MESA, Ariz. -- Cubs manager Dale Sveum likes the idea of the extra Wild Card team, although he understands some baseball purists may not."I think whenever you're on this end of it, it's not something a lot of people will care for, the historians of the game, but things change over the years," he said Saturday. "The more teams you can get in the playoffs, the better it is. You can fight longer, an organization can fight longer. It puts you and a couple other teams in the running to make a trade at the deadline to pick things up like that. "I like it. I know it's a little strange the way it's going to be done, but for the most part I think it's good for baseball and good for organizations to have one extra team vying in September to make the playoffs -- it'll be more than one team vying for that spot." Is this good timing for the Cubs? "It's good timing for anybody," Sveum said. "You can go down there and if you didn't have that extra playoff game, you might have 10 extra teams vying for those spots. One year it might be three, one year it might be 10. What we saw last year, going down to the last week of September, probably won't ever happen again, with that many teams vying for a playoff spot, that many Wild Card and divisions coming down to the last game of the season -- that's what we all dream about as players and managers. "You always want to win Wild Cards or the division by 10 games, and we know that's not always the case. There's so much parity going on in baseball, and that extra team, it's great to have. Baseball fans all over, it could come down to that last day of the season to where the whole country is watching three, four extra games to [settle] that last Wild Card spot."
Cubs put ball in Jackson, Rizzo's court
MESA, Ariz. -- Center fielder Brett Jackson and first baseman Anthony Rizzo are expected to open the season at Triple-A Iowa, but that doesn't mean they can't challenge for a spot on the Cubs' Opening Day roster.Jackson was 2-for-2, walked twice and scored three runs in Friday's intrasquad game, hitting a leadoff homer for the winning Blue team. Rizzo didn't have as productive a day as he walked, singled and struck out. "Right now, [Jackson] is slated to go to Triple-A and play," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. "We've all been around long enough to know where kids like that -- who are pretty special players with speed, power, arm, five-tool players who are ready to play -- they make for some tough decisions down the stretch. He's that kind of guy. "You can see it in his eyes that he's here to impress and make this team and not go back to the Minor Leagues," Sveum said. Sveum and the coaches met with both Jackson and Rizzo before camp started. "The bottom line is you finish the conversation with, 'You play every day to make the team and open our eyes to make our decisions tough when it comes down to April 1,'" Sveum said. Rizzo is projected as the Cubs' first baseman of the future, Jackson was the team's No. 1 pick in 2009. "These guys will be really good players, there's no question about it, and leaders on the field," Sveum said. "These guys have personalities where they will be leaders and winning players on and off the field as well as in the clubhouse. They are special guys who don't come around all the time with the tools and ability. They both have it. It's going to be interesting and I hope they do make our decisions tough."
Sveum puts faith in LaHair at first base
MESA, Ariz. -- Bryan LaHair belted 38 homers at Triple-A Iowa last season, and followed that with another 15 in the Venezuelan Winter League. At the Winter Meetings, LaHair met Cubs manager Dale Sveum and was told he was going to be the team's first baseman in 2012."I knew he had power, obviously, because of his numbers, but he has tremendous leverage through the strike zone," Sveum said Saturday. "I think he's the kind of guy who can run into eight to 10 home runs a year. What I mean by [leverage] is he can hit home runs when he's not perfect, when he's off balance, whether it's a changeup or a breaking ball down. "He's got that kind of leverage where the bat stays through the strike zone and the back side works correctly and you can get a lot of home runs when it doesn't look prototypically perfect swing in the back," Sveum said. LaHair, 29, the Most Valuable Player in the Pacific Coast League last season, has 195 big league at-bats, and that's it. "The bottom line is the kid deserved the chance," Sveum said. "The numbers he put up, besides [Anthony] Rizzo, we didn't have that incumbent coming in or anybody making $15 million in front of him or anything like that. What he did in winter ball was just as impressive as anything. Nobody does that. He deserves the right and he deserves the chance, and he'll get that chance." There had been rumors the Cubs were interested in acquiring free agent Prince Fielder, whom Sveum knew well from their days together on the Brewers. "You guys know as well as I do we never offered Prince anything," Sveum said. "I don't know whether it was my connection with Prince or the media jumping the gun a little bit. We had our guy all along was LaHair."
DeJesus OK after finger is caught in fence
MESA, Ariz. -- Not to take anything away from Matt Szczur, but one of the reasons he was able to score from second Friday on a sacrifice fly to right was because right fielder David DeJesus' hand got stuck in the wire-mesh fence.DeJesus' left middle finger got stuck in the fence as he went back for the ball. Cubs third-base coach Pat Listach saw that DeJesus was having trouble and waved Szczur home. DeJesus was fine on Saturday, wearing a bandage on his finger. Just wait until DeJesus gets to Wrigley Field and has to deal with the brick and ivy. "I can't wait," DeJesus said Saturday. "When you hit those vines, all you feel is brick," Marlon Byrd said.
