Prospects Anxious to Meet Piniella

Lou Piniella can be quite an intimidating fellow and no time soon is he likely to live down his reputation as a fiery manager with some of the best (and worst) on-field outbursts over the years. All the same, many prospects in the Cubs' farm system are eagerly anticipating their first vis-à-vis with "Sweet Lou."

"I think it's going to be great," said left-handed pitching prospect Carmen Pignatiello. "Lou seems like a very competitive guy. He will make camp a very competitive atmosphere and that brings the best out of everyone there."

Of course for all the good it did, Dusty Baker's camps were also quite competitive if you are to believe the players and coaches who annually sweated them out in Mesa, Ariz., each March from 2003-06.

Where Piniella will differ from his predecessor is that excuses, which under Baker became more the rule than the exception, won't be tolerated. The 63-year-old Cubs skipper might be the first to criticize a player for a miscue on the field, but he'll also be the first to congratulate said player on a fine play.

Don't expect Piniella's players to lack hustle, either. That's something that became all too commonplace in the Baker era.

"My teams have always hustled. That won't be a problem," Piniella said with an almost sinister tone during his initiation into Cubdom last October.

Moving on ... Last week, the Cubs invited several players that spent most if not all of last season in their farm system to big league spring training camp.

Many of those players, such as Pignatiello and OF Chris Walker, plan on bidding for a major league job right away. Others (such as 2006 first-round draft pick Tyler Colvin) will simply carry the knowledge and experience of big league camp with them to various levels of the farm system in 2007.

Regardless of the specifics, all players want to be noticed by Piniella.

"It's a good chance for me to get to know the new coaching staff," Cubs catching prospect Jake Fox said of being invited to camp. "It's also a good chance for me to show my skills and maybe persuade them to bring me up because they've got a chance to know me and see me."

Piniella would be wise not to ignore what Fox has done with the bat the past few seasons, especially in light of the recuperating Michael Barrett (intrascrotal hematoma). A polished hitter and high-round pick from the University of Michigan some three-plus years ago, the 24-year-old Fox is a career .284 hitter in four minor league seasons. He had his best season to date a year ago, batting .294 with a career-high 21 home runs and 86 RBIs in 121 games between Class-A Daytona and Double-A West Tennessee.

Another player eager to step into the spotlight is right-hander Randy Wells. A converted catcher, Wells has spent the past three seasons in the Cubs' farm system as a pitcher and was invited to big league camp a year ago.

He was 4-2 with a 1.59 ERA in 12 Double-A starts in 2006, earning his first career Triple-A promotion and finishing out the year with nine wins in all.

"After last year, I felt I threw pretty well in Spring Training and left a pretty good impression," said Wells. "With a new manager coming in and a new coaching staff, it would have been kind of upsetting not to go in this year and show them what I can do, and put myself in a position to possibly get called up this year."

And don't forget about Walker. The 26-year-old expects to compete with top prospect Felix Pie and others for the club's current vacancy in center field.

Walker, who played Winter Ball in Venezuela from mid-October through late November this past year, will be departing for Mesa earlier than most players. By doing that, he hopes to get acclimated to Arizona and its conditions ahead of time and of course catch Piniella's eye.

"Maybe I'll meet Lou early on so that on the first day of camp, they won't have to ask who I am," Walker reasoned. "I want to make myself familiar, so they can see what I'm doing and how hard I work. That's my whole goal."

The Cubs have currently invited 16 non-roster players to big league camp in addition to the 40 players on their 40-man roster. Pitchers and catchers will report to Fitch Park in Mesa on Wednesday, Feb. 14 with their first workout date scheduled for Feb. 15. Position players will report on Monday, Feb. 19 with their first workout date scheduled for Feb. 20.

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