01/21/10 1:10 PM EST
Baker aims to start for Cubs in 2010
Second baseman preparing for competition with Fontenot
By Carrie Muskat / MLB.com
Baker heads into the 2010 season with the Cubs as a candidate for the starting second base job along with Mike Fontenot.
"I don't know if you view it as competition," Baker said about battling Fontenot for playing time. "The bottom line is it's about the team winning."
Baker's been in this situation before with the Colorado Rockies, where he had spent all of his professional career until he was dealt last July 2 to the Cubs for Minor League pitcher Al Alburquerque. A fourth-round pick in the 2000 First-Year Player Draft, Baker was blocked at third base at Colorado because of Garrett Atkins' presence. He became more versatile, and was able to play both second and the outfield, but never received regular playing time.
"There really wasn't a spot for Jeff on our club," Rockies general manager Dan O'Dowd said at the time of the deal.
Baker, 28, now heads into the Cubs' camp with a little bit more of an opening. Fontenot, 29, was the Opening Day starter in 2009, getting the nod after hitting .305 in 119 games in 2008. But he scuffled and batted .236 last season, including .211 in June.
"Guys who you're competing with for the same spot, you're still good friends and [the competition] doesn't change anything," Baker said. "As long as Mike and I have the same mindset that it's about what's best for the team and about what's best for the team that day, I don't think anything will change. We're both professional players and we both want to win."
Baker, who signed a new contract Tuesday, thus avoiding arbitration, made a good impression on the Cubs when he came over. A right-handed hitter, he was limited early in 2009 because of a sprained left hand and appeared in 12 games with the Rockies. He batted .217 in a rehab stint, was then traded and batted .235 in July. In August, Baker hit .359 in 64 at-bats and followed that with a mark of .295 September.
"It's one of those things, coming over here was a fresh start and an opportunity for me," Baker said of the Cubs. "The one thing I've noticed about the Cubs is if you play well, you'll get the opportunity to play. I'm going to try to take advantage of it and I'm going to go out there and go 100 percent. It's not going to be from a lack of effort or lack of preparation."
This offseason, he started hitting earlier than usual. Baker has been working out at George Mason University, which is near his home in Dumfries, Va.
"There's no one there in December," he said of the school, located in Fairfax, Va. "I started going a couple times a week and I've been going every day in January."
He'll be in the Cubs' camp in Mesa, Ariz., when pitchers and catchers report Feb. 17.
"For me, taking ground balls off a gym floor is good," Baker said, "but it's definitely nice being out on the grass and I like the warm weather, too."
He did not take the attitude that he'll be a backup on the Cubs.
"I always prepare like I'm going to be a starter," Baker said. "I believe I can play every day in the big leagues and I can be productive and help a team win. It doesn't really change how I go about my business or my offseason.
"The opportunity to start doesn't come along too often," he said. "I've been fighting for one my whole career. If I get that opportunity in Spring Training, it's something I'm going to try to grab hold of tight and not let go."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.