Position players invited were catcher Jake Fox, infielders Casey McGehee and Eric Patterson, and outfielders Tyler Colvin and Chris Walker. In addition, 33-year-old INF Mike Kinkade was also invited to big league camp.
Several players garnered their second big league camp invitation in as many seasons. In Fox's case, this year's invitation takes on a bit more meaning.
"I think this one means more than last year's because (Michael) Barrett and (Henry) Blanco were both gone for the World (Baseball Classic) games," said Fox, who spent 2006 between Class-A Daytona and Double-A West Tenn. "Last year, I felt I was a replacement. This year, I feel I'm an addition."
The 24-year-old Fox batted .313 in 66 games at Daytona and was promoted in late June to West Tenn, where he finished with a .269 average in 55 games. A right-handed hitter, Fox closed with career-high's in batting average (.294), home runs (21) and RBIs (86) en route to being named the Cubs' Minor League Hitter of the Year by InsideTheIvy.com.
Like Fox, players such as Wells, Pignatiello and McGehee will also be making their second trips to big league camp next month.
Wells' 2006 season was divided up between West Tenn and Triple-A Iowa, and the 24-year-old felt he left a good impression on the Cubs in his first stay in big league camp last spring. He went on to dominate Southern League hitters and finished with a 1.59 ERA in 12 starts with the Double-A club before being promoted to Iowa in late June.
Though Wells spent all of last season as a starter, he's done a considerable amount of relieving in the past and admits he'd like to return to the bullpen.
"I'm hoping they go ahead and let me get back in the bullpen where I feel comfortable and strong," said Wells, who has made 49 starts in 112 career appearances. "My mentality as a reliever is just 10 times better than as a starter. I like starting and it was real fun to do it last year, but I think I'm better suited as a reliever and I can see myself as a big league reliever."
For his part, Pignatiello knows it isn't enough just to be invited to big league camp; the left-hander wants to get there and stick around.
"Not being on the roster, it's a long shot," Pignatiello admits. "But when you get invited, you can't go in thinking you're not going to make the team. You can't be there just to have fun and enjoy the experience. You have to go in with the mindset that you're fighting for a job. That's only going to help you out when you're out there competing."
After drifting back and forth between the starting rotation and bullpen previously in his career, the 24-year-old spent all of 2006 in a relief role. At West Tenn a season ago, Pignatiello was 3-1 with a 2.69 ERA and held left-handed hitters to a .222 average against in 38 relief appearances.
"Being a non-roster invitee, you're only going to get so many chances to go out there and perform," he said. "You have to make the most of it and I hope this year I get the chance to go out and do what they want me to do."
What the Cubs want Pignatiello to do is get lefties out.
"Pat (Listach) did a good job of bringing me in to face lefties," Pignatiello said, recalling his time in the Arizona Fall League last year. "That's what they want me to do. I have to go out and perform well in those situations."
A term Cubs Farm Director Oneri Fleita uses quite often when describing players is "gamer." Infielders such as McGehee fit that bill quite nicely.
The 24-year-old had another solid season with the bat and at third base in his first Triple-A campaign in 2006. He's been playing Winter Ball in Mexico since October and with Tomateros de Culiacan, McGehee batted .300 in 67 games, hitting safely in 16 consecutive contests at one point.
"He's done a great job," Fleita said of McGehee. "He got a chance (in the Instructional League) to mix in a little catching. Mexico has been a great opportunity. He's a gamer and he'll find a way to the big leagues."
Since the Mexican Pacific League playoffs began, McGehee is 7-for-19.
Meanwhile, several players earned their first career invitations to big league camp, namely: Colvin (the Cubs' first-round pick in 2006), Gallagher (12th round in '04), O'Malley (non-drafted free agent in '02), Patterson (eighth round in '04) and Walker (sixth round in '02).
Before Colvin, Mark Prior was the last Cubs first-round pick invited to big league camp in his first Spring Training with the organization. That's partly due to the fact that the Cubs have drafted two players out of high school since selecting Prior. (Pitcher Bobby Brownlie was drafted from Rutgers University in 2002, but did not sign until the following March.)
"I think this was something that was done beforehand," Fleita said of Colvin being invited to big league camp. "A lot of times when they do a player's contract, it's something that is negotiated during that process."
Contractual obligations aside, that's not the only reason why Colvin was invited to camp. The left-handed hitting 21-year-old, drafted 13th overall from Clemson University last year, has impressed the Cubs with his maturity.
"What we saw from him in terms of a player, he backs up all the reports," Fleita said. "You're always a little nervous when you send a guy to that [big league] level. He might try to do something he's not capable of doing, but this guy is a very confident young man who's got a lot of ability and should fit in nicely in the big league environment."
Colvin batted .268 in 64 games with Class-A Boise of the Northwest League a season ago. He finished second in the league with 53 RBIs, fourth with 11 home runs, and third with 29 extra base hits.
"His game is very mature. He knows how to run the bases, can throw and field, and knows the strike zone. He's got a lot going for him," Fleita added.
Then there's Gallagher. Drafted out of St. Thomas Aquinas High School (Fla.), the 21-year-old has pitched like a first-round pick. He tossed a combined no-hitter in only his third start at Class-A Peoria in 2005 and was named the Cubs' Minor League Pitcher of the Year by the organization later that year.
"It's unbelievable to finally be given the chance to go in and be with the big league team, and just show that I have a future," said Gallagher, who was 11-5 with a 2.52 ERA between Daytona and West Tenn a season ago and finished with the second most strikeouts (171) in the Cubs' farm system.
"All of the work you put in just goes to show you that there's always more you can do to get to the next level. You never know what opportunity may lie in front of you," Gallagher added.
To illustrate his point, Gallagher references another Sean: Sean Marshall, whom the right-hander has used for inspiration.
The left-handed Marshall had spent most of his career in Class-A ball prior to 2006, but earned a spot in the Cubs' starting rotation out of Spring Training last season due to injuries and subsequent opportunities.
"When he went into Spring Training, he was somewhat unknown," Gallagher said of Marshall. "He was a prospect and a great pitcher, but he just wanted to get his innings in. Instead, he stuck with the big league team all year and proved he belonged there. I'd kind of like to go through the same situation as him and prove I can stick there."
And though each player was genuinely excited about the opportunity to rub elbows with such household names as Ramirez, Soriano and Zambrano, few could have been as overwhelmed as the 26-year-old Walker.
"It's an honor and something I've been waiting for my whole life," Walker said of his first invitation to big league camp. "It's my first legit shot of making a big league team."
A reigning three-time All-Star, Walker is coming off his finest year to date in the Cubs' system. He batted .292 atop the lineup at Double-A and finished with 22 doubles, 11 triples, 50 stolen bases and a .351 on-base percentage.
It doesn't bother Walker that he's not necessarily the first guy people think of when they discuss the Cubs' top outfield prospects.
"I've always been the guy that's been under the radar," Walker said. "No one has heard a lot about me other than the people that have seen me play. To finally be able to get out and show the coaches and the Cub fans who I am and that (Felix) Pie is not the only center fielder in the Cubs' system, it's something I've always wanted."
To date, the Cubs have invited 16 non-roster players to big league camp.