3/6/2014 5:27 P.M. ET
Bonifacio an early hit in the Cubs' clubhouse
By Carrie Muskat / MLB.com
MESA, Ariz. -- Emilio Bonifacio was one of the last players added to the Cubs' roster, signing a Minor League contract on Feb. 15, and he's been the center of attention in the clubhouse in his neon-colored clothing, chatting non-stop with the other Latin players.
"These guys are known," pitcher Carlos Villanueva said of Bonifacio and Jose Veras, who also has a definite presence in the Cubs clubhouse among the young Latin pitchers. "The younger kids, [Arismendy] Alcantara and [Jeudy] Valdez, they idolized players like Bonifacio. He played in the winter leagues. [The kids would] see a game, and they'd announce 'Emilio Bonifacio' and the crowd would go crazy.
"Even though you don't know them, you feel like you do, so when they come in the clubhouse, they have a certain presence that demands respect and since they are the way they are, so outgoing with the boys, they know everybody," Villanueva said.
Bonifacio, who started in left field on Thursday, will likely be the Cubs' leadoff man when he's in the lineup. How is it that he can blend so well in a new clubhouse?
"I'm always laughing," Bonifacio said. "I try to give my energy to everyone here."
The switch-hitter has played for the D-backs, Nationals, Marlins, Blue Jays and Kansas City. Does he blend in that well on every team?
"That's the person I am -- I always try to be happy and make the work a little bit easy," he said.
Villanueva likes having Bonifacio in the mix.
"He can play great second base," Villanueva said. "He's a very good infielder, middle infielder. He's very funny. He keeps the boys loose. It's a good personality to bring in. He's not uptight all the time. ... I know it [stunk] for him to be released that late, but you never know, it might be a blessing, and he could get an opportunity here."
Wood not worried about Opening Day assignment
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Travis Wood and Jeff Samardzija have been the two constants in the Cubs' rotation the last two seasons, and the pair appear to be the front-runners for the Opening Day assignment. They're just going about their business as usual.
"I've got no control over it," Wood said Thursday after his first Cactus League start, a three-inning outing against the Indians. "[Manager Rick Renteria] is going to pick whoever he wants to pick, so I'm just going out there to get ready for the season. They'll tell me when I'm going to pitch."
After his start on Wednesday, Samardzija said he was preparing for Opening Day, but when pressed, said he hadn't gotten the March 31 assignment.
"I don't want to lock myself in and we still have to see how everybody is falling in and staying healthy," Renteria said Thursday.
Told that Samardzija said he was preparing for Opening Day, Renteria smiled.
"That's good," the manager said. "Wood said the same thing and Jake [Arrieta] said the same thing, and everybody else is saying the same thing. They're getting ready for Opening Day."
Wood retired the first four batters he faced Thursday, then gave up a double to Michael Brantley with one out in the second. That was the only hit off the lefty, who struck out the last two batters he faced in the third. It was such an efficient outing that Wood went to the bullpen and threw 25 more pitches.
"It was nice to get in a game situation," said Wood, whose first start was washed out because of rain and he ended up throwing two innings in the bullpen.
The last two years, the Cubs have traded starting pitchers as they add prospects to the system. Wood and Samardzija have stayed put and become very close in the process. Last season, each totaled 200 innings for the first time in their careers. Their lockers are close, they train together and they share a morning routine.
"The first year was getting to know everybody, and last year we built a good relationship, and we kind of went off that and hang out and play some golf and chat things over," Wood said.
Samardzija used to climb Camelback Mountain in Scottsdale with Ryan Dempster as part of their training routine. Has Samardzija convinced Wood to join him?
"No," Wood said. "I don't climb mountains."
Baez's bat generates buzz around Cubs' camp
MESA, Ariz. -- Cubs manager Rick Renteria wasn't surprised that Javier Baez's left ankle hurt when he fouled a ball off it on Wednesday.
"I was saying to him, 'If the ball came off the bat like a normal human being's ball comes off the bat, you would've been OK,'" Renteria said Thursday, "'But since yours comes off like a bullet train, I would've gone down, too.'"
Baez lay on the ground for a few seconds, but stayed in the game. In his next at-bat, he hit an opposite-field home run. Guess he was feeling OK.
"That was a great at-bat," Renteria said of the home run in the Cubs' loss to the Rockies. "Once he got to two strikes, the approach is significantly important. Most times, guys like Javy still want to drive the ball, but he's capable of driving the ball to any part of the ballpark."
It's all part of the development process for Baez, who will open the 2014 season at shortstop for Triple-A Iowa. He's been working at second and third as well in early sessions with coach Gary Jones, and Renteria said they will start Baez in a game at one of those positions soon.
The Cubs' top prospect, Baez has been the center of attention this spring.
"It's great -- great for Javy, great for the Cubs," Renteria said. "He's an exciting player, as you guys all have seen. It's not like you can hide it."
And he does hit the ball hard, which is why Renteria cringed a little when he saw Baez on the ground after the foul ball.
"When he went down, I didn't know if it was his foot or shin," Renteria said. "I just know the ball comes off his bat hot and it must have hurt wherever it hit."
Renteria optimistic about Soler's progress
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Jorge Soler was hitless in five Cactus League at-bats but Cubs manager Rick Renteria has seen a lot of positives from the Cuban outfielder in practice.
"I go to the back field to watch him work, and he's very diligent in his batting practice and in the outfield," Renteria said of Soler, limited to 55 games after suffering a fractured left shin in June. "His routes are clean. He's a good looking outfielder and obviously, a good looking athlete and potentially he looks like he'll be a really good hitter."
Soler, 22, batted .281 with Class A Daytona last season before he was injured and then played in the Arizona Fall League. Renteria isn't concerned with what the outfielder's final numbers are this spring.
"The victories we try to gain in terms of when we're watching is to see how their approach is at the plate," he said. "Obviously, everybody wants positive end results but if their at-bats are coming together where you see them swinging at good pitches and taking bad ones and working at-bats through that process, then I think there are things to be excited about.
"There are days when they're not going to have good at-bats," he said. "You talk about those and what were the approaches and the thinking that went into that approach."
• Cubs reliever James Russell, who has yet to get into a Cactus League game because of some discomfort in his left arm, was scheduled to throw a bullpen session on Friday and could be in action next week.
Russell, who has appeared in more than 70 games each of the last two seasons, was going through a "dead arm" phase, Renteria said.
• Shortstop Starlin Castro is continuing to make progress in his rehab from a mild right hamstring strain. Castro, who was injured last Sunday, was expected to be sidelined seven to 10 days. He's been receiving treatment all day at the Cubs' complex.
• The Cubs will play split-squad games on Friday with James McDonald getting his first Cactus League start against the Angels in Tempe, Ariz., and Edwin Jackson starting in Mesa against the Indians. The Cubs-Angels game is another test of the new instant replay system available to managers. However, Renteria will be in Mesa.
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.