It’s a mere 27 days until Cubs pitchers and catchers report for spring training. We’ll get to a few things here in our first Cubs blog of the new year, including some info on this coming weekend’s somewhat new-look Cubs convention.
First, one of my favorite spring-training features to do over the past 15 years has been to talk to some of the nonroster invitees to camp. I’ve found that almost all of them, especially the older guys trying to hang on for one more shot, have pretty good stories to tell, with a lot of pathos.
I remember talking to veteran outfielder Calvin Murray one day in Mesa. I asked him what kept him in the game. All of a sudden, he grabbed my notebook and tape recorder (we weren’t digital yet in those days) and said, “How would you like it if I took that away from you?” In other words, he wasn’t ready to give up what he knew as his livelihood. And we had a nice conversation.
Most of these guys have no shot at making it, but you never say never. Joe Mather was a nonroster invitee last year. Way back in 2000, I interviewed a onetime phenom named Todd Van Poppel, who came to the Cubs as a nonroster man. He wound up having a pretty nice season and eventually parlayed that into a multiyear contract with the Rangers. Chad Fox was always one of my favorites. He might not have had much left in the tank, but he could not have been better to deal with. Last year, Trever Miller gave it a go in spring training but decided to give it up. Other nonroster men I’ve enjoyed interviewing over the years included Alan Zinter, Jimmy Anderson, Todd Dunwoody and Bobby Scales.
Last week, the Cubs announced the signing of 16 players to minor-league contracts with invites to spring training as nonroster men. There will be others from inside the organization in the days to come. Clubs always bring a lot of catchers to spring training to help with all the throwing session in the early days. You have to figure that old hands such as Casey Coleman, who is no longer on the 40-man roster, will get invites.
The Cubs have invited outfielder Brian Bogusevic, catcher J.C. Boscan, right-hander Andrew Carpenter, right-hander Jaye Chapman, outfielder Johermyn Chavez, right-hander Dayan Diaz, infielder Alberto Gonzalez, right-hander Jensen Lewis, infielder Brent Lillibridge, infielder Edwin Maysonet, outfielder Darnell McDonald, first baseman-outfielder Brad Nelson, right-hander Blake Parker, right-hander Zack Putnam, lefty Hisanori Takahashi and right-hander Cory Wade.
Looks like some fertile ground for stories there. Here are a few snippets:
Darnell McDonald is 34 years old. He was the Baltimore Orioles’ first-round pick (26th overall) in 1997. The Cubs took Jon Garland in the first round that year. McDonald has seen major-league action in parts of six seasons, with a line of .246/.312/.394 with 19 homers.
Brent Lillibridge is quite familiar to Chicago fans, having played for the White Sox from 2009 until the middle of last season. Lillibridge is 29, and by all accounts, a good quote.
Jaye Chapman finished up last season with the Cubs before being taken off the 40-man roster this off-season. The Cubs liked what they saw in 14 games, as Chapman went 0-1 with a 3.75 ERA. I suspect he’ll see more major-league time this season. He came over from the Braves in the Paul Maholm/Reed Johnson deal.
Brian Bogusevic, 28, is a native of Oak Lawn. He has parts of three years with the Astros under his belt, with a line of .227/.310/.346 and 11 homers. He’s a left-handed batter. Bogusevic was a first-rounder by the Astros in 2005.
Jensen Lewis, 28, has parts of four years of experience with the Indians, going 7-11 with a 3.68 ERA and a WHIP of 1.36.
So it should be fun to track those guys during spring training.
The Cubs will kick off convention week Wednesday with their annual fan caravan. In past years, they’ve held a lunch at Harry Caray’s downtown to get things rolling. This year, the Cubs will be serving lunch to several hundred active military members at the U.S. Marine Corps base on the North Side. It should be a nice event. We’ll get to talk with some of the players on the active roster for stories in Thursday’s paper.
On Thursday, the Cubs will hold a rookie development program at Northwestern. About a dozen minor-leaguers, most of whom have reached the Class AA or Class AAA levels, will be in attendance, as will Jason McLeod, the Cubs’ head of scouting and player development. One caravan stop Thursday will be at the Cubs’ new Class A affiliate, the Kane County Cougars.
The convention begins Friday at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel and Towers. It’s the 28th annual convention, and the Cubs have moved from the Chicago Hilton and Towers, their longtime convention home. We’ll see how this works out. Much of the program is the same, and there are a few new wrinkles and an old item or two brought back.
The opening ceremony is scheduled to begin Friday at 5 p.m., featuring player and alumni introductions on a red carpet runway that will provide special VIP access to children 16 and under.
The most popular sessions always are the ones where the fans can grill Cubs owners and the baseball-management team on Saturday. The TV and radio hosts have done a pretty good job the last couple years in letting the fans ask the questions and not monopolizing all the time. We media types get to ask questions every day during the season. The fans get very few chances to do so, and here’s hoping my friends from WGN who host some of these sessions will keep their own questions to a minimum.
Again, we’ll have the “Ricketts Family Forum,” featuring Tom, Laura, Pete and Todd Ricketts speaking with TV voice Len Kasper and fans about their experience as team owners over the past three years.
Baseball president Theo Epstein will head the “Meet Cubs Baseball Management” session along with GM Jed Hoyer, assistant GMs Randy Bush and Shiraz Rehman and field manager Dale Sveum. Will Cubs fans show any impatience? The fans were remarkably polite to former GM Jim Hendry in years past, and the new crew has been on the job for just over a year, so I have to believe the honeymoon is still going.
An old favorite, “Cubs Jeopardy,” returns Saturday. The game pits alumni pitchers Milt Pappas, Scott Sanderson, Lee Smith and Rick Sutcliffe against alumni position players Jose Cardenal, Jody Davis, Randy Hundley and Todd Walker. “Cubs Family Feud” makes its debut Saturday, as Cubs alumni Bobby Dernier, Jon Lieber, Gary Matthews and Billy Williams take on current Cubs Michael Bowden, Shawn Camp, Brett Jackson and Ian Stewart.
TV guys Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies host “Meet the New Cubs,” featuring pitchers Scott Baker, Scott Feldman, Edwin Jackson, catcher Dioner Navarro and outfielder Nate Schierholtz. That’s also Saturday.
On Sunday, we’ll have “Down on the Farm,” featuring Jason McLeod, director of pro scouting Joe Bohringer and director of playerd development Brandon Hyde, joined by pitcher Chris Rusin and third baseman Josh Vitters.
Len and Jim will be joined by WGN’s Bob Vorwald for “Stats Sunday,” offering insight into the statistics they use and analyze on Sundays throughout the season.
I always see a lot of you at the convention. I hope that’s the case again this weekend.