Cubs Spring Training Round-Up

Cubs Park is buzzing with activity as the major and minor leaguers have reported to the new facility in Mesa. Northsiders Report provides a hodgepodge of Cubs info coming out of the Cactus League including Bill Buckner's retirement and the hiring of Ted Lilly.

Bill Buckner retires as Boise hitting coach

After two seasons as hitting coach for the Boise Hawks, Bill Buckner is retiring from his position. Hawks Manager Gary Van Tol spent last season working with Buckner and issued this statement:

"It goes without saying the type of influence Bill Buckner had on our young hitters the last two years, especially in the Northwest League where we lead the league in hitting. It was special for me to witness up close how Buck influenced all of our young hitters throughout the course of a long season. Hitting is the toughest skill to teach in baseball but Buck kept it simple and consistent. He was at his best in the cage helping players build their swing before the game and in the dugout helping them with their approach and plan during the game. The confidence and progress our hitters showed from the start of the season to the end was a direct reflection on Buck's efforts and the trust he instilled with every hitter he worked with."

Buckner, a 22-year MLB veteran served as the Chicago White Sox hitting coach in 1996-97 and was the manager of the Brockton Rox of the CanAm League in 2011. Buckner played for the Cubs from 1977-84, winning the 1980 National League batting crown and earning a spot in the 1981 All-Star Game. A resident of Boise, Buckner played in 2,199 major league games with the Dodgers, Cubs, Red Sox, Angels, and Royals, hitting .289 with 174 career home runs and 1,208 RBI. Buckner played in two World Series—in 1974 with the Dodgers and 1986 with the Red Sox.

According to Van Tol, Buckner brought influence to more than just the players during his time with the Hawks. "He had a big influence on me as well. It was a pleasure working with him. He's been in the game a long time and has so much to offer. I learned something from him every day. Hopefully he can sneak out of the house a couple of times during the season and come down to the stadium to throw BP and tell me what I need to do to get better. I wish him, Jody and his family all the best in his retirement. A retirement well deserved."

According to Boise Hawks announcer Mike Stafford, Jesus Feliciano will serve as the hitting coach and Guillermo Martinez will be the full-time bench coach.

Ted Lilly named special assistant

The Chicago Cubs have named Ted Lilly as Special Assistant to President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein and General Manager Jed Hoyer. In his new role with the organization, Lilly will spend time with the club during spring training, visit the club's minor league affiliates during the season, evaluate amateur players leading up to the draft and perform professional scouting assignments.

Lilly returns to the Cubs after spending nearly four years with the team from 2007-10, including back-to-back National League Central Division titles in 2007 and 2008. The former southpaw recently announced his retirement as a player after 15 seasons with Montreal (1999), New York Yankees (2000-02), Oakland (2002-03), Toronto (2004-06), the Cubs (2007-10) and the Los Angeles Dodgers (2010-13). Lilly ended his career with a 130-113 record and a 4.14 ERA in 356 appearances, including 331 starts.

Roster spots available

While all the attention on the home runs of Javier Baez and Kris Bryant, there are a few battles for an opening day roster spots.

With Jake Arrieta behind schedule due to early spring shoulder stiffness, the fifth rotation spot looks like a battle between James McDonald and Chris Rusin, both struggling in their spring debuts. Kyle Hendricks has an outside shot at the rotation while Dallas Beeler and Eric Jokisch threw the ball well in their first appearances.

I thought Emilio Bonifacio would have a tough time making the big league roster without a 40-man roster spot but he's getting plenty of action already this spring spending time at second, center and short. He could serve as a utility player and provide the Cubs a leadoff hitter.

Minor Leaguers in Big League Camp

Some of the Cubs top minor leaguers are in camp, either as non-roster invitees or on the 40-man roster including Northsiders Top 50 prospects Kyle Hendricks, Armando Rivero, Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Albert Almora, Dallas Beeler, Alberto Cabrera, Neil Ramirez, Zac Rosscup, Arodys Vizcaino, Arismendy Alcantara, Christian Villanueva, Mike Olt, Josh Vitters, Logan Watkins, Brett Jackson, Jorge Soler and Matt Szczur.

During the spring the Cubs will assign several minor leaguers to big league games and get them playing time. Those already "called up" include RHP Yoanner Negrin, RHP Lendy Castillo, RHP Dae-Eun Rhee, RHP Nicholas Struck, C Marl Malave, SS Carlos Penalver, 3B Dustin Geiger, RHP Frank Batista, RHP Ryan Searle, RHP Paolo Espino, SS Walter Ibarra and 1B Daniel Vogelbach. Epstein and Hoyer are strong believers in incorporating the minor leaguers into big league spring training games to have them gain experience and ask questions from the older players.

All players under contract

The Cubs have come to contract terms with 19 players on their 40-man roster with zero-to-three years for the 2014 season. Those include, Jake Arrieta, Dallas Beeler, Alberto Cabrera, Justin Grimm, Blake Parker, Neil Ramirez, Hector Rondon, Arodys Vizcaino, Zac Rosscup, Chris Rusin, Wellington Castillo, Arismendy Alcantara, Mike Olt, Christian Villanueva, Logan Watkins, Brett Jackson, Junior Lake, Matt Szczur, and Josh Vitters. The Cubs have all their players under contract for the season.

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