With Spring Training fast approaching, MLB.com will take a look at a different aspect of this year's Cubs squad each day this week. Today's topic: Spring Training is here.
MESA, Ariz. -- The hometown parades, the trips to Disney World, and the late-night television appearances are over. The next mission for the Cubs is to try and repeat as World Series champions, and they'll get to work this week.
After ending the longest drought in sports with their first championship since 1908, the Cubs were feted and celebrated across the country and in their hometowns this offseason. Manager Joe Maddon will bring them back to reality Wednesday when pitchers and catchers have their first workout. He'll be emphasizing fundamentals and the need to be a little uncomfortable.
"I think we have our best opportunity to repeat by pitching and playing defense that we've done in the past," Maddon said. "This Spring Training, I want us to be uncomfortable and emphasize pitching and defense."
The Cubs' nucleus returns from last season, including National League Most Valuable Player Award winner Kris Bryant. The young club believes it's ready for anything.
"With the experience we've gained from getting swept by the Mets [in the 2015 NL Championship Series] to playing in Game 7 in one of the best World Series ever, I think anything that's thrown at us, we'll be able to handle, especially after going into spring last year with all the extra media and all the scrutiny," Anthony Rizzo said. "The way we were able to handle ourselves in the clubhouse and not worry about anything else was the biggest key, and I think that will be the biggest key this year."
The World Series trophy will make an appearance in Mesa on Feb. 22 at the Cactus League lunch, and also Feb. 25 for the Cubs' first Spring Training game, when they play host to the Athletics.
Here's what to watch for as the club opens camp.
Pitchers and catchers report: Tuesday
Position players report: Saturday
First Cactus League game
Split squad: Home vs. Athletics on Feb. 25 at 2:05 p.m. CT; away at Giants in Scottsdale at 2:05 p.m. CT
Most of the new guys are on the pitching staff, including new closer Wade Davis and starter Brett Anderson. Anderson underwent back surgery one year ago in March and, if healthy, he's projected as the fifth starter. If not, lefty Mike Montgomery could get the job. Caleb Smith was a Rule 5 Draft pick, and the Cubs need to determine if the lefty is ready to make the jump from Double-A to the big leagues. Chicago also wants to get a look at late additions Eddie Butler and Alec Mills, who could be insurance during the season. Koji Uehara, 41, brings experience to the 'pen. As far as position players go, veteran outfielder Jon Jay is the only addition, and he's been in camp for more than a week to get to know his teammates.
Interesting non-roster invitees
The Cubs will be looking at the non-roster list as insurance in case of injury. Infielder Munenori Kawasaki is a potential backup because of his versatility. He's also very entertaining in the clubhouse. Jim Henderson, 34, who saved 28 games for the Brewers in 2013 and appeared in 44 games with the Mets last season, will be prepping to pitch for Team Canada in the World Baseball Classic. The Cubs will want catchers Taylor Davis and Carlos Corporan to get work with the Major League staff so they're ready if needed in-season.
Prospects to watch Ian Happ, the Cubs' first-round pick in 2015, will be in his first big league camp along with infielder Chesny Young, who batted .303 at Double-A Tennessee last year and then shined in the Dominican League this winter. This also will be the first time Eloy Jimenez is in big league camp. The 20-year-old outfielder batted .329 at Class A South Bend last year, playing a personal-best 112 games. Third baseman Jeimer Candelario, who batted .333 at Triple-A Iowa, got a brief taste of the big leagues when he was called up last July. Duane Underwood Jr., a second-round pick in the 2012 Draft who is projected as a future starter, will be someone to watch. Happ, Jimenez, Candelario, Underwood and Young are ranked first, second, fifth, seventh, and 29th, respectively, on MLB.com's list of Top 30 Cubs prospects.
Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.