we can repeat the cliche again and again -- "it's only spring training!" -- but somehow that just won't fill the void that stretches back to the end of september. the cubs are playing ballgames, and even an insignificant number of innings and plate appearances invite a desperate sort of analysis. to be sure, anything and everything said here can and should be taken with the appropriate grain of salt -- every small-sample-size caveat applies. but undaunted by such common sense, here's a roundup of highlights thusfar from mesa -- thanks especially to the observations of arizona phil at the cub reporter.
the big story has been that mark prior was bombed in his second career spring start, demonstrating weak consistent velocity (83-85 mph) and poor command. there was apparently good reason the cubs had considered holding him out of the first week of games. prior's fatalistic comments following the game bear more concern still -- if you can read a wisp of confidence into those quotes, dear reader, you're doing better than this writer. tom verducci in sports illustrated puts his troubles up to mechanical rust that will need "probably several months" to resolve -- but what few can know is whether the mechanical perturbations are the product of a lack of practice or compensation for shoulder pain. he is scheduled to pitch again saturday.
kerry wood, on the other hand, has looked rejuvenated. unrecognizably svelte after offseason weight loss and training, wood showed low-90s heat in his solitary appearance in which he went one inning, striking out one. durability will be the issue here, of course, but at least it would seem that some of the power in the arm has come back after both a labrum procedure and a rotator cuff tear that was not operated on. it will take some time to see if wood can be effective with this fastball and without his curve, which has been sidelined to preserve his shoulder -- but this is the best start that might have been hoped for. he'll throw again thursday.
speaking of velocity, it's finally been admitted that wade miller -- the last of our dl triplets -- won't be getting any back after his labrum procedure, and that what he makes of himself will be fashioned from a fastball that tops out in the mid-80s. in his lone appearance, miller demonstrated some control -- but such has rarely been a feature of his career to date. on the heels of prior's performance, miller has become the odds-on favorite to break camp as the fifth starter -- but the cubs are going to be in dire straits indeed if miller is indeed their man. the ability to mix pitches effectively is predicated on command sufficient to throw any pitch in any count. can miller find that kind of control? color this page skeptical. he starts thursday's game.
eric patterson is struggling to field his position -- this is a continuing problem for patterson, who has been climbing the prospect charts for the last couple years based on his offensive potential. but a two-error game in which patterson whiffed on the feed for a force play at second and then somehow came up empty on a slow bounder has lifted the issue back to the forefront. the cubs have too many outfielders at the moment and both mark derosa and ryan theriot backed up at second -- patterson isn't going to make the club. the cubs might employ him at iowa exploring the outfield.
alfonso soriano dropped a high pop fly the other day, but has otherwise made a passable representation of a centerfielder in his first few games. he has apparently struggled a bit with positioning, but (as az phil notes) that's more a coaching matter.
mike quade is that coach, by the way, who also will occupy the third base box -- and phil thinks he may be too conservative in terms of sending the runner. whether or not that's a function of spring training or of piniella or of quade himself is questionable.
scott moore has a sore shoulder -- the revelation came only after a two-error game. he's receiving treatment, and remains likely to play out the year mostly in iowa.
neither mike wuertz nor roberto novoa have pitched this spring, both experiencing shoulder pain. the cubs have pooh-poohed the nature and extent of the problems, but that of course we learned long ago means absolutely nothing. UPDATE: just how much nothing was demonstrated to this writer when ccd noticed this blurb in the sun-times, reporting that novoa in fact is recovering from a rollover car crash that occured in the dominican republic this offseason. somehow that bit of information never quite made it to the public eye. he is to throw for the first time today.
free agent cliff floyd hasn't played yet either, having been given extra time to recouperate from an offseason surgery on his problematic heel. he should play this weekend.
captain lou has gone a bit nuts about the sloppy play, which this writer for one takes to mean the sloppy attitude that is the inevitable hangover of a club that is recovering from years under dusty baker. march 5 may be a record for earliest team meeting. still, reinvigorating the holdovers on the club with crisp play and personal discipline will be piniella's toughest job this year, and it's good to see him getting to it.
jeff samardzija has thrown with real velocity. he'll start the season in a-ball.
newcomer neal cotts has looked alternately great and awful, being hit hard in one of his outings and sharp in the other. piniella claims that cotts has a good look at the fifth rotation spot if miller and prior prove disappointing. he is scheduled again for friday.
lefty reliever clay rapada has mostly just looked awful, having been crushed by right-handed hitters.
angel guzman -- tabbed by some as a longshot candidate to make the club -- has had some trouble with his command, falling behind in the count and occasionally getting tagged. this is a familiar modus operandi to anyone who watched him struggle to a 7.39 era in 56 innings with the big club last season. he's an injury concern, of course, but is apparently throwing hard with good movement.
the offensive surprise of the early going is journeyman mike kinkade, who has never seen much big league time despite a commendable minor league offensive record. now approaching 34, he is no threat to make the club. derrek lee, michael barrett, patterson, matt murton and ryan theriot have all gotten off on the right foot.