The clear winner of this week's minicamp for Cubs minor-leaguers is … the Chicago Blackhawks.
The Cubs have their top prospects in town for a camp that has included seminars, dealing with the Chicago media and a little live baseball activity, including Wednesday's indoor drill session at Northwestern University.
Some of the most fun for the kids came Tuesday night, when the group took in the Blackhawks-Avalanche game at the United Center.
"Oh, it was amazing," said center-field prospect Albert Almora, the Cubs' No. 1 draft pick in 2012. "It was my first hockey game. I was lost. I didn't know what was going on. Whenever they (the crowd) cheered, I cheered. It was a great thing."
Perhaps the Cubs should schedule future camps whenever the Hawks skate at home.
"I'd love to," said Jason McLeod, the Cubs' scouting and player development chief. "They were great hosts last night, and I know these guys had an incredible time. Watching these guys video the (national) anthem was awesome. The Blackhawks were great. I had a chance to speak with (Hawks president) John McDonough a little last night.
"We want to expose them to the market, to the city. We want them to see what the fans are like here and what a wonderful fan base is here in Chicago, and what a great sports town it is."
The Cubs' minor league system is recognized as among the best in baseball nowadays, and the top names are on hand for the camp. In addition to Almora, others in town are shortstop Javier Baez, third basemen Chris Bryant and Christian Villanueva, infielder Arismendy Alcantara, outfielders Jorge Soler and Junior Lake and pitchers C.J. Edwards, Pierce Johnson and Eric Jokisch, who just happened to play his college ball at Northwestern.
"It feels good to be back, to see the coaches and the players," said Jokisch, a native of downstate Virginia and an admitted St. Louis Blues fan. "I'm real comfortable around here."
This week the group is hearing from team chairman Tom Ricketts, former Cubs pitching star Rick Sutcliffe, new hitting coach Bill Mueller and team president Theo Epstein.
"It just prepares us for what's coming," Almora said. "They're just teaching us what to get ready for, what to expect, what they expect of us. We're taking it to heart. We're taking notes. We're in this for the long run, so we're having a great time."
Of course, the question Cubs fans want to know is who is going to be where, and when.
"You could probably kind of figure it out on your own, some of it," McLeod said. "Not set in stone, but you can expect Javy and Villanueva to be up at Iowa on a very young Triple-A team, with Alcantara up there. Kris probably has a chance of starting at Double-A. I don't want to say it's dead set, but I think he did a lot this year to earn the opportunity to go there."
Most players showed they had done well with their media training by saying, "It's not up to me," when asked when they'll arrive in the major leagues.
"I've heard nothing," Bryant said. "That's not really up to me to decide. I have the confidence in myself to go out there every day, and that's all I can really do right now."
It's possible Bryant could be up sometime in 2014, with third base being a wide-open position for the Cubs heading into spring training. Holdover Luis Valbuena is still on the team. Villanueva has been called the best fielder in the system.
One name more or less forgotten is Mike Olt, whom the Cubs obtained from Texas along with Edwards in the Matt Garza deal. He's also a camper this week.
"Being with the Cubs is a huge honor," said the 25-year-old Olt, who battled injury problems in Texas' system last year. "I'm excited for spring training. I feel I worked hard. Whatever the Cubs need is something I hope I can fill in and see what happens.
"I don't have anything I feel I have to prove. I know that I put in a lot of hard work. I think last year was good for me in dealing with a lot of adversity. It's going to make me a better player."
Nothing like a little pre-spring-training optimism a month before the real camp opens.
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