The Cubs released several players near the end of Minor League Spring Training this past weekend. A complete, "official" list of players released is not available at present time, but a few names gone from Cubs camp are as follows.
A right-hander with a plus-fastball, Thomas Atlee bounced back from Tommy John surgery early in his career to post overly solid numbers throughout his years as a late-inning guy. At age 27, though, time was running short. Atlee was released last Friday.
The Cubs required a warm body in exchange for trading Jermaine Van Buren to Boston in 2005, and Matt Ciaramella was more or less just that. In his only season with the Cubs, he hit .217 on the Class A circuit.
Catcher Pete Farina succumbed to a left thumb injury last season and appeared in only three games. He was a temporary replacement early last season at Double-A for Jose Reyes, who ironically was nursing a thumb injury himself at the time. An overly sour attitude didn't help Farina's case.
After coming over from Florida late in spring camp a year ago, right-hander Lincoln Holdzkom suffered a jammed shoulder just four games into the season and spent over two months in Arizona while recovering.
Holdzkom logged only 46 innings in 2006 and was sent to the Arizona Fall League for additional work. There he was discovered by Houston in time for the Rule Five Draft. Five runs in two Grapefruit League innings later, the Cubs got him back only to say, "Here's your hat, what's your hurry?"
Six-foot-nine right-hander Jonathan Hunton shed over 30 pounds heading into spring camp a year ago and drew rave reviews from Class-A Daytona pitching coach Tom Pratt early last season. But Hunton showed little improvement statistically with the club and was also released on Friday.
The Cubs parted ways with two former first-round draft picks last week in right-handers Bobby Brownlie and Chadd Blasko, but left-hander Luke Hagerty (who along with Brownlie and Blasko was one of four first-round Cubs picks from the 2002 draft) survived the ax.
Hagerty is currently in Arizona working on a more consistent arm angle for better results. He will stay in Extended Spring Training for the time being.
Arm slot aside, the bulk of Hagerty's struggles the last few seasons have come from the mental side, as he relayed to us last summer in Arizona.
Since then, Hagerty (now 26) has teamed with a sports psychologist and says he feels he is "getting to the light at the end of the tunnel."
Right-hander Michael Billek, a third-round pick in 2005, came to spring camp a year ago in poor shape arm-wise and saw a major dip in his velocity. Coming out of Central Florida, his fastball had touched 95 mph in college and was consistently 93 mph or better during his rookie season at Boise.
Last summer, Billek was topping out as low as 85 mph in some appearances.
"I didn't do enough maintenance work in the off-season and basically pitched with a weak shoulder all of last year," Billek says.
Entering camp last month, Billek's velocity was still down from his '05 days, but he has been hampered this spring by shoulder tendonitis and reports to slowly working his way back into the low 90s.
Billek is in Extended Spring Training, where the Cubs have approached him about a return to full-time starting some time later this season. He spent parts of last season in the bullpen.
"I'm trying to get back to being the old me," Billek said.