Clevenger emerges as bunt tourney favorite
MESA, Ariz. -- The Cubs' bunting tournament has narrowed the field of 64 to the sweet 16, and manager Dale Sveum told the players Saturday that catcher Steve Clevenger appears to be the No. 1 guy to beat. Clevenger upset Tony Campana in the first round."Whether he can handle that pressure, I don't know," Sveum said of Clevenger. "He seems to have no heart rate." Sveum also advanced to the final 16 with a win over Ryan Dempster on Friday. "[Dempster] was one of the favorites and definitely spent more time practicing than anybody else," Sveum said. "I don't think he was real happy with yesterday's result." The tourney has shifted to the back field at HoHoKam Park, and it requires even more skill than the field they were using at Fitch Park. "This field was different -- it was quicker," said Geovany Soto, who lost to Jeff Baker on Friday. "It's like a nice putting green back there," Sveum said. "It's a lot quicker, so you have to really deaden the ball." The final 16 entries are being seeded and play will resume Monday. Sveum hopes to have the championship match March 15. Sveum has himself as the No. 2 seed. "It's my baby," the Cubs manager said of the tourney. "I'm seeding everybody and running this thing."
MESA, Ariz. -- Jay Jackson faced the minimum over three innings in Saturday's intrasquad game at HoHoKam Park, which ended in a 3-3 tie between the Blue and White teams.Joe Mather smacked a three-run homer in the fourth for the Blue team, and Brett Jackson connected for the second straight day, hitting a leadoff homer in the third off lefty Chris Rusin, for the White. Jay Jackson, who was 8-14 with a 5.34 ERA at Triple-A Iowa last year, struck out one in his efficient outing. "That's the goal, just to get outs," he said. "That's as good as you can get, I guess." It was just an intrasquad game, but the right-hander said he approached it as if it was a regular-season tilt. He's revived his curveball this spring after dropping it last season to focus on his slider. "I've got a bagful of tricks, apparently," Jackson said. "Today, I made some good pitches, I made some that were bad and still got outs with them. I got the job done for three innings, and that's all I can ask for." For Brett Jackson, it was the second straight day he led off an inning with a home run off a lefty. Should the Cubs expect another homer on Sunday? "I don't know about that," he said. Brett Jackson is projected to start the season at Iowa. "Things I can control are what I do every day," he said. "I'm not going to make the team right now, today, but every day is a piece to that puzzle. I'm going to keep working every day until that day comes, and when that day comes, I'll keep working there. That's my goal -- I believe in big things for the Cubs, and it's something I want to be a part of and I'm going to work to be a part of it." Alfonso Soriano will lead off for the Cubs in Sunday's Cactus League opener against the Athletics at HoHoKam Park. The only regular not playing will be catcher Geovany Soto, who is still nursing a sore groin. Soto has been able to take batting practice; he just can't catch yet. Welington Castillo, one of the candidates for the backup catcher's position, will start. The lineup Sunday will be Soriano, Ian Stewart, Starlin Castro, Bryan LaHair, Marlon Byrd, David DeJesus, Jeff Baker at designated hitter, Darwin Barney and Castillo. Rodrigo Lopez was scheduled to start, and other pitchers on the lineup card include Carlos Marmol, Rafael Dolis, Lendy Castillo, Marcos Mateo and Dae-Eun Rhee. Travis Wood made his Cubs debut in Friday's intrasquad game and got roughed up as he served up six runs over three innings on six hits, including two homers. "It was what happened to him a little bit last year, not being able to command down and away on his arm side," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said of the left-hander. "He still had pretty decent command inside, which is his forte. It was nice to see his last 20 or so pitches he had great command of his changeup and that's one thing he has to learn to use that changeup when he's behind in the count and not be so aggressive all the time in those counts. He showed that down the stretch when he got comfortable. "He knows he has to get better down and away. He needs to be able to use both sides of the plate." Matt Szczur and Tony Campana both showed they have been paying attention during baserunning drills in the intrasquad game on Friday. Both made tight turns at third and were able to score. "Campana, as fast as he is, he doesn't score on that play if he doesn't hit the bag with his right foot," Sveum said of the outfielder, who tallied on Brett Jackson's double in the fourth. "He made a perfect turn and didn't even touch the grass as he came around third base. That means he ran 10, 15 feet less than a normal guy making a bad turn or an average turn so he was safe by a half step instead of being out by a half step. "These are little things that guys start picking up on and some of the things we're teaching, so, hey, it does matter," Sveum said. "It's nice to see results, even though it was an intrasquad game, to see these guys understand that, 'Wow, that could've been the difference in winning the ballgame,' with Campana scoring because he made a perfect turn." One of clubhouse manager Tom Hellman's jobs each spring is to ask the young players what number they'd like to wear if they get called up to the big leagues. That way, Hellman can try to accommodate them. For example, Michael Brenly, who is wearing No. 78 in spring camp, said he'd prefer Nos. 18 or 15. "You don't want to be wearing No. 78 forever," Hellman said.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter@CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.