Chicago has a certain pull when it comes to four of the Cubs’ non-roster invitees in spring training camp.
Like all teams, the Cubs have a varied collection of players as non-roster invitees to big league camp. It includes veterans looking for one more chance as well as prospects who have not graduated to the 40-man major league roster.
For a quartet of players, making it with the Cubs this year would mean something extra special.
One played for the Cubs last year.
Another started his professional career as a Cubs draft choice before making his major league debut in Seattle.
Another is a second-generation player from the Chicago area looking to get back to the top level.
And one player, who born in the Northwest suburbs, played high school ball here before starting a nomadic pro career.
Local boy completes the circuit
Ryan Court has been from Portland to Pawtucket and many places in between, both inside and outside of organized ball.
The 29-year-old native of Elgin and graduate of Dundee-Crown has played in 615 minor-league games, and 99 with independent team Sioux City since making his pro debut in 2011.
A 23rd-round draft pick of the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2011, Court climbed the minor-league ladder – with a stop in Sioux City in 2015 – playing the 2017 season with the Boston Red Sox’s Triple-A Pawtucket affiliate, for whom he put up a line of .263/.347/.410 with 10 homers.
What keeps him going?
“The dream to make the major leagues, especially now playing for my hometown team,” he said. “It’s a dream come true already. Playing in Wrigley is going to be the best thing in my life.”
Court knows he’s well beyond the age to be considered a “prospect.”
“I think prospect status is for younger guys, and now that I’ve been playing awhile, I think I bring to the Cubs versatility, that I can play all the positions and give them good at-bats every time,” he said. “Playing for your hometown team and getting that dream to play in Wrigley, it’s an honor to put on the Cubs uniform every day. It keeps me going. I come to the ballpark with a smile every day.”
While conditions in independent ball aren’t always great, Court enjoyed his time with Sioux City.
“I had a lot of fun playing indie ball, and I think it’s because a lot of guys are in the same situation,” he said. “They’ve been out of pro ball, trying to fight to get back, so everyone was pulling for each other. I guess that’s the ultimate goal with every team – everyone’s pulling for each other. But you don’t always see that with teams. Indie ball was great, and now being with these guys, that seems like it’s the Cubs culture, to pull for your team. The motto this year is ‘everybody in.’ It couldn’t be more true with this group.”
The right kind of player
Organizations are fond of players like Peter Bourjos.
Bourjos gets his uniform dirty during training camp drills. He also spends time counseling the younger players, both on and off the field.
Almost 31, Bourjos has made seven straight opening-day rosters, including last year with Tampa Bay after going to spring training as a non-roster invitee. In 813 major league games, he has a line of .241/.298/..382, but his calling cards are speed and outfield defense.
Bourjos knows the deck is stacked against him because the Cubs’ major league roster is loaded.
“It’s just an opportunity, playing at home and hopefully have a good camp and see where it goes,” he said. “I don’t really have expectations. Just play well, that’s the only expectation.
“[The Cubs] reached out the last couple of years. I was born in Chicago. I have some family there, and my wife has some family in Milwaukee as well. So it’s a good situation overall. We’ll see. This roster is pretty stacked. I don’t even know if there are any spots open.”
Bourjos was born in Park Ridge and moved to Scottsdale, Arizona, when he was 7. His dad, Chris, played in 13 games with the San Francisco Giants in 1980.
“We’ll talk baseball but nothing crazy, mechanics or anything like that,” Bourjos said. “We’ll talk the game here and there. He comes over and sees the grandkids. We spend more time talking about them than anything.”
Made it at last
After toiling for parts of seven seasons in the Cubs’ minor league system, catcher Taylor Davis finally got the call last September.
It was a long time coming for someone who was signed by the Cubs as a non-drafted free agent. His first start came Sept. 14, when he caught fellow rookie Jen-Ho Tseng. Neither lasted very long in the game, but the experience was unforgettable for Davis.
“That was incredible,” he said. “Obviously, anytime you get a start, especially in Wrigley Field, especially for your first start, it’s going to be fun. Being able to do it with [Tseng] made it that much better.”
Davis, 28, said the experience made it easy for him to come back, even though he is far down on the depth chart
“Everybody wants to be a part of this,” he said. “Free agents, minor league free agents, people want to stay, people want to come in. The culture and the environment that’s being created here is something that is undeniable and is really untouched anywhere else in the game right now. Shoot, I’d go fill the water buckets if they wanted me to.”
Davis earned a measure of fame last year at Iowa when the TV camera would find him, and he’d stare into it, and stare into it some more. Will “the stare” be part of his game this year, wherever he is?
“I don’t know,” he said. “Everybody asks that. I have no idea yet. I haven’t decided.”
Back with the Cubs
Jacob Hannemann thought he would make his major league debut with the Cubs. After all, they selected him in the third round of the 2013 draft.
But some funny things happened on his way to Cubs camp this spring. The Seattle Mariners claimed him off waivers Sept. 4, and he made his debut for them later that month. On Oct. 26, the Cubs claimed him back.
“It’s great,” he said. “It feels like home here. I know a lot of people. It was like a roller coaster last season, a lot of ups and downs, getting switched around. It ended up working out for the best.”
Hannemann brings speed and defense. In 456 minor league games, he has a line of .247/.312/.381 with 31 homers.
“I have a lot of potential to improve,” he said. “I’ll just keep on working hard and seeing where things go. Obviously, the end goal is to make it up there for a long time. So I’ve just got to focus on right now and work hard.
“It’s being athletic, and speed; I feel like I bring that, baserunning. I know my defense is there. Keep on working on those things. I know how to hit. Hopefully it all lines up this year and works out for the best.”