Around the Cactus League

Updated: February 19, 2007, 8:53 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

Chicago Cubs: The Cubs will have a short list of position players checking in on Monday. Most of them are already in camp and working out.

Buoyed by an offseason spending spree, the Cubs say there's a new feeling around the team this year. Most agree the atmosphere is so positive it's hard to believe the team is coming off a 96-loss season.

Position players don't have to report until Monday, but all but four of them from the 40-man roster are already in camp and getting ready for the season.

"It's unbelievable, isn't it?" manager Lou Piniella said. "I've never seen, all these years that I've been managing a baseball team or even playing, that there have been so many players here so quick. It's sort of different, but it's really good. It's really good to see. And they're coming in pretty good shape, too."

Elsewhere in the Cactus League:

Oakland Athletics: Nick Swisher spent most of his offseason at a farm in the countryside of Ohio chopping trees, breaking up concrete and shoveling dirt -- and he paid for the privilege.

It's all part of a new approach to conditioning which he calls "functional training" and that he hopes will help improve on his numbers from last year.

Swisher, who hit 35 home runs and drove in 95 runs last year while batting .254, got the idea after running into a longtime friend he hadn't seen in a few years.

"I thought that would be best," Swisher said. "It's the most work I've ever done. I'm now in the physical shape where I want to be, and now I'm working on the mental conditioning."

Arizona Diamondbacks: On the heels of his Cy Young season, Brandon Webb loaded his wife, infant daughter and four dogs into a rented full-size RV and drove from Phoenix to his home in Ashland, Ky. He came back to Phoenix the same way.

"That was the first time we'd ever driven one, and we kind of liked it," Webb said, "so we did it again and brought one back."

He drove each day until about 1 a.m., he said.

When it was time to catch a few hours of sleep, he pulled into a truck stop.

San Francisco Giants: Several television camera crews began to arrive Sunday in anticipation of Barry Bonds' big entrance, signaling the official start of his 22nd major league season and 15th with the Giants. He had offseason surgery on his left elbow but has been deemed completely healthy after he batted .270 with 26 homers and 77 RBIs and drew 115 walks in 130 games last year.

His first workout with the entire team is scheduled for Tuesday, so he doesn't have to show at the ballpark until then. He wasn't even expected to get to the desert until later in the day Monday.

Seattle Mariners: Jarrod Washburn is already producing in the first week of Mariners spring training.

Producing more chatter than a Little Leaguer on sugarcoated cereal, that is.

No longer a newcomer, Washburn is determined to take a more vocal role with Seattle, which has three new starters in its rotation and is in desperate need of some leadership.

"I've always been on teams where someone said what needed to be said. Last year, we didn't have that," Washburn said. "Now, I'm more comfortable [doing that]."

Texas Rangers: For 28 Rangers pitchers and catchers that started Sunday in their first official workout of spring training, rookie manager Ron Washington stressed to them that "teams win because of execution."

After a light throw-and-catch session, the team had fielding drills focused on the pitchers covering first base, with Washington emphasizing footwork and body position.

Among the pitchers taking part Sunday was Eric Gagne, the 2003 NL Cy Young Award winner who was limited to 15 2/3 innings pitched the past two season because of elbow and back injuries. Gagne wasn't scheduled to throw until Monday, but took part in the infield drills and ran on the first day of camp.

"At this point, I feel good and it's really good to say 'good,'" Gagne said. "I like being around the players and everything associated with the game. Being out of the last two years, and now back, showed me what I missed and how much I love this game."

Colorado Rockies: The Rockies' season-opening pitching assignment is up for grabs this year, with Aaron Cook ready to grasp the opportunity, but not obsessed by it either.

The Rockies right-hander is eyeing the April 2 regular season starting job at Coors Field against Arizona, while at the same time trying to work on things that went wrong a year ago.

"I think everybody strives for [the opening job], and if not, they probably shouldn't be in this clubhouse or a starting pitcher," Cook said Sunday. "We have a bunch of great guys. Whoever gets it, it will be a great honor for them, but you also have to realize it is only one game. You are going to get 32, 33 starts. You have to make them all count, if it is the first one or second one or the last one."

Other serious candidates to become the designated No. 1 starting pitcher are Jeff Francis and Rodrigo Lopez.

Kansas City Royals: The Kansas City Royals are banking on Octavio Dotel to be the closer they didn't have last season, when the club blew a major league-leading 31 saves.

It remains to be seen, however, whether Dotel's rebuilt elbow is up to the task. Dotel said his elbow is completely healed and that he hasn't felt this good in more than two years. He blamed the elbow injury on trying to throw a new pitch, a splitter, in 2005 spring training.

Chicago White Sox: Manager Ozzie Guillen criticized Bobby Jenks for showing up out of shape last spring, and the burly right-hander's 280-pound frame was a point of discussion during a season in which he converted 41 of 45 save opportunities but was slowed by a hip injury.

Now?

"He's not going to be on the cover of any fitness magazines, but he's in good shape for him," general manager Kenny Williams said.

Jenks said there was "no secret" to his routine. He just dieted and made sure he stayed "on top of working out."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.