouts

De la Cruz looked sensational in Minor League Spring Training a year ago, then he missed much of the regular season with a pectoral strain. With a pair of plus pitches in his fastball and curveball and polish to go with them, he might have the highest ceiling of any pitching prospect in the system, so the Cubs added him to their 40-man roster in November. In his first taste of big league camp, he has four strikeouts in three scoreless innings and has converted a pair of save opportunities.

"De la Cruz is pitching really well," Madison said. "We've thrown him into the closer situation and he has embraced the pressure with the game on the line. He has a big league body and great makeup. We've just got to get him through a healthy year."

Mark Zagunis has been the most impressive position prospect, though he has little chance of cracking Chicago's deep outfield. Known for his hitting and on-base ability, he has batted .350/.435/.400 in 23 plate appearances.

Jim Calis is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow @jimcallisMLB on Twitter. Listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.

Chicago Cubs

Underwood hones in to rekindle prospect buzz

Pitcher credits conversation with Epstein for sharpening focus
MLB.com

MESA, Ariz. -- This spring, Duane Underwood Jr. is feeling as good as he did when he was pitching for Pope High School in Marietta, Ga. All it took was hard work, a little adjustment mentally and a well-timed phone call.

The right-hander, ranked No. 30 on MLB Pipeline's list of top 30 Cubs prospects, has been slowed by injuries and inconsistency since he was selected in the second round of the 2012 Draft. In 2014, he posted a 6-4 record and 2.50 ERA in 22 games for Class A Kane County, but an elbow strain in 2015 and a forearm strain in '16 limited him.

MESA, Ariz. -- This spring, Duane Underwood Jr. is feeling as good as he did when he was pitching for Pope High School in Marietta, Ga. All it took was hard work, a little adjustment mentally and a well-timed phone call.

The right-hander, ranked No. 30 on MLB Pipeline's list of top 30 Cubs prospects, has been slowed by injuries and inconsistency since he was selected in the second round of the 2012 Draft. In 2014, he posted a 6-4 record and 2.50 ERA in 22 games for Class A Kane County, but an elbow strain in 2015 and a forearm strain in '16 limited him.

And now?

"I've been putting a lot of work in, getting my body right, getting my mind right," Underwood said. "Most of it was my mentality and how I approached the game and how I approached going on the mound, and a lot of that has changed and I've done a lot of growing up. The game's fun again."

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

Cubs manager Joe Maddon can see it. He first got a long look at Underwood during an intrasquad game two years ago when Jake Arrieta was getting some work in on a back field.

"His body is better, he's leaner," Maddon said of the 23-year-old. "When he came into camp this year, he had a different look about him. This is a guy with a high ceiling, and he hasn't realized it. There's a lot of conversation from the front office, coaches, etc. I think this winter he went home and did a little soul searching. He's much more assertive, he's attacking the zone."

Cubs Spring Training info

Part of that soul searching may have been sparked by a phone conversation at midseason between Underwood and Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein.

"It was an interesting conversation to move me in the right direction kind of thing, just adjust my attitude, my outlook, stuff like that," Underwood said. "It put me in the right place mentally.

"It kind of helped me turn my season around, to be completely honest. It was a good conversation. I needed it."

Video: CWS@CHC: Epstein on bouncing back from NLCS loss

Underwood has had to deal with expectations that come from being a top Draft pick.

"With the injuries and stuff like that, it's almost been a little humbling and it's been nice," Underwood said. "I got to work this offseason and have been grinding my butt off."

He's added meditation to his routine, and tries to do so three or four times a week.

"I would say I didn't understand it at first, but it really helps," Underwood said. "It's like putting stuff in order in my mind to where I can be a little more organized with my day. It helped me develop a routine. It's been working magic."

What's important is how it helps Underwood on the mound. He's not looking at the stadium radar guns but watching hitters' reaction to his pitches.

"Getting outs is the sole goal here," he said.

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat.

Chicago Cubs, Duane Underwood Jr.

