Spring Training Notebooks

Spring Training Notebook: Steele’s 2024 goals and Caissie at the bat

2 months agoTony Andracki

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MESA, Ariz. – Justin Steele has his sights set on bigger and better things in 2024.

After a strong season in 2022, he put himself firmly on the map as one of the game’s best starting pitchers with a stellar 2023 season.

Steele made his first All-Star team and finished 5th in National League Cy Young voting, going 16-5 with a 3.06 ERA and 1.17 WHIP in 173.1 innings (30 starts).

However, he understands that last year’s successes don’t automatically translate to this season.

“I really appreciate everything that happened last year,” Steele said. “It was really cool to do it and prove it to myself that I could do it. And now it’s kind of like no one cares anymore. It’s time to do it again.”

After a true breakout season, Steele is carrying that into this spring with a stronger sense of confidence and conviction.

“I would say I’m a little more comfortable than I was a year ago,” he said. “That just comes with anybody having the experience and everything that goes with it. I’m a little more comfortable and confident.”

A more comfortable and confident Steele could be a dangerous thing for the Cubs.

He is setting his sights on topping 30 starts and 180 innings this season. He wants to approach 200 innings and earn that “workhorse” label.

Obviously health is a big factor in that and Steele’s first test came Friday against the White Sox. In his Cactus League debut, he threw 3 innings, came off the mound healthy and felt content in his performance.

Craig Counsell is still fresh in his experience managing Steele but he saw the young lefty plenty when he was on the top step of the dugout for the Brewers over the past few seasons.

“He just throws a baseball in a way and it just does a little something different each time and that is hard for hitters,” Counsell said. “Hitters don’t like what they don’t see very often and they’re used to calibrating to a movement on a pitch and then when it moves differently the next time and they’re never really sure what to expect, that’s what makes it hard for them to square up the baseball on him.

“So that’s what he’s good at. It’s unique. I think that’s what makes you say, ‘why can’t we hit him?’ Because it’s unique. But it’s certainly what he’s good at.”

Steele is on track to start Opening Day for the Cubs, though Counsell is not yet ready to make that determination. He would like to wait another week or so before declaring an Opening Day starter.

Steele brushed off any notion that he is focusing on securing that honor but Counsell acknowledged it can be important for players because of what it means.

“I think it’s earned,” Counsell said of the Opening Day start. “I really look at it that way as much as anything — I think it’s earned.”


Caissie at the bat

Another game, another Owen Caissie highlight.

The day after roping a pair of doubles, the slugging prospect was back at it again Friday at Sloan Park.

Caissie hit an impressive 3-run shot to the opposite field:

The 21-year-old outfielder is now slashing .636/.714/1.091 this spring with 5 RBI. Spring stats don’t mean much but for a kid who has yet to play above Double-A, it’s an encouraging performance.

“You throw a ball down to Owen Caissie and he’s going to hit it hard,” Counsell said. “He’s got that classic kind of left-handed swing that’s fun to see. And he’s a strong kid, long-levered kid. Definitely a nice looking swing.”

It will be very interesting to see the path the Cubs take with Caissie this season. He spent all last year in Double-A and proved about all he can at that level but the Triple-A Iowa outfield is probably going to be very crowded to start the year.

If Pete Crow-Armstrong and Alexander Canario don’t make the Opening Day big-league roster, they’ll be in Iowa alongside Brennen Davis.

Next up

Shota Imanaga makes his spring debut Saturday against the Dodgers at Camelback Ranch in Glendale, Ariz. Catch the action on Marquee Sports Network beginning at 2 p.m.

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