MESA, Ariz. -- John Lackey walked toward the weight room with fellow Cubs pitcher Jonathan Lester, joking with team personnel along the way. The two had just faced batters in a pitching drill.As they passed the batting cages, 20-year-old outfielder Eloy Jimenez, the youngest player in the Cactus League, exited
MESA, Ariz. -- John Lackey walked toward the weight room with fellow Cubs pitcher Jonathan Lester, joking with team personnel along the way. The two had just faced batters in a pitching drill.
As they passed the batting cages, 20-year-old outfielder Eloy Jimenez, the youngest player in the Cactus League, exited a cage and took a seat inside the facility. This is the first time Jimenez, a non-roster invitee who is ranked No. 13 on MLBPipeline.com's list of the top 100 prospects in baseball, has been in Spring Training.
The approaches to camp of Lackey and Jimenez are as different as their ages.
Jimenez was only 3 years old when Lackey was taking part in his first Spring Training. And Lackey had played four seasons in the Major Leagues before Jimenez even took up baseball while growing up in the Dominican Republic.
Veteran players like Lackey know exactly what they need to get done in spring to get ready for the season. Lackey said he is going through the process of "a slow buildup" of his arm.
Newcomers like Jimenez have to feel their way, and hope that they leave the best possible impression with the team's decision-makers. His objective is to prove himself for the future.
Cubs manager Joe Maddon said he has to handle young players differently.
"Sometimes with the younger guys, you've got to lighten them up a little bit and make sure that their brain is showing up good," Maddon said. "With the veteran guys, it's just a straight-up conversation regarding what you're seeing and what their role is going to be."
Maddon said it also is important to monitor the progress of players coming off injuries. Lackey, who underwent Tommy John surgery in 2012, has learned to take better care of his body.
"You have definitely got to improve things as you get older, for sure," Lackey said. "I eat a lot better than I did in my younger days … but as far as workout-wise, I haven't changed much."
Maddon said Lackey looks as if he's in better shape now than he did when he was younger.
Their connection stretches back to 1999, when Lackey was drafted by the Angels and Maddon served part of the season as the club's interim manager. Maddon was the Angels bench coach when Lackey made his MLB debut in 2002.
"The guy himself has not changed a lot," Maddon said. "I used to hang out with the bullpen guys and a lot of the pitchers postgame, and so we went out a lot. John was very entertaining."
Now, Maddon is trying to get to know Jimenez. He said the young outfielder came into his office to introduce himself and, Maddon figures, "to make sure I knew who he was."
Maddon knew. He said young players are "often slightly overwhelmed," but that's not the case with Jimenez.
"Eloy's in a different category," he said. "We had a nice conversation, and he believes he belongs here. He's a very bright young man."
Jimenez, speaking through an interpreter, said Maddon told him, "Just to keep doing what I need to do, or just do what I did last year, and stay ready, in case."
Unlike Lackey, Jimenez is still learning a daily routine at camp, but he is trying to learn "from the best" as he hopes to get a shot with the big league club sometime this season.
"That's what one would assume with working hard and staying positive for when the moment arises," Jimenez said.
Logan Newman is a senior majoring in journalism at Arizona State University. This story is part of a Cactus League partnership between MLB.com and ASU's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.