Cubs' Top 30 Prospects list reflects focus on pitching

MLB.com

In 2017, the Cubs squeezed the last drops out of what had been the best group of position prospects baseball had seen in years. Ian Happ hit 24 homers as a rookie as he joined fellow fully homegrown products Albert Almora, Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Willson Contreras and Kyle Schwarber in Chicago's lineup. The Cubs also used elite outfield prospect Eloy Jimenez to bolster their rotation, making him the centerpiece of a trade for Jose Quintana.

Cubs Top 30 Prospects list

In 2017, the Cubs squeezed the last drops out of what had been the best group of position prospects baseball had seen in years. Ian Happ hit 24 homers as a rookie as he joined fellow fully homegrown products Albert Almora, Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Willson Contreras and Kyle Schwarber in Chicago's lineup. The Cubs also used elite outfield prospect Eloy Jimenez to bolster their rotation, making him the centerpiece of a trade for Jose Quintana.

Cubs Top 30 Prospects list

In the three years since MLB Pipeline rated its farm system as the game's best, Chicago has made three consecutive National League Championship Series and ended a 108-year World Series title drought. They should continue to contend for a while but will do so without much immediate help from a system that now ranks near the bottom.

:: Team Top 30 Prospects lists ::

After graduating all those talented hitters to the big leagues -- and trading two of the top five prospects on MLB Pipeline's current Top 100 list in Jimenez and Gleyber Torres -- the Cubs are trying to develop some pitching. Three of their best four prospects are international right-handers: Adbert Alzolay, Oscar de la Cruz and Jose Albertos. They also took college arms with 13 of their first 14 Draft picks in 2016 and their top five in 2017, including first-rounders Brendon Little and Alex Lange last June. The Cubs have a whopping 21 pitchers on their Top 30 list, more than any other organization.

Biggest jump/fall
Here are the players whose ranks changed the most from the 2017 preseason list to the 2018 preseason list.

Jump: Adbert Alzolay, RHP (2017: NR | 2018: 1)
Fall: Trevor Clifton, RHP (2017: 8 | 2018: 28)

Best tools
Players are graded on a 20-80 scouting scale for future tools -- 20-30 is well below average, 40 is below average, 50 is average, 60 is above average and 70-80 is well above average. Players in parentheses also have the same grade.

Hit: 55 -- Victor Caratini (Aramis Ademan, Mark Zagunis)
Power: 55 -- Nelson Velazquez
Run: 65 -- D.J. Wilson
Arm: 55 -- Miguel Amaya (Aramis Ademan, Wladimir Galindo, Zack Short, Nelson Velazquez)
Defense: 60 -- Miguel Amaya
Fastball: 75 -- Dillon Maples
Curveball: 65 -- Alex Lange
Slider: 65 -- Dillon Maples
Changeup: 65 -- Jose Albertos
Control: 55 -- Michael Rucker (Adbert Alzolay, Oscar de la Cruz, Alec Mills, Keegan Thompson, Jen-Ho Tseng, Erich Uelmen)

How they were built
Draft: 18
International: 10
Trade: 2

Breakdown by ETA
2018: 7
2019: 7
2020: 11
2021: 5

Breakdown by position
C: 2
1B: 0
2B: 1
3B: 1
SS: 2
OF: 3
RHP: 17
LHP: 4

Jim Callis is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow @jimcallisMLB on Twitter. Listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.

Chicago Cubs

Urban Invitational renamed Andre Dawson Classic

Annual tournament showcases historically black college and university teams
MLB.com

Major League Baseball's annual collegiate tournament designed to highlight baseball programs at historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), formerly known as the Urban Invitational, has been renamed the Andre Dawson Classic.

Dawson, who enjoyed a 21-year big league career as an outfielder with the Expos, Cubs, Red Sox and Marlins and is one of two HBCU alumni who are in the Baseball Hall of Fame, was drafted out of Florida A&M University in 1975. He won the National League Rookie of the Year Award in '77 and the NL Most Valuable Player Award in '87, was an eight-time All-Star and an eight-time Gold Glove Award winner. He is one of five players to hit at least 400 home runs (438) and steal 300 bases (314), along with Willie Mays, Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez and Carlos Beltran.

Major League Baseball's annual collegiate tournament designed to highlight baseball programs at historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), formerly known as the Urban Invitational, has been renamed the Andre Dawson Classic.

