Notes: Cintron joins Cubs' spring camp
Cedeno a part-time option in center; Dempster impresses early
MESA, Ariz. -- The Cubs added some infield depth on Monday, inviting switch-hitter Alex Cintron to camp.
Cintron, 29, has a career .277 batting average in seven seasons with Arizona and the Chicago White Sox. Last year, he was coming off offseason surgery on his right elbow, and hit .243 in 68 games.
"With [Ronny] Cedeno getting some outfield time in spring, we felt we needed somebody else in house who could play shortstop besides [Ryan] Theriot and Ronny," Cubs general manager Jim Hendry said. "We're looking forward to having him here."
Cedeno was the Cubs' Opening Day shortstop in 2006, but hit .245 that year. Last spring, Theriot won the job, and Cedeno ended up splitting time between the big league club and Triple-A Iowa. This winter, he played outfield as well as shortstop in Venezuela, playing center in 12 of 14 games in early December. He'll be looked at as a possible part-time option in center field.
"It doesn't matter to me -- if Lou [Piniella] wants me to play center field, I'll do it," Cedeno said Monday.
The Cubs are still looking at adding a right-handed-hitting outfielder who can play center. Among the names that have been mentioned in rumors is Texas' Marlon Byrd, who batted .307 last season.
Cubs player development director Oneri Fleita suggested Cedeno make the switch to the outfield after watching him in batting practice. This winter, Cedeno also worked on his hitting, and batted .300 in 55 games for Aragua.
"That's what I need here -- I want to show the Cubs I can play here," Cedeno said.
"The reports we got out of Venezuela were that he came to work hard every day, and even days he didn't play in the outfield, he worked hard at it," Hendry said of Cedeno. "He has all the tools, and he's not an old guy. Sometimes all the lights go on later for some than others. He hasn't been a bad citizen or anything like that, but he has more talent than maybe sometimes he realizes. If he really channels it all the right way and it clicks, you have a really good player."
However, Cedeno most likely won't be the starting center fielder on Opening Day.
"He's still an infielder," Piniella said. "He's going to compete for a spot on the ballclub, and it's not going to be as an outfielder, but it will be as an infielder."
Cintron, who was expected in Cubs camp on Tuesday, had his most productive season in 2003, when he batted .317 with 13 homers, 51 RBIs and scored 70 runs in 117 games.
"He gives us a good utility infielder, a switch hitter," Piniella said. "He can play all three infield positions, third, short and second. He's got some talent. Last year, he had some injury problems with the White Sox. He's healthy, and I think he'll help us."
Start me up: Ryan Dempster was one of the pitchers who threw 40 pitches on Monday in a bullpen session. So far, so good for the right-hander, who is trying to move back into the rotation.
"He's in great shape," Piniella said of Dempster, who has been the Cubs closer the last three seasons. "The ball's really coming out of his hand well. He's excited about starting.
"I think he's on a mission, I really do," Piniella said. "I think he's throwing as well as you can expect in this early stage. He has good velocity, has quickened himself up to the plate delivery-wise. I'm pleased at this stage -- I couldn't be more pleased."
"I feel like I'm getting the ball downhill a lot better," the right-hander said Monday. "When I throw on the side, I know it's not games, but I have a pretty good idea of where the ball is going.
"I've worked really hard on it," he said. "I realized that maybe my potential hasn't ended and I could be better than I was. What could I do to make it better? I evaluated some things, and talked to different people and talked to Larry [Rothschild, pitching coach] before I left, and during the offseason tried to improve on those things, and maybe it'll make me a better pitcher."
The Cubs did briefly consider having Dempster start last year.
"It proved to be the right decision to leave him where he was, but with the understanding he would get every opportunity this spring to start," Piniella said. "We made him that promise, and he's worked hard. Let's see if he can nail a spot in the rotation and win 15, 16, 17 ballgames."
So far, so good, Dempster said.
"I've got a long way to go," Dempster said. "I'm making steps forward in the right direction. Things will find a way of working themselves out."
State of the team: Piniella said he was still working on his message to be delivered before Tuesday's first full-squad workout.
"Not yet -- I haven't had a cocktail," Piniella said. "I say that jokingly, obviously."
There isn't much to say.
"This is a veteran bunch," Piniella said. "They know what needs to be done here. They know there's unfinished business here. Tomorrow is more for introducing the people who will be here and making sure these guys don't think they can make the club the first day and get themselves hurt."
Hendry and Cubs chairman Crane Kenney will also address the team. Kenney planned to give an update on the sale of the team, Wrigley Field and the naming rights.
"My part will be, 'Have some fun, relax and work hard,'" Piniella said. "It's important that we get off to a good start. And the fact that they're going to get a lot of questions about 100 years and don't concern yourselves about that -- concern yourself with this year's team only."
Step by step: The Cubs would like to have two left-handers in the bullpen if possible, and Piniella hinted Neal Cotts could be in the mix. If the southpaw could show he can throw as he did in 2005, he'll be set. That year, Cotts was 4-0 with a 1.94 ERA.
Acquired last offseason from the White Sox for David Aardsma, Cotts appeared in 16 games with the Cubs before he was sent down to Triple-A Iowa. He began the year with 11 consecutive scoreless appearances. At Iowa, he was 2-2 with a 4.83 ERA in 24 games, including six starts. He looks at this spring as a fresh start.
"The second year with the team, you're a little more comfortable with the team and the guys around you," Cotts said. "You just try to do your job the same way as you did last year. I try to take it day by day, and learn something and improve on something every day."
Obviously, last year was a disappointment.
"I can't say I enjoyed the whole last year, but there are some good things I can take out of it," he said. "If anything, you learn from failures, because the first couple games were all right and then it went downhill. You can learn from each time you go out there."
The lefty isn't exactly sure what happened when he was with the Cubs.
"To be honest with you, I don't know," he said. "I got hurt for about a month [at Iowa], and I threw the ball a lot better, and not just because I got people out. It was almost night and day difference of commanding the ball. I think that was a big part of it last year. I'd get behind guys, I'd walk guys. Sometimes I'd get out of it, a lot of times I didn't and I'd give up big innings."
This winter, he worked with a different trainer and reported to Arizona 10 days earlier than usual. Part of the reason for that was the bad weather in Chicago.
Extra bases: Among the other pitchers who threw Monday were Carlos Zambrano, Rich Hill, Kerry Wood, Jon Lieber, Jason Marquis, Bob Howry and Ted Lilly. ... Alfonso Soriano has looked good, too. "We haven't asked him to really run hard or anything," Piniella said. "He's in good shape and swinging the bat. He'll get started tomorrow. Our veteran players got a lot of hitting in. He's in good shape and ready to go. He had all winter to rest his legs, and he'll be fine." ... The Cubs' first full-squad workout will be Tuesday at Fitch Park. Aramis Ramirez is the only regular position player yet to work out. Ramirez was flying to Arizona from the Dominican Republic on Monday.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.