Cubs have 3 big questions to answer as they head into camp
Chicago looks to clarify uncertainty with Jackson, catching depth, starter at third
MESA, Ariz. -- Jon Lester, Travis Wood, Miguel Montero and several of the young Cubs relievers are among the early birds who have been in Mesa to get a head start on Spring Training, which officially kicks off Thursday when pitchers and catchers report to Arizona.
Cubs manager Joe Maddon will get his first look at the group at a workout on Friday. Position players report to Arizona next Tuesday and the first full-squad workout will be the next day.
Maddon has learned how passionate Cubs fans are during his travels this offseason after being named manager in early November. That said, he heads into his first camp in the desert since 2004 -- when he was on the Angels' coaching staff -- with the same message.
"Every year when I go to Spring Training, I promise you, I'm going to talk 90-plus wins every year, I'm going to talk playoffs every year, and we're going to believe it's going to happen," Maddon said.
This is the Cubs' second spring in their new facility, and there are a few changes. The stadium is now called Sloan Park and there is a new batter's eye in center to replace the trees.
The biggest change is that the Cubs' rotation now has an anchor in Lester, who signed a six-year, $155 million deal in December. He joins Jake Arrieta, Jason Hammel and promising Kyle Hendricks.
What to do with Tsuyoshi Wada, Jacob Turner and Felix Doubront? That's one of the many issues heading into spring.
As part of our preview series, here are three more questions:
1. What do the Cubs do with three catchers?
The Cubs traded for Montero and signed free agent David Ross, who is a favorite of Lester's. Where does that leave Welington Castillo? Castillo, who has been the starter the last two seasons, has improved defensively but scuffled offensively. Montero is well regarded for his pitch-framing skills. When asked in January about having a trio of backstops, Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said the plan was to take all three into Spring Training to preserve their depth. "There's a scenario where our roster can handle three catchers," Epstein said.
2. What to do with Edwin Jackson?
Jackson finished the 2014 season in the bullpen, but he's projected as a starter. Jackson has been an enigma. He posted only seven quality starts out of his 27 starts (he had 14 in 2013), and opponents compiled a .357 batting average on balls in play against him. Maddon knows Jackson from their days together with the Rays, and Montero was the right-hander's catcher in Arizona. Jackson has two years and $26 million remaining on his contract.
3. Who's at third base?
Everyone knows it's just a matter of time before Kris Bryant is playing third. The Cubs have maintained that the 23-year-old will tell them when he's ready. Eager fans want Bryant in the Opening Day lineup, but if the Cubs decide to delay Bryant's arrival, then who starts? In the 2014 season opener, it was Mike Olt, who hit 12 home runs by the All-Star break. However, he also batted .160 in 89 games, spending most of the second half at Triple-A Iowa. Olt has seen progress since working with new hitting coach John Mallee.