Dawson, who enjoyed a 21-year big league career as an outfielder with the Expos, Cubs, Red Sox and Marlins and is one of two HBCU alumni who are in the Baseball Hall of Fame, was drafted out of Florida A&M University in 1975. He won the National League Rookie of the Year Award in '77 and the NL Most Valuable Player Award in '87, was an eight-time All-Star and an eight-time Gold Glove Award winner. He is one of five players to hit at least 400 home runs (438) and steal 300 bases (314), along with Willie Mays, Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez and Carlos Beltran.

Video: Celebrating Dawson during Black History Month

"It is with the utmost appreciation that I take this opportunity to thank MLB for this honor," said Dawson, who along with Southern University's Lou Brock represent HBCU alumni in the Hall of Fame. "I am a product of an HBCU program that provided me an opportunity to pursue a college education while chasing a childhood dream. I am both honored and humbled to play a role in empowering students to be leaders in their communities and strive to improve and impact the lives of others."

This year's tournament will take place from Feb. 16-18, and will feature six HBCU teams -- Alabama State University (second appearance), Alcorn State University (fourth appearance), Grambling State University (seventh appearance), Prairie View A&M University (fourth appearance), Southern University (11th appearance) and the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff (first appearance) -- as well as the University of New Orleans (fifth appearance) and University of Illinois at Chicago (second appearance).

Video: FLA@PHI: Dawson's 400th home run in National League

The majority of the games will take place at the New Orleans MLB Youth Academy, with some contests also taking place at Maestri Field, home of the University of New Orleans baseball team. Two of the games played on Saturday, Feb. 17, will be aired live on MLB Network and MLB.com.

Along with Dawson, Blue Jays outfielder Curtis Granderson, former MLB All-Star Dmitri Young and former American League Manager of the Year Jerry Manuel (currently an MLB youth programs consultant) will make special appearances during the tournament.

The group of six HBCU teams in this year's field represents the highest number of teams in the 11-year history of the tournament. More than 25 HBCU players who have participated in the tournament have been selected in the MLB Draft. In addition, 22 players on this year's tournament rosters are alumni of MLB Youth Academies, Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) or MLB Amateur development camps.

Manny Randhawa is a reporter for MLB.com based in Denver. Follow him on Twitter at @MannyOnMLB.

Chicago Cubs

Prospect Hatch, vet Gimenez among Cubs' NRIs

MLB.com

CHICAGO -- Thomas Hatch, the Cubs' first pick in the 2016 Draft, is one of 19 non-roster invitees to the team's Spring Training camp, it was announced Thursday.

Veteran Chris Gimenez is one of four catchers on the list, joining Taylor Davis, Ian Rice and Ali Solis.

CHICAGO -- Thomas Hatch, the Cubs' first pick in the 2016 Draft, is one of 19 non-roster invitees to the team's Spring Training camp, it was announced Thursday.

Veteran Chris Gimenez is one of four catchers on the list, joining Taylor Davis, Ian Rice and Ali Solis.

Hatch, 23, ranked No. 7 on MLB Pipeline's list of top 30 Cubs prospects, went 5-11 with a 4.04 ERA in 26 starts last season at Class A Advanced Myrtle Beach.

Cubs pitchers and catchers will have their first workout in Mesa, Ariz., on Feb. 14, with the first full-squad workout scheduled for Feb. 19. The Cubs open Cactus League play on Feb. 23 against the Brewers and play their first home game at Sloan Park the next day against the Rangers.

Other pitchers invited to Spring Training include right-handers Anthony Bass, Craig Brooks, David Garner, Justin Hancock and Williams Perez, and lefties Alberto Baldonado, Daniel Camarena and Kyle Ryan.

Video: DET@MIN: Gimenez smashes a solo homer to left field

The Cubs have an opening for a backup catcher if they decide Victor Caratini needs more regular playing time in the Minor Leagues. Gimenez, 35, has played for the Indians, Mariners, Rays, Rangers and Twins, and has a career .218 batting average over nine seasons.

