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Excitement in air for new-look Cubs heading into camp

New manager Maddon, high-profile acquisitions bring optimism

MESA, Ariz. -- Cousin Eddie, Joe Maddon's RV, has been parked in Mesa for most of the winter. At some point in Spring Training, it will likely appear at Cubs camp.

What other surprises will the new manager bring? That remains to be seen. Maddon takes over this week as the 54th manager in Cubs history, and the first with his own Twitter account.

"The thing with Joe that really resonates with me is he succeeded in Tampa under some pretty long odds," Chicago general manager Jed Hoyer said of Maddon, who managed the Rays from 2006-14. "It's a bad ballpark situation; they don't have a lot of fans, they don't have a lot of payroll, and he always had to figure out a way to find an edge to keep the team loose, to keep the team cohesive. We're very different here, but there are some challenges here that don't present themselves everywhere."

Video: Maddon discusses preparing Cubs for 2015 on Hot Stove

Some of those challenges include the facilities -- there's no batting cage near the dugout at Wrigley Field. There's also that long drought of not winning, which hovers over the Cubs. What Maddon will find in Arizona is a state-of-the-art facility, which opened last year, and which several players have taken advantage of prior to the start of organized workouts.

Shortstop Starlin Castro was among the early birds, along with Jon Lester, Jason Motte and Miguel Montero. Maddon was expected to get his first look on Monday in advance of Friday's first workout for pitchers and catchers.

The addition of Maddon and Lester has amped up expectations for Cubs fans, weary after five consecutive fifth-place finishes in the National League Central.

Video: Duquette on Cubs' outlook with Lester as team's ace

"There's a definite buzz [this year], which is nice," Chicago president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said. "We've asked so much of our fans the past three years. ... Now it's nice to transition to a point where we're building the organization and we're building a Major League team that can compete, and our fans deserve to get excited about it."

How will Jake Arrieta and Kyle Hendricks follow up on their standout 2014 seasons? Can Travis Wood and Edwin Jackson rebound from tough campaigns last year? Jason Hammel thrived with the Cubs before he was traded last July -- can he do that again?

The bullpen has some power arms in Justin Grimm, Neil Ramirez, Pedro Strop, Zac Rosscup and Hector Rondon. What will be veteran Motte's role? Where do new faces like lefties Drake Britton and Joseph Ortiz fit?

And what will the Cubs do with three catchers? They traded for Montero, signed free agent David Ross and still have Welington Castillo on the roster.

Video: Cubs add David Ross, reunite backstop with Jon Lester

Maddon says his primary goal in Spring Training is to "build relationships and trust. Once I do that, we can have a free flow of constructive criticism back and forth."

That process begins this week.

Pitchers and catchers report
Feb. 19.

Full squad reports
Feb. 24.

First Spring Training game
Home vs. Athletics; away vs. Giants (split squad), March 5, 2:05 p.m. CT

Opening Day
Home vs. Cardinals, April 5, 7:05 p.m. CT

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat.
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