09/14/12 2:47 PM ET
Top pick Almora takes first cuts at Wrigley
By Carrie Muskat / MLB.com
On Friday, Almora got his swings in at Wrigley.
The 18-year-old outfielder from Hialeah, Fla., took part in batting practice, hitting a couple of balls into the left-field bleachers.
"This has been one of the best days of my life," Almora said. "This is awesome."
When he signed, Almora did take a tour of Wrigley Field and checked out the view from center. But this time, he was in uniform surrounded by big league players.
"I was in center field, and I don't know how much history has been on this field, but I feel very blessed and very thankful," he said.
"It's just to let them see what the ultimate destination is and see some guys who could be their teammates down the road, if they put the work in," Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said about the visit.
Almora will spend the weekend in Chicago before reporting to Mesa, Ariz., for the instructional league. When he arrives, he will have to wear his socks high. That's the rule in the Cubs' Minor League system. Almora switched before he hit on Friday.
"That's the first thing I asked -- do I have to show sock here?" Almora said. "They said, 'You're in The Show, man. You can do whatever you want here.'"
One of the Cubs' other top prospects, Cuban outfielder Jorge Soler, will come to Wrigley Field on Saturday for a workout. Soler, 20, and Almora were teammates and roommates in Mesa. Did they talk about someday playing together at Wrigley?
"We try to take it one step at a time," Almora said. "We could only control Arizona. That's what we talked about."
Epstein pleased with Cubs' effort on the field
CHICAGO -- When a team is 30 games back in the standings, there's not much to play for. But the Cubs have a goal: Avoid 100 losses.
Heading into Friday's opener against the Pirates, the Cubs need to finish 7-12 to steer clear of the century mark in losses for the first time since the 1966 team finished 59-103.
"No one wants to be associated with a 100-loss team," said Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein. "We're going to try to win every game. But if we can win enough to avoid 100, it would be a very, very small victory, but certainly better than losing 100."
Cubs manager Dale Sveum said it's a matter of pride.
"It's a motivating thing and a pride thing to know you weren't part of one of those teams," Sveum said.
Sveum knew what he was getting into when he took the job.
"We told Dale in the interview, we told him that based on where we are as a franchise, we're going to try to win, but we're not even going to evaluate him on wins and losses in the first couple years, because it wouldn't be fair," Epstein said. "We knew we'd be putting out a team that had too much developing talent to evaluate him strictly on wins and losses. We'll evaluate him on a number of other criteria that we shared with him, and I think he's done a fantastic job, to be honest with you."
What Epstein and others have noticed is that the Cubs haven't quit.
"For a team that's where we are in the standings, it's been one of the best clubhouses I've been around," Epstein said. "They show up to play every day, they like each other, they prepare, they work hard. With a few very rare exceptions, we've played really hard for nine innings every game and left it all on the field. Usually, when you're losing on the field, it starts to seep into the clubhouse a little bit, but we haven't seen that happen. I've been proud of the way we've conducted ourselves."
Cubs fans will just have to be patient.
"We have a plan and a vision, and it's not going to happen overnight," Epstein said. "Given the way of things, I think this is the best way to go. We're not trying to hide the ball. We're being honest with them. There might be another Trade Deadline in our future where we trade away 40 percent of our rotation. You do that because there's going to be a day when you acquire two starting pitchers at the Deadline to cement your club.
"Our goal from the beginning is we're going to do what we need to do to put ourselves in a position to be a contending team year in and year out, and that means no shortcuts and taking the long approach," he said. "When you acquire young players and trade for prospects, it's pretty obvious it's not a quick road. I think it'll be a rewarding journey."
Rizzo, Jackson back in action for opener vs. Bucs
CHICAGO -- Anthony Rizzo and Brett Jackson returned to the Cubs' lineup on Friday, both still a little sore but ready to play.
Rizzo was back after a freak collision and fall trying to beat a throw to first base on Tuesday in Houston. The first baseman suffered a bruised right shoulder. He also got razzed by teammates for his somersault onto the ground.
"I got a lot of style points," Rizzo said. "I got a couple 10s, a couple 6s."
Jackson crashed into the center field wall at PNC Park last Friday while making a catch and bruised his right knee. He knows to be careful.
"You try not to ram yourself into something hard," Jackson said. "It was unfortunate that I banged up my knee, but I was also pretty lucky. It could've been a lot worse."
Cubs manager Dale Sveum will advise Jackson to be careful but not to change his style in center field.
"You never want to take anybody's aggressiveness away," Sveum said. "That's part of the game, and those are the kind of guys you want playing for you, [guys who will go] through a wall. That play changed the whole game around. That's why people like that play center field, because they make plays like that and change the game around."
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.