Four infielders were invited, including Ryan Court, Mike Freeman, Jason Vosler and Chesny Young, who is ranked 16th on MLB Pipeline's Cubs top 30 list. Vosler, 24, played at Double-A Tennessee last season and finished the year in the Arizona Fall League.

Outfielders Jacob Hannemann and Bijan Rademacher also were invited to camp.

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat.

Chicago Cubs, Chris Gimenez

Caratini among top 10 catcher prospects

Maddon impressed by youngster's defensive skills in 2017 debut
MLB.com

CHICAGO -- The Cubs have yet to add a backup catcher to Willson Contreras. They may have that person already on the roster in Victor Caratini.

Caratini, 24, was named one of the top 10 catching prospects in baseball by MLB Pipeline, and he has definitely impressed the Cubs so far.

CHICAGO -- The Cubs have yet to add a backup catcher to Willson Contreras. They may have that person already on the roster in Victor Caratini.

Caratini, 24, was named one of the top 10 catching prospects in baseball by MLB Pipeline, and he has definitely impressed the Cubs so far.

:: Top 10 Prospects by Position ::

Last season, Caratini was promoted to the big league team in late June. Contreras handled the majority of games, but on July 30 in Milwaukee, Anthony Rizzo was a late scratch and Caratini was needed to play first base. He hit a tiebreaking home run in the seventh inning of the Cubs' 4-2 win over the Brewers. It also was his last game with the big league team until mid-August because the Cubs had acquired Alex Avila from the Tigers.

"It's a good moment for us, it's a good moment for him," Rizzo said at the time of Caratini's blast.

Video: CHC@MIL: Caratini hits his first Major League homer

It was the only homer he hit for the Cubs in 31 games -- he belted 10 homers and 27 doubles while batting .342 at Triple-A Iowa -- but the Cubs are counting on Caratini's defense more than his bat. The young catcher has not been shy to ask for more work with the Cubs' catching instructors to get better, and his defensive skills impressed manager Joe Maddon in his seven starts at catcher.

"He asks a lot of questions and he wants to learn," Rizzo said of Caratini. "He's a big student of the game. He's really quiet but also a really good observer. He's been nice for us, and he's learned a lot fast up here."

Caratini ranked 10th on MLB Pipeline's list, which was led by the Indians' Francisco Mejia. Cardinals prospect Carson Kelly was No. 2, and he may get more playing time soon, now that Yadier Molina has announced he will retire after the 2020 season.

Rounding out the top 10 are the Dodgers' Keibert Ruiz, the Athletics' Sean Murphy, the Tigers' Jake Rogers, the Phillies' Jorge Alfaro, the Orioles' Chance Sisco, the Blue Jays' Danny Jansen and the White Sox's Zack Collins.

Even though Contreras says he'd start all 162 games, the Cubs are a little more realistic. The question in 2018 will be whether Caratini can continue to progress if he's a backup in the big leagues or if he would be better off starting at Iowa. In five Minor League seasons, he's compiled a .289 batting average.

Video: Caratini named Cubs' Pipeline hitter of the year

When Caratini hit his first Major League home run in July, he was asked if he was trying to take Rizzo's job.

"No," Caratini said.

Cubs coach Henry Blanco, who was interpreting for Caratini, corrected him.

"The answer should be 'yes,'" Blanco said.

For now, Caratini will focus on catching.

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat.

Chicago Cubs, Victor Caratini

By the book: Maples seeks 'pen role with Cubs

Right-hander advanced from Class A to Majors in 2017
MLB.com

CHICAGO -- Dillon Maples was sitting at a Starbucks in Memphis on Aug. 31, reading about George Washington, when Cubs player development director Jaron Madison interrupted him. Triple-A Iowa's game against the Redbirds had been called because of the weather. An avid reader, Maples' plan was to hunker down in one of the coffee shop's comfortable chairs for the day.

"Jaron comes over and says, 'Hey, why don't you ride back with me to the hotel?'" said Maples, who was pitching in relief for Iowa, his third Minor League stop in 2017. "I said, 'You know, I'm probably going to get my drink refilled and hang out here for another hour.' He said, 'No, no, no, I think you need to come back with me.'