NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Chicago Cubs manager Dale Sveum held his only press conference during the winter meetings Tuesday. While a throng of Japanese reporters waited for any news (there wasn't any) on the imminent signing of Kyuji Fujikawa, Sveum addressed everything from Brett Jackson's batting stance to the Cubs competing next year. Here are some highlights:
On Starlin Castro: "The biggest thing with him is we know the talent, we know the ability, the 200 hits, the ability to get hits. We saw huge strides defensively. We probably went to the middle of that season, the middle three months, I'd hate to think there's a better shortstop in all of baseball for about three months. Started out a little slow and finished a little slow, but those -- we know that three months in between was pretty special. So we know what we've got defensively.
"But basically what I want to see out of him is just keep progressing mentally and understand the process of becoming a winning player and not a hit seeker, becoming more of a winning hitter situation, drive runs in, understanding the situations. Defensively, like I said, I think he came a long way but still has to even concentrate more. I think we got him probably, just throwing a number out there, probably really focused 80 to 85 percent of the time. We've got to get that to that 95 percent. I don't think anybody ever really focuses 100 percent."
On Anthony Rizzo: "I mean, having that half a year under his belt and his leadership, he just took off in a lot of things and started understanding a lot of things. Even though he was hot when he first got there and then cooled off and got hot again, I think he learned a lot why that little three-week period when he really got cold, why he started doing that. He got a little -- trying to hit home runs and do all those kind of things too much, and then he got right back to what he does best and finished up nice."
Hopeful for a better record: "You know, when you lose 100 games, you'd better go into it with a little more optimism. But yeah, last year going into the season, we knew we were going to have to have a tough time scoring runs, and we ended up having a tough time scoring runs."
On Jackson at the plate: "He made huge, huge strides just in his batting practice, completely overhauled a swing, changed a lot of things. Using his hands much, much more, staying behind the ball, a lot of things that are going to definitely help him going into the season. Nobody can sit here and predict anything, but I think he's got a good base to work with going the rest of the winter and spring training ... ."
On Darwin Barney at the plate: "I think his on-base percentage is going to gradually get better just with experience. We all know the glove he has and the Gold Glove, but we have to get that OPS up, and he realizes that, and he's capable of doing it with both."
On All-Star Bryan LaHair leaving to play in Japan: "Well, I think he had obviously a nice first half for us, and it was kind of a unique situation that doesn't happen every year that a guy makes the All-Star team and then basically almost didn't play very much the second half of the season, especially after Anthony Rizzo got there. Yeah, it wasn't going to be a super good fit in the outfield because of the speed factor, and we want to be more athletic in the outfield ... I'm glad he's going over there, get some money and play and hopefully has a nice career."
On understanding the Cubs phenomenon more: "Well, I mean, going there as a visitor and all those things, you know the loyalty. But then when you live it, you understand it. The importance of wearing that 'C' on your shirt has got to get to a level. That's the culture of understanding of free agents, the players we have, the minor leaguers understand it's a huge, huge thing to be able to wear that jersey. So that's where we're changing the culture is to get to understand when you put on the Yankees pinstripe, it's different than some things. And when you put on a Cubs uniform, you want that to be different."
On 2011 first-round pick Javier Baez in the fall league this year: "You know, the bat speed is -- Gary Sheffield type bat speed. Incredible bat speed. Didn't get to see any results, but the bat speed was pretty good. I didn't go to his best games. But he had a heck of a minor league season, the combination of the home runs and everything. He was a bigger kid than I thought when I saw him in person. I saw him in big league camp, I didn't really -- I saw him without a shirt on one day, and I was like, wow, he's a pretty big kid. But a lot of tremendous, tremendous tools at that age. That kind of bat speed just doesn't come around at 19 years old."
On Fujikawa: "Yeah, I've seen video and I've seen all the numbers and everything like that. It's one of those guys that can pitch at the back end of our bullpen, no doubt about it."
On competing this year: "You look at the Oakland A's last year, I think the Orioles winning all those extra-inning games, the one-run ballgames, the walk-off home runs, we talk about all the time you have to have slugging percentage, you have to have the ability to hit fastballs so you can win those close games. But my point is you have to have your core guys, your eight guys that are going to go out there every day as an offense, and they have to have kind of their career years. You see most teams when they might be not on paper like the Yankees or the good Red Sox teams or guys end up having out-of-nowhere guys have their career years, and all of a sudden you win a lot more ballgames. Don't get me wrong, you still have to pitch, so that's the bottom line."
Jesse Rogers covers the Chicago Cubs for ESPN 1000 and ESPNChicago.com.