By Kevin Powell
MESA, Ariz.—It’s only been a couple of days since players reported to the Cubs spring training home in Mesa, but the vibe doesn’t feel a whole lot different than a year ago. Despite winning their first World Series in 108 years, the 2017 Cubs seem just as determined to bring home another title. The expectations remain the same: Win a World Series. “The goal from here on out is to win the World Series,” 2016 NL MVP Kris Bryant said. “If we don’t do that I consider every season after (ending the title drought) a failure.”
Slugger Kyle Schwarber added: “I think we’re all still hungry.”
Meanwhile, Schwarber was cleared Wednesday to begin catching drills, but don’t expect the team to push him in that direction. “We’re going to really go slow with it,” team president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said. “Like, one or two days a week in spring training, that’s it. His primary focus is going to be left fielder.”
Schwarber’s availability behind the plate opens up even more options for manager Joe Maddon when building the lineup. But I’d imagine we only see a handful of starts at catcher for Schwarber this season. It’s not worth risking an injury, and missing his bat in the lineup.
“I would like to see him play an entire season,” Maddon added. “It’d be kinda nice to get a full season of Kyle Schwarber major league baseball. So, that’s the most important thing to get out of this. But yes, he will get some work as a catcher. We’ll break that in slowly and we’ll see how it plays out.”
ARRIETA CONTRACT UPDATE
The 2015 NL Cy Young winner is set to become a free agent after this season. So, how are contract talks? “I think there’s an open dialogue there. But I don’t think it’s my number one priority. I think I just wanted to focus on my health and coming into camp as well rested and in as good as shape as I possibly can.”
Arrieta is set to make over $15 million dollars this season, which could be his last in a Cubs uniform.
“I think time flies really quickly. It feels like only a few months ago I was traded over here, starting my career as a Cub in 2013. I’ve had some incredible experiences with this organization….I don’t want to see that time come to an end, my time as a Cub.”
Magicians. Mimes. Karaoke. 70’s vans. Zoo animals. Those are just some of Maddon’s antics and gimmicks the past couple springs. And don’t expect the fun to stop this year. “You can anticipate a lot of the same,” the skipper said. We already have something planned for (full day of full squad on Saturday… Nothing’s changed, man. It’s all the same in regards to the same, meaning the methods, the process.”
Bryant added: “Joe’s gonna make it a lot of fun.”
Any here are the three themes Maddon will be pushing this season: “I want to focus on the word uncomfortable, I want to focus on the word authenticity and don’t forget the heartbeat.” Why uncomfortable? “If you become a comfortable person, it subtracts growth from the equation. I think if you remain uncomfortable, you’ll continue to grow.”
Kevin Powell covers Chicago baseball for WGN Radio and anchors sports on The Roe Conn Show with Anna Davlantes, M-F/3-7p. Follow on twitter @kpowell720