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Spring Training Notebook: Why Cubs were perfect fit for Ríos, Sampson’s special winter plus some serious power in camp

1 year agoAndy Martinez

MESA, Ariz. — As he tried to find a new home, Edwin Ríos circled one team for his agent: the Chicago Cubs.

“I really wanted to be here,” the new infielder said. “You’re gonna have opportunities to play everywhere — DH, first, third and if I have to get out there in the outfield, I will. I’m just excited and excited to compete with the guys.”

The opportunity to be closer to home excited him, too.

Ríos was born in Caguas, Puerto Rico but went to high school in Kissimmee, Fla. and went to college at Florida International in Miami. Playing in Los Angeles with the Dodgers meant the time difference for his family was pretty extreme — his night games at Dodger Stadium started at 10 p.m. back home.

“It’s too late,” Ríos said. “It’s a lot of things [that] go into it, but family’s gonna be able to come out a lot more, you’re gonna get that support. It’s very exciting.”

In the Cubs, he has familiar surroundings, too.

Two of his former Dodger teammates, Zach McKinstry and Cody Bellinger, are on the roster, making the assimilation for him even easier. He also worked with current Cubs hitting coach Dustin Kelly in 2020 when they were both at the Dodgers’ alternate site at the University of Southern California.

“We have a good relationship and definitely excited,” Ríos said of Kelly. “He’s just very chill. He kind of likes to see the player before he kind of just jumps on top of him. He’s more of a guy where you kind of come to my head, ‘what do you see?’ and stuff like that, which I love. I think that’s gonna pay dividends during the season.”

Special offseason for Sampson

More than once in his career, Adrian Sampson had received a dreaded phone call over the winter.

Most times it was a general manager, but the message was always the same — a 40-man roster spot was valuable, and they had to make the tough decision to designate him for assignment to move him off the 40-man.

“You almost become numb to those words,” Sampson said.

This winter was different.

He pitched well enough for the Cubs in 2022 that the phone call never came.

“It’s a prize for anybody to be on that,” Sampson said. “It’s a big deal. I try to accept that as a big deal, but I know that the next step is to make the Opening Day roster. That’s kinda what my eyes are set on.”

Sampson is in competition with Hayden Wesneski, Javier Assad and “some NRI guys” for the final rotation spot.

Camp Nuggets

– Adbert Alzolay threw a live batting practice session on Sunday afternoon at the backfields at Sloan Park and had plenty of success. He struck out the first three batters he faced – Nelson Velázquez, Jared Young and Kevin Alcántara – with Yan Gomes behind the plate. Manager David Ross said Saturday Alzolay would be used out of the bullpen in 2023.

– Ríos took live batting practice Sunday afternoon on Field 1 and hit a home run in a lefty-lefty matchup against Drew Smyly — sort of. The batter’s eye in center field is built in with the wall and the ball Ríos hit smacked the top of that batter’s eye — either way, the ball was crushed by the new Cub.

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