3 questions as Cubs ready for Spring Training

February 18th, 2016

MESA, Ariz. -- In Year 2 with the Cubs, Joe Maddon has a new outfielder, a new starting pitcher, a new, but very familiar second baseman, and a new RV. He also will deliver a new message to the players. After winning 97 games and getting to the postseason, Maddon knows the Cubs won't be able to sneak up on anyone.

"The target's going to be bigger, and I want us to embrace the target," Maddon said. "The pressure is going to be possibly greater, and I want us to embrace the pressure. The bigger target, the greater pressure, I think, equals a grander chance for success. So I'm all about that, and I definitely will bring that to our guys' attention."

The Cubs officially get underway on Saturday with the first workout for pitchers and catchers, although most have already been at the team's complex early to get a jump start on 2016. Position players need to report by Tuesday, and the first full squad workout is scheduled for the next day.

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The Cubs will still be young, but the 20-something infield of Anthony Rizzo, Addison Russell, and Kris Bryant will be joined by Maddon favorite Ben Zobrist, 34. Maddon used "Zorilla" as a super-utility player in Tampa Bay, and Zobrist thrived.

The other new guys include outfielder Jason Heyward, who liked the Cubs' youth so much that he rejected more lucrative offers from other teams to sign for eight years, $184 million. John Lackey also joins the rotation to give Chicago three standout starters, which is just what a team needs in the postseason.

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Bryant, Russell and slugger Kyle Schwarber are all coming off successful rookie seasons. They'll have a better feel for the daily grind this year, although teams also will have better scouting reports on them as well. The players dismissed any talk of a sophomore jinx. So does Maddon.

"They're going to become more consistent," he said of the young players. "They're going to understand what pitchers are trying to do better. Thus, they're going to be even better offensive players."

Here are three questions the Cubs do need to answer this spring.

1. Where do Schwarber and Baez play?

The Cubs want Schwarber's bat in the lineup. But where will he play? This spring, Schwarber will split his workout time between the catcher drills and the outfielders sessions. As long as he keeps launching balls over the walls -- or onto scoreboards -- he'll get playing time. Javier Baez is a solid middle infielder and was projected as the starting second baseman a year ago, but he'll likely be getting reps in the outfield as well. The hope is that Baez could develop into a versatile Zobrist-type player who can be dropped into the lineup anywhere.

2. Can Heyward play center?

He's fast enough, he can cover a lot of territory with his long legs, but can Heyward handle the switch to center? He's spent the majority of his career in right field, making just 30 career starts in center. Maddon isn't worried, saying it's easier to read the ball off the bat when you're in center. And Heyward hasn't sounded too concerned, either. But with Schwarber and Jorge Soler in left and right, respectively, Heyward, 26, may need to cover for them, too.

3. Who makes the final cut for the bullpen?

Hector Rondon is set as the Cubs' closer and Justin Grimm and Pedro Strop were reliable setup men. But who will join them in the 'pen? Rex Brothers comes over from Colorado, with his last full season a disappointing 2014 in which he posted a 5.59 ERA in 74 games with the Rockies. Neil Ramirez is coming back from a tender shoulder that limited him to 19 games. Where does newcomer Adam Warren fit? Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio likes having starters in the bullpen because of their versatility, and he's got that with Travis Wood, Clayton Richard and Trevor Cahill. It should all get sorted out this spring.