Koskie is Interesting Signing

The signing of veteran infielder Corey Koskie to a minor league deal provides the Cubs with some interesting possibilities as well as some insurance.

Koskie has not played since 2006 as he dealt with post-concussion symptoms. But Cubs general manager Jim Hendry said Koskie is "a heck of a player when he's healthy" and that the team came away pleased with the way Koskie had been working out in Florida.

The first step back for Koskie is the World Baseball Classic, where he'll play for Team Canada before joining the Cubs to finish spring training. Mostly likely, Koskie will go to Class AAA Iowa, where he'll give the Cubs at least a 30-day look-see.

Koskie, 35, is a left-handed hitter who hit 25 homers for the Twins in 2004. Most important, he can provide the Cubs with a bona fide backup to Aramis Ramirez at third base. At this point, the Cubs are trying out several players at third, including Mike Fontenot and Aaron Miles, both of whom will see most of their time at second base this season.

As of now, the final bench spot appears to belong to first baseman/outfielder Micah Hoffpauir, a 29-year-old rookie who has performed well so far in the Cactus League.

NOTES, QUOTES

--2B Mike Fontenot is staking an early claim to becoming the everyday starter. Fontenot opened the Cactus League 9-for-23 (.391) with two triples and a home run. Fontenot and Aaron Miles are the two second basemen on the major league roster. Fontenot has had the inside track to be the starter because he bats left-handed, with Miles likely slated for backup duty at second, shortstop and third base. The Cubs have been getting Fontenot at-bats against left-handed pitching. For his career, he has a .247 average against lefties and a .298 mark against right-handed pitchers.

--RHP Rich Harden appears ready to make his Cactus League debut early in the week of March 9-15. Harden, whom the Cubs are bringing along slowly because of a history of shoulder problems, threw a simulated game March 6 and apparently has the green light to pitch in a game. The Cubs have Harden penciled in to start the fourth game of the regular season.

--RHP Kevin Gregg is giving manager Lou Piniella a "good feeling," as he battles for the closer's job with RHP Carlos Marmol, who is with the Dominican Republic team in the World Baseball Classic. Gregg was unscored on in his first three spring training outings. Gregg didn't have a save through his first three outings, but Piniella likes to get his closers into spring games early so they face major league hitters.

--RF Milton Bradley returned to the lineup and promised to pace himself after pulling up with tight quadriceps in the second game of the spring. The Cubs will get Bradley his at-bats, but they'll be judicious in replacing him for pinch runners. Bradley has said that he doesn't need a whole lot of spring training time to get ready for the season. He played in only 20 games in the outfield for Texas last year, as he was primarily the DH. However, Bradley has a history of injuries, and the Cubs want him on the field for 140 games.

--RHP Chad Fox is dark-horse candidate to grab a spot in the Cubs' crowded bullpen. Fox, 38, pitched in three games for the Cubs last year after missing two full years because of persistent elbow problems. Fox got off to a good start in the Cactus League, pitching scoreless ball over his first three outings. He's in camp as a non-roster man.

INSIDE THE NUMB3RS: 37 -- Walks drawn by Cubs batters in their first 10 Cactus League games. The Cubs led the NL in walks and on-base percentage in 2008.

HE SAID IT: "We're looking at a lot of people. As some of these guys eliminate themselves, then we can start putting it together in earnest." -- Piniella on the battle for the fifth starter's job.

--The Sports XChange

CUBS MAKE FIRST ROUND OF ROSTER CUTS

The Chicago Cubs Friday announced their first round of roster cuts, reducing the spring roster from 60 to 57 players.

Three non-roster invitees were assigned to minor league camp: right-handed pitchers Andrew Cashner and Rocky Roquet as well as left-handed pitcher Ed Campusano.

Chicago's spring roster of 57 players consists of 29 pitchers (eight non-roster invitees), six catchers (three non-roster invitees), 10 infielders (four non-roster invitees) and 12 outfielders (three non-roster invitee).

--Cubs Media Relations

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