Cubs' Rizzo says 'belief here is a lot higher' than in past years

MESA, Ariz. - Position players officially report to Chicago Cubs spring training Tuesday, but most have been working out at the team facility for several days, if not for some weeks.

After taking a break over the weekend, first baseman Anthony Rizzo was back Monday. At the end of the losing 2014 season, Rizzo said the Cubs' goal for 2015 was to win the National League Central.

The Cubs didn't do that, but they won a wild-card spot and advanced to the championship series, losing to the New York Mets.

Rizzo now knows that talk among many fans is that for 2016, it's World Series or bust. He shrugged off that talk Monday.

"We talked about it 2013, 2012, when we lost 100 games," he said. "As a natural competitor, I think the belief here is a lot higher than it has been in years past. We've got to get through spring training. We've got to win in April. It's a huge month for us in the cold weather."

With the off-season trade of Starlin Castro to the New York Yankees, Rizzo and pitcher Travis Wood now are the longest-tenured Cubs major leaguers, with each seeing their first action for the team in 2012.

For a time, Rizzo and Castro were the two main faces of the Cubs' young "core" of players.

"I miss him already, just being here early and saying some of the things that I would say to him naturally," Rizzo said. "I look over to short or second, and there's no one. It's definitely weird, especially with how he has helped me.

"It's tough, but I'm really happy for him. He gets to go to a big city and play for a historic franchise like the Yankees. I'm sure that if there's a team he wanted to get traded to, that's one of them."

Russell ninth again?

Manager Joe Maddon did not formally commit to batting shortstop Addison Russell ninth again, as he did much of last year, but Maddon sounded as if he likes the idea.

"I was just talking to Theo (team President Epstein) about it," Maddon said. "I need to get together with our geeks (stats people) and talk about batting order, and I specifically want to know what they think about the 1-2 spot, and I want to know what they think about Addy hitting in the 9-hole again.

"Last year, a lot of that had to do for me was to benefit him, and it worked out, I thought, pretty well. I just need more thoughts. I need them to throw some stuff at me to absorb right now. I really like it a lot. I like him there. I like the way it bleeds into 1-2.

"But I've got to look and see if there's something I'm missing there, that I'm not aware of yet. I'm not prepared to say that he is or is not. I'm just looking for more information."

Parra added to the mix:

The Cubs added to their ever-growing inventory of arms Monday by signing veteran left-hander Manny Parra to a minor-league contract.

Parra, 33, was 1-2 with a 3.90 ERA last year for the Cincinnati Reds. He pitched for the Milwaukee Brewers from 2007-12. For his career, he is 29-41 with a 4.90 ERA in 322 games, 74 starts.

"I saw a little bit of him," said Joe Maddon. "What he can add is that he has done some really good work in the past. He's a veteran. There was a time when he got opposite-side hitters out better than same-side hitters, although he's really good from the same side. I'm eager to watch it.

"He's got a lot of history with Bos (pitching coach Chris Bosio). Bos speaks very highly of him."

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