CHICAGO -- The Cubs are in the homestretch in preparations for the First-Year Player Draft, to be held from June 4-6. Chicago has the sixth selection in the first round.
"It's probably the most important thing that we're doing now, to be honest, and it takes up a vast majority of our time," said Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein. "Draft day is the most important day of the year for every organization. It's a yearlong process, and right now, we're in the sweet spot, finishing up evaluations and going back and getting final looks, and we'll get together and process all the information."
The new rules established in the Basic Agreement have affected how the Cubs approach the signability of players and how they allocate their resources in scouting. Epstein called it a "level playing field" for all 30 teams.
The Cubs have trimmed their list to 10 players as possible options in the first round, he said.
"That's an important pick, but every pick is important in the Draft if you want to have a successful one," Epstein said.
Epstein liking what he's seen from Cubs lately
CHICAGO -- After a rough 3-11 start, the Cubs are 9-6 in their last 15 games entering Tuesday, and president of baseball operations Theo Epstein sees some good trends.
"There have been some really good things happening," said Epstein on Tuesday. "It's baseball, so you don't get too high when things are going well or too low when they're not. The effort has been there all year, and we've been playing hard and trying to play the game the right way.
"It's hard to see sometimes when you're losing close games and when breaks are going against you like they were early, but everyone can appreciate it when the results come with it as they have lately."
Cubs pitchers have compiled a 2.64 ERA in the last 15 games entering Tuesday, the fourth-best mark in the Major Leagues during that stretch, and the team was batting .262, which ranks seventh in the National League.
Looking for positives? Third baseman Ian Stewart, for example, was batting .381 in his last seven games entering Tuesday to raise his average from .160 to .208. Geovany Soto was batting .167 overall, but he was 5-for-17 in his last five games. Ryan Dempster entered Tuesday's game with a 0.95 ERA, yet has not won in four starts.
"I think Stewart and Soto both have been hitting into tough luck all year, and it's starting to turn for both of them," Epstein said. "They've really been having quality at-bats for weeks, and now balls are starting to fall for them or being driven out of the ballpark, which is a way to take care of your own luck sometimes. Demp has been as good as anybody. The won-loss record is out of your control sometimes, but he's done a great job for us every time he's taken the ball."
Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer showed faith in first baseman Bryan LaHair, 29, who was the Pacific Coast League MVP last year, and he's rewarded them with a .388 average and eight home runs entering Tuesday.
"He's always been a really good hitter," Epstein said. "I'm happy for him. He's had a chance to show it at the Major League level and put up consistently good at-bats. The results aren't going to always be this Ruthian, so to speak, but the quality of at-bats will remain consistent. It's not a fluke."
What Epstein likes is LaHair's approach at the plate.
"He's recognizing pitches out of the pitcher's hand early, and he's letting the ball travel and get deep," Epstein said. "He's really short and compact to the ball, so he's hitting the ball hard and hitting it where it's pitched, and he's covering just about the whole strike zone. He'll go through slumps and everything, but it's really encouraging not just what he's doing, but how he's accomplishing it. It's nice to see -- I'm really happy for him and for us."
Epstein also likes how manager Dale Sveum handled things during the first 14 games when thing weren't going well.
"That was a pretty rough first couple of weeks, and Dale handled everything with a real calmness and confidence that I think is genuine," Epstein said. "I think players pick up on that. They like playing for him."
Cardenas makes first start in Major Leagues
CHICAGO -- Adrian Cardenas had butterflies on Tuesday.
The infielder, called up from Triple-A Iowa on Monday, was in the Cubs' starting lineup against the Braves for his first Major League start. He did get an at-bat Monday night in the eighth and lined out to second base.
It may have been an out, but Cardenas was happy that he was patient.
"Being able to take that second pitch for a ball, being down in the count, was the big at-bat," Cardenas said. "It showed that I was calm. It was not only that I took it, but it was the way I took it. That was a small positive out of that at-bat. I was able to foul a good curve off."
Cardenas started at second base in place of Darwin Barney, who was 6-for-41 in his last 12 games.
"He's just kind of in one of those things where the backside is shutting down, and he's probably getting caught and not ready to hit and thinking too much," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said of Barney. "It's just a matter of getting in there and knocking the [stuff] out of the ball instead of worrying about mechanics."
Cardenas impressed Sveum and the Cubs with his at-bats during Spring Training. He hit .319 at Iowa. Now, he's in the big leagues.
"I don't think [the butterflies] will completely diminish," Cardenas said, "but I ask myself whenever I start getting nervous if I've prepared, and if the answer is a yes and that I've prepared, then [the butterflies] subside a little. I'll definitely be doing a lot of that."
Cubs want to see Marmol get back on track
CHICAGO -- Cubs manager Dale Sveum doesn't have a specific checklist of things he wants Carlos Marmol to do to return to his role as the closer. In fact, rookie Rafael Dolis and lefty James Russell could take over for the rest of the season.
Marmol walked the first two batters he faced in the eighth on Monday, then regrouped and escaped the mess. He struck out the Braves' Brian McCann and Dan Uggla to end the inning. What Sveum wants to see is not just a confident pitcher, but also Marmol throwing something other than his slider.
"[He threw a] 3-2 slider to a guy who can't hit the ball out of the ballpark," Sveum said. "Those are the kind of things I want to start seeing before I put him back in the closer's role -- to be able to throw a 3-2 fastball and see how far it can get hit."
Dolis has a win and a save in his last two outings.
"I'm not going to make change to make change," Sveum said. "If Dolis is doing well and Russell is doing well in that role, I won't make change to make change."
Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein liked how Marmol said he responded to the fans' booing by turning it into something positive and motivating him.
"I think everyone has to recognize he wants to succeed as much as anyone else," Epstein said. "No one wants to go out there and fail, especially in a role where you let your teammates down. He's paid a lot of money to do a job and he's got a lot of support around him, so it's up to him to put the work in and fix himself. I haven't seen any signs of him backing down, so as long as he gives the effort and faces his challenges head-on, we're going to support him and get him where he needs to be to help us."
Dale Sveum was 35 in his last year as a player in the Major Leagues. Braves third baseman Chipper Jones is wrapping up his career at the age of 40. Could Sveum have played longer?
"I think I could've kept going if I didn't blow my back out," Sveum said Tuesday. "My back was the determining factor to where I couldn't run and bend down at the same time. I could still swing the bat."
He was a little surprised that Jones is still going strong.
"I think most guys when you get to that age -- I played 18 years and you take that many swings, the back for a lot of people is the thing that goes," Sveum said.
Tickets go on sale Saturday for the June 14 Hot Stove Cool Music concert at Metro in Chicago featuring Cubs fan Billy Corgan's group, Smashing Pumpkins, plus the Figgs, Jenny Dee and the Deelinquents, members of Buffalo Tom and the Hot Stove All-Stars. Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein is scheduled to perform as well, along with Cubs broadcasters Len Kasper and Bob Brenly. Proceeds will support Cubs Charities and the "Foundation to be Named Later Serving Disadvantaged Youth." Epstein and his brother, Paul, run the foundation.
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.