Samardzija poised for another big year

Jeff Samardzija is looking forward to proving himself as a quality starter. Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Although Chicago Cubs right-hander Jeff Samardzija will be competing with at least seven other pitchers for a rotation slot, the 27-year-old is confident that his time to shine is now.

After a conversation with president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and manager Dale Sveum, the former Notre Dame football star is ready to become the pitcher he and the team expected him to be when he signed a $10.8 million dollar contract in 2006.

"That's all I asked for when I sat down with Theo and Dale," Samardzija said. "I told them I am very confident, and that my command and slider control are where they need to be in order to be successful as a starter. With an opportunity, I am sure I can handle it from there."

The Cubs pitcher had a breakout season in 2011, posting an 8-4 record with a 2.97 ERA in 75 games. The organization kept him in one role for the first time since 2008.

"Right now I am doing what I need to in order to be ready for spring training," Samardzija said. "So far the feeling I get is these new people have a plan and they are sticking to. That is exciting to me. They have a plan and are not running around like chickens with their heads chopped off. It is good to see they are building a strong foundation and going from there."

Baseball people have given Samardzija high marks for his coming of age as a pitcher, and not just a thrower.

"He was the most improved pitcher I saw from April till September last year," said a National League East top evaluator. "His mound presence and breaking ball are top drawer. The guy looked as good as any young relief pitcher in the game."

The former All-American receiver from Valparaiso, Ind. looked back on his first six years in baseball as a journey.

"It has been an evolution since 2008," Samardzija said. "I believe the strides I made at Iowa in 2010 was the start of me becoming the pitcher I am now."

The other pitchers in the mix for the rotation are Matt Garza, Ryan Dempster, Paul Maholm, Chris Volsted and Travis Wood . Samardzija and Randy Wells will have to impress Chris Bosio and the Cubs new manager in order to make a move out of the pen this spring.