Spring Training Notebooks

Spring Training Notebook: Cubs face off against Cubs and playing with ‘old’ rules

1 year agoAndy Martinez

St Notebook Sloan Image

MESA, Ariz. — Wednesday started pretty routinely for Cubs prospect Owen Caissie.

The Cubs were playing at Sloan Park, so he took batting practice prior to the game. When batting practice was over, he walked back to his dugout.

That’s where things went out of the ordinary.

He didn’t walk to the home dugout located on the third-base side — he trotted over to the dugout on the first base side, where Team Canada, who he is representing in the World Baseball Classic, is situated.

“It’s gonna be fun playing against my own team, which you don’t really do every day,” Caissie said prior to the game. “But it’ll be a good experience and I can’t wait for it.”

The 20-year-old, who was acquired in the Yu Darvish trade in 2020, is getting a rare opportunity. He’s sharing a clubhouse with a former MVP in Freddie Freeman and other big leaguers, like Tyler O’Neill and Cal Quantrill. He’s also being coached by a Hall of Famer in Larry Walker. In those moments, he’s trying to be a sponge.

“Yesterday in the cage, actually, Freddie Freeman was talking about his routine, his approach, how you just have to keep your routine and don’t stray from it because that’s one thing you always have to have,” Caissie said. “They’re great. Tyler O’Neill is great. Everyone on this team is here for each other and it’s just a really great time.”

Another Cubs minor leaguer, Jared Young, is playing for Team Canada. He hit a double off the wall against Justin Steele in the 1st inning.

“I told [Young] we were gonna buzz the tower and he said, ‘well, I’m Canadian, you know I’m not going to move,’ in true Canadian fashion,” Ross said with a smile. “It’s fun. It’s fun to see some of those guys over there. It’ll be fun to compete against them.”

And it’s an opportunity to play in a setting that they have yet to experience.

“I’m excited to get to get into this environment that they’re about to be in and play against some of the best in the world,” Ross said. “There’s no real substitute for that till you get to playoff type baseball. I’m excited for those guys.”

Young finished 1-for-3 and Caissie was 0-for-4 but showed off his defensive prowess throwing out Edwin Ríos, who was attempting to go from first to third.

Throwback rules

Cody Bellinger had to look twice.

In his first at-bat Wednesday, he looked at Canada’s defense and saw shortstop Otto López behind the pitcher, Mitch Bratt and second baseman Edouard Julien in shallow right field.

“What the hell?” Bellinger thought to himself.

Then it dawned on him — since the WBC will not be using MLB’s new rules banning the shift, using the pitch clock or the bigger bases, Wednesday’s game against Canada was played with the pre-2023 rules. The pitch clock was not turned on, the bases were the smaller versions used last year and shifts were allowed.

Canada tried to take advantage and prepare for the tournament, so they shifted against lefties like Bellinger and Dom Nuñez in the game.

“My first few at-bats, I haven’t even noticed the non-shift,” Bellinger said. “But I did notice the guy right behind the pitcher today, for whatever reason, I noticed him.”

Bellinger hit his first home run of the spring and is hitting .261 so far and has just 2 strikeouts. 

But the Cubs didn’t use the opportunity to break away from the routines they’re still trying to build in.

“Hopefully everyone’s just still working within their cadence,” Ross said. “Maybe it’s a little bit longer game, which nobody wants.”

That was the case for starter Justin Steele, who spoke with pitching coach Tommy Hottovy prior to the outing about not falling out of the habits they’ve been building all spring.

“I think I was doing a good job of keeping the pace up and whatnot,” Steele said. “It was a little different not seeing the clock out there.”

Reflecting on PCA’s catch

Tuesday at Cubs camp, Ross was asked if prospect Pete Crow-Armstrong’s defense lived up to the hype.

“I would be silly to label him after seeing a couple of fly balls,” Ross said.

Before Tuesday, most of the action that Crow-Armstrong had seen defensively would likely be labeled routine. But that changed in Surprise against the Rangers, when he made a stellar, diving catch in right center field that he chased down.

“As soon as I saw it, I said there’s the one they were looking for,” Ross said with a smile. “Wish I woulda gotten that a day earlier so I could’ve commented on it. That was a heckuva play. We’ve heard a lot about his athleticism and his ability to go get the baseball. I hadn’t seen one better than that one, that’s for sure. Spectacular play. That brought me up out of my seat. That was a fun one to watch.”

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