Busy spring for NL Central rivals
The Cubs play a preponderance of games against their National League Central rivals early in the regular season.
They'll open April 5 against the Cardinals at Wrigley Field, setting the stage for 16 games against NL Central foes over the first month. They begin May with 10 straight against the NL Central, playing the Brewers and Cardinals home and road.
Here is a look at the latest with the Central powers:
St. Louis Cardinals:
While the Cubs have taken hitters with their first-round draft choices (Albert Almora, Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber), St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bernie Miklasz caught up with Cards general manager John Mozeliak, who noted his team doesn't have much power down on the farm.
"We don't have the classic power hitters coming," Mozeliak said.
As Miklasz noted, the Cardinals finished last in the NL in homers in 2014, with 105. This off-season, they signed high-strikeout guy Mark Reynolds, who has seven consecutive seasons of at least 20 homers.
Mozeliak told the Post-Dispatch that fewer pure power hitters can be found at the high school and college levels. Since the Cardinals usually draft near the bottom because of their good records, power hitters get snapped up early.
"When you look at players that are defined by power potential, it's not that we don't value that," Mozeliak said. "It's not that we don't want to have that. It's just that typically where we pick, you have to make decisions on what you're willing to do."
The Cubs landed a bona fide leadoff hitter in Dexter Fowler this off-season. The Brewers are looking to see who emerges between Scooter Gennett and Carlos Gomez.
Manager Ron Roenicke told Tom Haudricourt and Todd Rosiak of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel he'd like to pick one guy and stick with him.
"I still go back and forth on that," Roenicke said. "I think Scooter has been doing a pretty good job at it. I'd like to have a couple of guys doing it down here so I don't go Scooter the whole spring and then opening day go with Gomey."
Gomez led off in 106 games last year, with an on-base percentage of .356. Gennett batted first in 23 games, with a .351 OBP.
Roenicke was asked what kind of OBP is acceptable.
"(A) .320 doesn't work for me," he said. "You need to be .340 or more. I know in today's game it has changed. On-base percentage is way down."
Speaking of on-base machines, Reds first baseman Joey Votto said he's feeling fine after after he missed 100 games last year with knee and quadriceps injuries.
Votto told the Cincinnati Enquirer he feels "normal" after using the early part of spring to engage in a full range of baseball activities.
"I'm fitting in with the guys," he said. "I'm going through the work like everyone else. I haven't been thinking about my leg. I'm thinking about performing and getting ready for what hopefully is a championship season."
Votto has a lifetime batting line of .310/.417/.533 in parts of eight seasons with the Reds.
White Sox fans will remember left-handed pitcher Clayton Richard as one of the players traded to the Padres for Jake Peavy in 2009.
Today, Richard is trying to make a comeback with the Pirates on a minor-league contract after two shoulder surgeries. Richard hasn't started since June 21, 2013 while with the Padres.
Stephen J. Nesbitt of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports the Pirates have been getting the 31-year-old Richard to loosen his throwing motion.
"Over the past four years, I've gradually tried to protect my shoulder by tightening up body parts, just trying to get through pain while throwing," Richard said. "That created bad habits, and now I'm trying to kick those bad habits. It's just a general freeing up and loosening up of throwing."
For another White Sox angle, the paper points out Richard was named Indiana's Mr. Baseball for his senior year (2002) at McCutcheon High in Lafayette. As a quarterback, he also won the state's Mr. Football award, with the runner-up being White Sox starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija, who played football at Notre Dame before being drafted by the Cubs to play baseball.
"Our paths have crossed a few times," Richard said.