MESA, Ariz. -- Part of the future talent expected to help turn around the Chicago Cubs' fortunes in the standings arrived at spring training on Sunday, several days ahead of mandatory attendance.
First-round picks Albert Almora and Kris Bryant joined other early birds in preparation for what should be a competitive spring training among prospects. The No. 2 overall pick in last June’s amateur draft -- and both the MVP of the collegiate season as well as the professional Arizona Fall League -- is ready for his first big league camp.
“I’m definitely going to be here asking questions,” Bryant said before taking some swings in the batting cage Sunday morning. “Probably annoying them. This is an amazing opportunity for me. I want to make the most of it.”
Bryant said he came in early so he could find his locker and get comfortable. Manager Rick Renteria has taken notice as young players like Bryant, Almora, Josh Vitters and Brett Jackson have joined veterans like Darwin Barney and Anthony Rizzo in early workouts.
“I’ve been pretty impressed that the numbers are kind of high,” Renteria said. “It shows me a lot of interest. It’s nice to have them be a part of the workouts that they’re doing on their own. It’s nice to have them preparing themselves.”
Position players must report by mid-week before full-squad workouts commence. That’s when the baseball world will get to see how the Cubs' highly touted young players perform against the established vets.
“I was a first-rounder,’ Renteria recalled. “I remember. The question when I went to rookie ball was ‘when are you going to be in the big leagues?’ I didn’t have that crystal ball.”
Neither does Bryant or Almora. For now, they just want to get better. Despite the accolades in 2013, Bryant hasn’t stopped working.
“Stay consistent,” he said. “Tighten up my swing. Be a little shorter. First-step quickness at third base. Those are the things I need to do.”
Asked who he thought might be his leadoff man, Renteria leaned towards Starlin Castro.
“Starlin has had that role in the past,” Renteria said.
Castro had some of his best at-bats of the season hitting leadoff in the final couple of months last year. In September he hit .259, 14 points higher than his season average.
Renteria wouldn’t commit to a 12-man pitching staff yet. He says he’ll wait out those decisions.
“I’m not going to lock myself in to tell you if I’m one way or another,” he said. “Once the spring has played itself out, those discussions will be had more in depth. I’ll probably hold it (close) to my vest until the end.”
Pitcher Jake Arrieta is playing catch as he recovers from some offseason shoulder tightness, but he’s not ready to pitch off the mound yet.
Renteria is at the spring facility by about 5 a.m. to exercise his surgically replaced hip. On Sunday he simply walked around the complex several times.
“The catchers are working early so I’m not asking them to be out or do anything I wouldn’t be doing,” he said.