02/16/2013 7:21 PM ET
After strong winter, Valbuena hopes for successful spring
By Carrie Muskat / MLB.com
MESA, Ariz. -- Luis Valbuena batted .306 in the Venezuelan Winter League and is a favorite of Cubs manager Dale Sveum after his play last season. But Valbuena isn't taking anything for granted.
"This year, I don't feel like I'm on the team," Valbuena said Saturday. "I have to work hard like I've been doing the last two, three years. I'm competing right now."
Valbuena, who played second, short and third base while in Venezuela, batted .219 in 90 games with the Cubs, taking over at third when Ian Stewart was sidelined with a wrist injury. Stewart is back and healthy. Is third base Stewart's job to lose?
"I would say it's his job to win," Sveum said.
Epstein competes in bunt tournament
MESA, Ariz. -- Nate Halm, a video and advanced scouting staffer who was a late addition to the Cubs bunting tournament because the masseuse withdrew, beat strength coach Tim Buss to advance to the players bracket on Saturday. Theo Epstein, Cubs president of baseball operations, did beat general manager Jed Hoyer in the first round, but Epstein then lost to Scott Harris, director of baseball operations, in the second round.
When Harris muffed a bunt against Epstein, the Cubs exec quipped: "Smart kid." And when Harris beat him, Epstein reminded everyone: "I hired him."
Halm beat Harris to advance against Buss. Cubs manager Dale Sveum, who threw to the 16 staff members, organized the bunt tourney last year, which outfielder David DeJesus won. The players and pitchers brackets will begin this week, now that the field of 64 has been completed.
"The most important match of the year was the first one," Epstein said of beating Hoyer. "I've got to get better -- better than Jed, which isn't saying much. I will say, Jed and I have a long history of playing pickup basketball and other sports. That one felt good. Nate, he might get an invite to camp on a Minor League contract -- that was impressive."
Epstein's secretary, Hayley DeWitte, did advance further than her boss.
"Title IX is a good thing," Epstein said.
Numbers game: Sveum surrenders No. 33 to Villanueva
MESA, Ariz. -- Cubs manager Dale Sveum noticed that pitcher Carlos Villanueva had No. 33 on his cleats. Villanueva has worn No. 33 most of his career, while Sveum has that number now with the Cubs.
The manager, though, is giving up 33 to the pitcher, and will wear No. 4.
"He saw '33' on my cleats and he offered it," Villanueva said. "I didn't plan it that way."
The two were together on the Brewers, including the 2008 season when Sveum took over as interim manager. Sveum has worn Nos. 27, 7, 42, 8, 9, 6, 36, 17 and 11 in his playing career.
"I'm not a big numbers guy, so whatever I end up with is OK," Sveum said.
Catcher Dioner Navarro currently has No. 4, but he apparently is negotiating to get another number. How did Sveum end up with it?
"It's the first one that was available when I asked [clubhouse manager Tom Hellmann]," Sveum said.
His former Brewers teammate, Hall of Famer Paul Molitor, wore No. 4, which has since been retired by Milwaukee.
"I wouldn't be wearing it over there," Sveum said.
Sveum, Villanueva and Navarro were expected to keep their respective uniform numbers this spring, and make the change when the regular season starts.
MESA, Ariz. -- On Sunday, the Cubs will hold the first full squad workout and Sveum will address the team. There will be no mention of last season, Sveum said. There's no need to remind the players that the Cubs are coming off a season in which they lost 101 games.
"The bottom line is last year is last year and we have so many different players, a year under all our belts, and the players as well," Sveum said Saturday. "Some of the young guys who didn't perform as well last year, you can already tell the maturity in them from the ups and downs of last year to where there's no need to bring anything up about last year.
"Last year, you stay away from talking about that," Sveum said. "It's all about 2013 and tomorrow starts full squad and it's all about the hard work and preparation and doing the right things in 2013."
• Travis Wood will start the Cubs' first Cactus League game Feb. 23 against the Angels and Jeff Samardzija will start the next day against the Giants.
The Cubs will tune up with five-inning intrasquad games Thursday and Friday at HoHoKam Park. Chris Rusin, Cory Wade, Trey McNutt, Nick Struck, Robert Whitenack and Rafael Dolis are scheduled to pitch Thursday with Brooks Raley, Drew Carpenter, Hector Rondon, Dayan Diaz, Alberto Cabrera, Michael Bowden, Blake Parker and Jensen Lewis slated to pitch the second intrasquad game.
Live batting practice, always one of the highlights of spring, will begin Sunday. Matt Garza, Edwin Jackson, Scott Feldman and Kyuji Fujikawa, Raley, Rusin, Struck and Carlos Marmol were scheduled to pitch.
• Sveum said all of the position players have reported to Arizona on time.
"It's nice to see the enthusiasm of so many people getting here early," Sveum said.
• The ballhawks apparently have come south. Several people were on Center Street outside of the Cubs' Fitch Park fields in hopes of snaring a home run hit by some of the Cubs. Jorge Soler did not disappoint, and launched five over the fence and onto the street. The team may want him to take batting practice on a different field to avoid any accidents.
"Cars are in jeopardy over there," Sveum said.
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.