Can Starlin Castro be Cubs Staring Shortstop 2010?

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Why don't the Cubs just go ahead and let Castro open the season at shortstop and move Ryan Theriot to second? This would solve the problem at second and give us a better defense up the middle. The Rangers proved a rookie shortstop can handle the job.

-- Bob G., Frisco, Texas

Castro is 19 and turns 20 in March; the Rangers' Elvis Andrus is slightly older. Lou Piniella and staff have not seen Castro except for a few games in the Arizona Fall League. This spring, they'll get to know him, see him play, and watch how he handles game situations. It's a cliche, but players tell you when they're ready. Piniella is not afraid to give a youngster a job -- he picked Theriot -- but Castro has to prove he can handle it.

Will prospects like Castro and Andrew Cashner get invited to Spring Training? I know both of them are getting a lot of press, and they are both mentioned in top-prospects lists. Why not give them a try?

-- Howard Q., Iowa City, Iowa

Yes, both will be in Mesa, Ariz., along with Josh Vitters and Brett Jackson. The Cubs have invited 19 non-roster players to spring camp, including pitchers J.R. Mathes, James Russell, Casey Coleman, Thomas Diamond, Jeff Kennard and Vince Perkins. The catchers invited include Robinson Chirinos, Steve Clevenger, Blake Lalli and Chris Robinson. The position players include Darwin Barney, Matt Camp, Bryan LaHair, Bobby Scales and Brad Snyder.

Pitchers and catchers report Feb. 17 to Mesa, with the first workout at Fitch Park the next day. Position players report on Feb. 22. The first full-squad workout will be Feb. 23.

Can one attend Spring Training practices, and are they free? Also, is there a set time as to when they practice?

-- Joe Z., Chandler, Ariz.

The more the merrier. There's no charge to watch the workouts, which usually begin around 9:30 a.m. MT and wrap up around noon.

I don't understand why the Cubs couldn't sign Johnson and put him in center. If he stays healthy, he could have been an asset for them rather than the Dodgers.

-- D.J.A., Streator, Ill.

As much as his teammates wanted him back, the Cubs know Johnson's health situation better than anybody and decided on Xavier Nady instead.

With Johnson signing with the Dodgers, who is going to do the blog this coming year?

-- Stephen H., Cedar Falls, Iowa

I'll line someone up this spring. Any suggestions?

I saw in the Nady article that general manager Jim Hendry said Nady was most likely the Cubs' last acquisition of the winter. Does that mean they don't want another right-handed pitcher in the bullpen anymore?

-- Zach B., Woodstock, Ill.

The Cubs are still looking for late-inning relief help, preferably right-handed. That said, they could open camp without adding anyone else and possibly make a deal during Spring Training. There were rumors the team was interested in free agent Kiko Calero, 35, but he missed time in 2008 because of a torn rotator cuff and was sidelined last season because of inflammation in his shoulder. Calero is looking for a two-year contract, and the Cubs are probably hesitant to do something like that considering his injuries. They do have in-house candidates to consider such as Angel Guzman, Michael Parisi, Justin Berg and Esmailin Caridad.

With news that Kevin Millar has signed a Minor League deal with the Cubs and the fact that the team already has signed Chad Tracy to a similar deal, is Hoffpauir's career as a Cub over? Although he's not young, Hoffpauir seems to have filled in nicely over the years, providing some power, which is something Millar and Tracy have lacked in seasons past.

-- Scott S., Pittsburgh

Millar and Tracy are competing for a spot just like Hoffpauir, who would be the first to tell you he didn't play as well as he should have in June/July, when he hit .182 and .194, respectively. Of the three, Tracy is more versatile and has played outfield, third and first. He has a career .280 batting average, including .297 against right-handers. Millar, who is primarily a first baseman, fared better last year against lefties, hitting .250 compared to .191 against right-handers. It depends on what the Cubs need.

I live in Iowa, and every year I have a Cubs Opening Day party with 15 or so of my best friends. I hear this year the opening game is going to be on WCIU. Why would they do something like that?

-- Shane S., Vinton, Iowa

You can send out the invites if you get ESPN. The Cubs are expected to be part of ESPN's Opening Day package; they just haven't officially announced it yet.

We are traveling to Cooperstown in July to see my childhood hero, Andre Dawson, inducted into the Hall of Fame. We have never been to the Hall before. Do you have any advice on how to do this trip on a budget? We are traveling by car. This is a lifelong dream to go there. I've always wanted to wait until "The Hawk" got in, and now we are excited to go. Thank you.

-- Daniel M., Benton, Ky.

I'd start searching the Internet immediately for lodging in Cooperstown. There are some great bed and breakfast places and hotels in the town, but understand that many are reserved a year in advance. If you can't find lodging in town, try for someplace on Interstate 88 near Oneonta, N.Y. Bring comfortable shoes. Be prepared to walk -- that's the best way to enjoy Cooperstown and the Hall and the Clark Sports Center, where the ceremony takes place.

There's some seating where the ceremony is held, but it's reserved, and most people bring lawn chairs and blankets to stake out a space. Your lodging host should help you with timing on that. Some B&B's have pre- and post-ceremony parties. Throw an umbrella in the car, too. It can be hot. Don't forget a camera. Hall of Famers are everywhere. Check the Cooperstown Chamber of Commerce Web site for tips. It's an incredible experience and a trip there should be on every baseball fan's bucket list. ... p;c_id=chc

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