"First and foremost, it needs to be understood that we have a good group of players, both youngsters and veterans," Quade said. "However, from an organizational standpoint, I think we have a lot of young kids on our roster this year. We broke camp last year with two or three in the lineup every day; this year, it looks like we're going to churn out four or five on a daily basis. We're ready."
Among those expected to start in Thursday's opener are second baseman Richard Lewis, last year's Double-A Southern League MVP, catcher Geovany Soto, first baseman Micah Hoffpauir and shortstop Ronny Cedeno—all of which spent last year at West Tenn. Quade is hoping his veterans will step in and help with the younger players' growth.
"You look at guys like (David) Kelton and (Ben) Greieve, and you hope they compliment in any way they can," said Quade. "My biggest headache is going to be keeping the vets happy when the young kids take presence in the lineup. But those are the decisions they pay me to make."
"I talked to all of the veterans about their priorities with some of the kids," Quade said. "It makes it a little hectic to come up with a lineup each night. As excited as I am about these kids, the success of this club early on will depend on the way we all play. I'm excited to have Grieve and all the vets; if we can count on their numbers, it'll go a long way in stabilizing this team.
"They already know how to go about their business, and they should not only stabilize themselves on the field but set good examples on how to relax and get through the long season."
One player who won't be in the Cubs' lineup this weekend will be Casey Kopitzke, the team's primary catcher a year ago. Kopitzke is out until at least mid-April after undergoing an emergency appendectomy this spring.
"The surgery is almost amazing," said Quade. "He's already swinging off the tee. Right now we have a young kid in Soto that we're excited about, and Mark Johnson is obviously a quality Triple-A player who can help fill the void."
When Kopitzke returns, it will give the Cubs three catchers. While carrying three catchers on a minor league roster is not unheard of, Quade admitted that circumstance will be a big factor into the decisions of who plays where, and who goes where.
"We'll have to take a look at where Soto is," Quade said. "He's got to be given a very close look and we also have to keep in mind the needs of the major league club. If something were to happen to either (Michael) Barrett or (Henry) Blanco, the probability of Johnson or Casey moving up is probably better than that of Soto."
The Cubs' pitching staff also appears to be loaded. Mark Prior will start the season opener on a rehab assignment, but soon following in his footsteps will be top pitching prospects Renyel Pinto, Bobby Brownlie, Sergio Mitre and John Koronka.
"We have a pitching staff that, while there are a few rookies to the Triple-A level, they've got some innings under their belts these past couple of years," said Quade. "It's a pitching staff that is a little more established. The balance is great."
While Prior will start the series opener, many have wondered who will follow in his footsteps, and who would have gotten the call as the team's Opening Night starter had Prior been healthy.
"It looks like we'll go Pinto, Mitre, Koronka, (Jimmy) Anderson, and Brownlie," said Quade. "After that, we'll have to see what plays out."
Quade admits two players in particular caught his eye this spring.
"Brownlie is such a tough kid," Quade said. "He just strikes me as a bulldog. I don't think he's throwing as hard as he used to, and obviously we'd like to see his velocity return, but he seems to find a way to get things done. He changes speeds well and his command is good. He's had an okay spring; not lights out, but enough to give himself a chance to pitch here."
Brownlie, the Cubs' first round draft pick out of Rutgers in 2002, went relatively unnoticed this spring. Last year at Double-A, however, he finished 9-9 with a 3.36 ERA in 26 starts. Quade reminds people that he pays only partial attention to spring stats anyway.
"I've discovered over the years that you're better off paying attention to what players did the year before, rather than in Spring Training," said Quade. "It's hard to pitch in Arizona and you take it with a grain of salt. He (Brownlie) did a nice job for that Double-A club last year. Based on that, he got himself a spot on our roster.
The other player on Quade's roster who impressed him this spring was Cedeno.
"He had a really nice camp," Quade said. "They have an award for Rookie of the Spring and he won that. I didn't have him last year, but from seeing him this spring, the way he goes about his business and the adjustments he's made have become evident."
That doesn't mean there won't be any growing pains with Brownlie, Cedeno and some of the other young prospects, cautioned Quade.
"When you go to Triple-A with these kids, you understand there'll be some growing pains," Quade said. "They've all had decent springs. Lewis has come back healthy after suffering the broken leg last year. We think we've got a talented group."
Lastly, Quade addressed the team's plans for the closer's spot. Right-hander Jermaine Van Buren was heralded as the favorite all spring after saving 21 games at West Tenn in 2004. He was promoted to Triple-A late last year and pitched in the Pacific Coast League playoffs for Iowa and pitching coach Rick Kranitz.
"Yeah, we've talked a little about that," Quade said of the possibility of Van Buren closing. "We may come out of the shoot that way, but it looks like we're going to have some fun with this bullpen. I have no problem starting the year off with Van Buren, (Roberto) Novoa or even (Will) Ohman in a closing role, but I think at some point we'll try to mix and match."
So, does this mean the famous "closer by committee" will be adopted?
"While I'm not a huge fan of the committee," said Quade, "you have to be flexible enough at the minor league level to give everyone an opportunity. While some guys might be interested in having set roles, we like to say at this level, ‘your set role is to get guys out when I ask you too!' If you take those three I mentioned or even (Russ) Rohlicek, all of them have good stuff. In any certain situation, you could wind up on the mound."
Quade led the Cubs to the Pacific Coast League Championship Series against eventual league champion Sacramento last season. This will be his 16th season as a minor league manager.
To view the Cubs' full roster with photos, go here.