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Spring Training Notebooks

Spring Training Notebook: Early arrivals mean a more lively Cubs camp

4 months agoAndy Martinez

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MESA, Ariz. — For the last four months or so, Cubs reliever Adbert Alzolay has had just one thought in his mind.

“It just can’t happen again,” Alzolay said. “Like, we got to be there next year.”

“It” means the September collapse that meant an almost-certain playoff berth turned into the Cubs sitting at home during the “there” — the playoffs.

“I feel like we all are carrying kind of like a chip on our shoulder,” Alzolay said after finishing up a workout at the Cubs’ facilities at Sloan Park. “Because, I mean, when you don’t make it [by] one game to the postseason like it was really in my mind the whole offseason.”

That’s the motivating factor for a bulk of the roster who have arrived before Wednesday’s pitchers and catchers report day and well ahead of next week’s first full-squad workout.

“I’m pretty sure like 87% of the team is already here, including position players,” Alzolay said.

It sure seemed that way.

Monday morning, Kyle Hendricks and the team’s newest starter, Shota Imanaga, played catch on Field 1 before heading off for a bullpen session. Alzolay worked out with fellow reliever Mark Leiter Jr. Prospect Ben Brown and non-roster invitee Ethan Roberts tossed the ball around, too. Other pitchers were seen throughout the facility, too.

Then, the hitters put in their work.

Hitting coach Dustin Kelly threw batting practice to a quintet of Cubs — Seiya Suzuki, Nico Hoerner, Nick Madrigal, Miles Mastrobuoni and the newest position player, Michael Busch.

Pete Crow-Armstrong — who will hope to make the team’s Opening Day roster — took some drills with fellow prospect Kevin Alcántara. Later in the day, Miguel Amaya, Alexander Canario and catching prospect Bryce Windham all walked off the field after completing a workout on Field 2.

“Just everyone kind of showing up earlier this year to camp, it’s really exciting,” Alzolay said. “It’s something that I don’t think we have seen in years before like having this pretty much the whole squad pretty much here already.”

Bullpen help

A year ago, former manager David Ross never named a closer out of camp, but through the course of the season, Alzolay emerged and thrived in that role. This year, the team has made a few additions to their reliever corps — mainly righties Hector Neris and Yency Almonte.

Their additions are a welcome sight for Alzolay, who was one of the trio of relievers – Leiter and Julian Merrryweather the other — who were relied upon heavily late in the season. In 2023, Alzolay appeared in 58 games, Leiter and Merryweather both in 69.

“I feel like last year, we pretty much, we [rode] three guys for like, three months straight,” Alzolay said. “I feel like when you tax those guys that often without like, having all the experience — like, for example, I never have done that before in my life, I did it last year. It was kind of crazy.”

Neris, meanwhile, has appeared in 70 or more games in five of his last 7 full seasons and has pitched in at least 50 games in his last 7 full campaigns.

“That is really going to help us to manage like, ‘Okay, this is what you need to do to be able to stay six months on the field coming and pitching like, almost every other day or like every other day, pretty much,’” Alzolay said.

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Showing emotion

Alzolay’s emotions on the field as the team’s closer won over many Cubs fans in 2023. His fist bump after closing out a game was so popular that the team has a bobblehead of the pose coming out in 2024.

He may have some competition for emotion from his newest teammate, Imanaga.

“To be honest, last week, I was spending like three days just watching his highlights from his games in Japan and I really love how fired up he gets after a big out or coming out after throwing six or seven innings,” Alzolay said. “I really love that.”

That personality has shown through their early interactions during workouts.

“We’ve been talking a lot. I love how much he is trying to speak English for real,” Alzolay said. “He is trying so much, and I love it. And the guy’s just a whole vibe. We’ve been there running a couple of times together and talking to each other. I really like his energy.”

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