2/15/2013 5:34 P.M. ET
Clevenger motivated by reduced playing time
By Carrie Muskat / MLB.com
MESA, Ariz. -- Steve Clevenger wasn't real pleased last season when Welington Castillo got more playing time with the Cubs, and used that to motivate him this offseason.
Clevenger had made the Cubs' 25-man roster out of Spring Training one year ago to back up Geovany Soto. Once Soto was traded to the Rangers, Castillo started getting more starts. Did that upset Clevenger?
"Yeah," he said. "At the same time, [Castillo's] a good player. I know it's a competition. I'm not going to root against anybody. But it did light a fire under my butt a little bit."
Castillo heads into this season as the Cubs' No. 1 catcher and veteran Dioner Navarro is the backup. Clevenger went to work this offseason and followed a program designed by strength coach Tim Buss. He added 15 pounds of "good weight."
"My second year catching, it was the first time I was over 200 [pounds], and I felt like I was too big," Clevenger said. "This year, I stretched every day and did my running. Flexibility is big. When you're going to put on weight, you have to stretch and do your running and everything, and that way you come in feeling good.
"I feel great," he said. "I feel so much stronger and so much better."
Soler impressive in first spring appearance
MESA, Ariz. -- Jorge Soler reported to Cubs camp Friday and hit a home run in his first batting practice session. That's not really news, but watching the 6-foot-4 Cuban outfielder swing is definitely an event.
"It's a pretty impressive batting practice for the first day out there," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said of Soler. "The ball comes off his bat like you want a ball to come off the bat if you're a manager.
"I'm really, really interested to see him on the field," Sveum said. "I've gotten to see him take [batting practice] and do things, but I haven't gotten to see the instincts on the field and all that stuff. I haven't gotten to see his arm either."
Sveum said Soler, ranked as the club's No. 3 prospect by MLB.com, reminded him of a right-handed Cliff Floyd the way he could put backspin on the ball.
After hitting a ball over the fence in left-center, Theo Epstein, Cubs president of baseball operations, walked over to shake Soler's hand and welcome him to camp. Soler turns 21 on Feb. 25, and still needs time to develop.
"He's still got to play and learn so much and face better pitching on a consistent basis and older pitchers who can do things," Sveum said. "That experience factor comes in handy."
Soler arrived in Arizona early Friday after spending the offseason in Miami working out. He had been hitting for one month prior to reporting, and said he hoped everything went well in his first big league camp.
Other teams were interested, but Soler picked the Cubs after a workout at their Dominican Republic academy.
"I felt they taught the game the right way," Soler said through Cubs coach Franklin Font.
Cubs hitting coach James Rowson went to Miami to work with Soler this offseason.
"He has the hand strength, which none of us can teach," Sveum said. "It's nice to watch that kind of [batting practice], but until things happen in a game is when you see why things are breaking down or why you need to make this adjustment. Does he have plate coverage? Is his bat staying in the strike zone long enough to handle a cutter on the outside part of the plate? You can go on and on.
"That's why I'm really looking forward to games," he said. "Mechanically, his lower half, I really like. He's a guy who holds onto the bat with both hands, which I like, and right now, in [batting practice] it looks like it should play. It's a pretty nice approach."
After signing a nine-year, $30 million deal in June, Soler began his pro career in the Arizona Rookie League, hitting .241 in 14 games, and then batted .338 with three home runs and 15 RBIs in 20 games with Class A Peoria.
The Cubs don't want to rush him but when does he want to be playing in the big leagues?
"Next year," Soler said, smiling.
• Cubs position players report Saturday with the first full-squad workout scheduled for Sunday at Fitch Park. Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts will address the team prior to the workout.
Third baseman Ian Stewart reported on Friday, and manager Dale Sveum was happy to have him on the team. Stewart was limited to 55 games before undergoing surgery on his left wrist.
"For the price we were going to be able to get him at, I think we had to bring him back," Sveum said. "For $2 million, to get a guy who is capable of hitting 15 to 25 [home runs] and driving in 70 to 100 [runs] and having that kind of power and ability from the left side of the plate -- the easiest thing was, even if he doesn't reach those expectations, he can really catch the ball at third base. We need him to do well."
The Cubs' other third-base option is Luis Valbuena, who batted .219 in 90 games with the Cubs, then hit .306 with six home runs and 15 doubles in 51 games with Lara in the Venezuelan Winter League.
"People know I like the guy and what he did for us last year," Sveum said of Valbuena. "He had a heck of a lot better offensive year than the .215 or whatever it was [he hit]."
• Sveum was to meet Friday with pitching coach Chris Bosio and map out the starting pitchers for the first Cactus League games, which get underway Feb. 23. On Friday, Jeff Samardzija, Matt Garza and Edwin Jackson tuned up with their second bullpen sessions.
"Garza was really good today," Sveum said of the right-hander, who is coming back from an elbow injury. "The ball came out of his hand even better than the other day. His changeup was really good. The ball and the arm strength was really, really good today."
• Casey Coleman, who won the pitchers' side of the bunt tournament last year, has yet to swing a bat this spring. The tournament gets under way Saturday with 16 front-office members competing for the final spot in the field of 64.
"I don't know about bunting -- maybe it's like riding a bike," said Coleman, who lost to outfielder David DeJesus in the final last year.
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.