Cubs

Castillo hopes to follow Sorianos lead

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Castillo hopes to follow Sorianos lead

MESA, Ariz. Welington Castillo remembers seeing Alfonso Soriano working out at the Cubs academy and wondering what the 136 million man was doing there.

Soriano, Starlin Castro and Carlos Marmol have become billboards for the organization in the Dominican Republic, where the Ricketts family plans to construct a new facility and build a bigger pipeline to Wrigley Field.

Castillo will turn 25 in April and has already spent seven seasons in the system (and 11 games with the big-league club). The catcher with a rocket arm and bilingual skills took this message from Soriano years ago.

Thats where youre going to be, Castillo recalled Wednesday. You have to keep (working), so you dont just get to the big leagues. You stay in the big leagues. Thats why theyre always working hard.

I was growing up with that mentality. I want to get there and stay there. I dont want to just get there and come back (and forth).

Either way, thats where this could be heading. Geovany Sotos groin injury which has limited him for several days but is considered minor made you wonder about the future of the Cubs behind the plate.

Soto emerged as an All-Star and the National Leagues Rookie of the Year in 2008, when he hit .285 and accounted for 23 homers and 86 RBI. He has landed on the disabled list in each of the past three seasons.

Soto is also a popular, well-respected figure in the clubhouse, a homegrown catcher who can hit for power (34 homers combined the past two seasons), which is unique. He will make 4.3 million this year and wont become a free agent until after the 2013 season.

The backup job will be a battle between Castillo, Steve Clevenger and Jason Jaramillo. Clevenger made his big-league debut last year, while Jaramillo, a non-roster invitee, has spent parts of the past three seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Manager Dale Sveum said the deciding factor will be who handles the pitchers best.

Even after an injury-plagued 2011 season that shut him down in late August and robbed him of a September call-up, Castillo is regarded as the organizations sixth-best prospect by Baseball America.

Castillo still managed to hit 15 homers in 61 games at Triple-A Iowa. He rehabilitated his hamstring last fall at the Cubs complex in Arizona, then wasnt allowed to play winter ball at home.

The focus was on what could be a breakthrough season. Working out alongside Soriano and Castro at the academy, he focused on agility and lost around 20 pounds, getting down to 205, so he could feel more flexible and ease the stress on his body.

I dont have to show anything, Castillo said. I just have to play. I dont want to put any pressure on myself, like, Yo, I got to hit. I got to catch. I got to throw people out. I just got to go out there and play the way I (can), play hard all the time.

Addison Russell is so over 2017: 'That's last year, don't want to talk about that'

Addison Russell is so over 2017: 'That's last year, don't want to talk about that'

MESA, Ariz. — “That’s last year, don’t want to talk about that.”

In other words, Addison Russell is so over 2017.

The Cubs shortstop went through a lot last year. He dealt with injuries that affected his foot and shoulder. He had a well-documented off-the-field issue involving an accusation of domestic abuse, which sparked an investigation by Major League Baseball. And then came the trade speculation.

The hot stove season rarely leaves any player completely out of online trade discussion. But after Theo Epstein admitted there was a possibility the Cubs could trade away one or more young position players to bolster the starting rotation, well, Russell’s name came up.

And he saw it.

“There was a lot of trade talk,” Russell said Saturday. “My initial thoughts were, I hope it doesn’t happen, but wherever I go, I’m going to try to bring what I bring to the table here. It’s a good thing that it doesn’t have to be that way. I’m happy being in a Cubs uniform, I want to be in a Cubs uniform, for sure. But there was some talk out there. If I got traded, then I got traded, but that’s not the case.”

No, it’s not, as the Cubs solved those pitching questions with free-agent spending, bringing in Yu Darvish and Tyler Chatwood to replace the departed Jake Arrieta and John Lackey. It means Russell, along with oft-discussed names like Kyle Schwarber, Ian Happ and Javy Baez, are all still Cubs.

While the outside world might have expected one of those guys to be moved in some sort of blockbuster trade for Chris Archer or some other All-Star arm, the Cubs’ young core remains intact, another reason why they’re as much a favorite to win the World Series as any team out there.

“I’m really not surprised. The core is still here. Who would want to break that up? It’s a beautiful thing,” Russell said. “Javy and I in the middle. Schwarber, sometimes playing catcher but mainly outfield. And then (Kris Bryant) over there in the hot corner, and of course (Anthony) Rizzo at first. You’ve got a Gold Glover in right field (Jason Heyward). It’s really hard to break that up.

“When you do break that down on paper, we’ve got a lineup that could stack up with the best.”

This winter has been about moving on for Russell, who said he’s spent months working to strengthen his foot and shoulder after they limited him to 110 games last season, the fewest he played in his first three big league campaigns.

And so for Russell, the formula for returning to his 2016 levels of offensive aptitude isn’t a difficult one: stay on the field.

“Especially with the injuries, I definitely wanted to showcase some more of my talent last year than I displayed,” Russell said. “So going into this year, it’s mainly just keeping a good mental — just staying level headed. And also staying healthy and producing and being out there on the field.

“Next step for me, really just staying out there on the field. I really want to see what I can do as far as helping the team if I can stay healthy for a full season. I think if I just stay out there on the field, I’m going to produce.”

While the decrease in being on the field meant lower numbers from a “counting” standpoint — the drop from 21 homers in 2016 to 12 last year, the drop from 95 RBIs to 43 can in part be attributed to the lower number of games — certain rate stats looked different, too. His on-base percentage dropped from .321 in 2016 to .304 last year.

Russell also struggled during the postseason, picking up just six hits in 36 plate appearances in series against the Washington Nationals and Los Angeles Dodgers. He struck out 13 times in 10 postseason games.

Of course, he wasn’t alone. That World Series hangover was team-wide throughout the first half of the season. And even though the Cubs scored 824 runs during the regular season, the second most in the National League and the fourth most in baseball, plenty of guys had their offensive struggles: Schwarber, Heyward and Ben Zobrist, to name a few.

“You can’t take anything for granted. So whenever you win a World Series or you do something good, you just have to live in the moment,” Russell said. “It was a tough season last year because we were coming off winning the World Series and the World Series hangover and all that. This year, we had a couple months off, a couple extra weeks off, and I think a lot of guys took advantage of that. I know I did. And now that we’re here in spring training, we’re going to get back at it.”

Cubs Talk Podcast: Discussing 5-man unit and where Montgomery fits into Cubs' plans

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Discussing 5-man unit and where Montgomery fits into Cubs' plans

Jon Lester has arrived at Cubs camp, and he’s pleased with the new-look rotation full of potential aces. Kelly Crull and Vinnie Duber discuss the 5-man unit, and where Mike Montgomery fits into the Cubs’ plans.

Plus, Kelly and Vinnie talk Jason Heyward and Kyle Schwarber, along with the continuing free agent stalemate surrounding Jake Arrieta.

Listen to the full Cubs Talk Podcast right here: