CHC@COL: Valbuena ranges and spins for out at first

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Luis Valbuena, who led the Cubs with 94 starts at third base last season, has been playing strictly second base in the Venezuelan Winter League. That's by design.

"We want him to be versatile, and he is versatile," general manager Jed Hoyer said. "[Darwin] Barney can play shortstop, Valbuena can play some shortstop, Donnie Murphy can play some shortstop. We have a really versatile infield, and that's a great thing. We may not have to carry a standard utility guy and can mix and match in different ways."

Speaking of Barney, Hoyer said he expects the second baseman to have a much better season than he did in 2013.

"It's a big year for him, no matter what," Hoyer said of Barney, who batted .208 this part season. "He had a down year offensively, and he'd be the first person to say that. I don't think it has anything to do with competition among young players. He wants to bounce back and get back to where he was.

"With him, mechanically and approach-wise, he got caught with some things last year," Hoyer said. "A lot of things with him isn't the hard work or the swing, it's the approach."

The team does have a promising second baseman in Arismendy Alcantara, ranked No. 8 among MLB.com's Top 20 Cubs prospects, but he will open the season at Triple-A Iowa, Hoyer said.

Cubs work with Castro on getting in better shape

CHC@STL: Castro dives to snag a line drive to short

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Cubs are making sure shortstop Starlin Castro reports to Spring Training in better shape.

The team assigned strength and conditioning coach Tim Buss to the Dominican Republic to work with Castro for three weeks in November. In January, Castro will start workouts at the Cubs' facility in the Dominican.

The shortstop is coming off his worst year, batting .245 this past season. Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said other teams have expressed interest in Castro, knowing the team has shortstop Javier Baez coming up in the organization.

"We've always gotten hits on [Castro]," Hoyer said Monday during his media briefing at the Winter Meetings. "I think people see him as a guy who was one of the best young players in the game a couple years ago."

In 2011, Castro totaled 207 hits and batted .307, and followed that in 2012 with a .283 season. He asked the Cubs to help him as far as an offseason workout.

"I think he was frustrated by his season," Hoyer said. "I would be very surprised if he didn't show up at Spring Training in great shape, ready to go. I hope we look back on [the 2013 season] four, five years from now as a good learning experience for him and a wakeup call, if you will."

Castro did play 161 games this year, but Hoyer said to do that, a player needs to be "in really unbelievable shape." The Cubs are banking on Castro, which is why they gave him a seven-year, $60 million contract in 2012.

"I think we felt like there's no reason he can't be a little faster and he can't have more range than he does," Hoyer said. "He's at that age -- he's going to be 24 years old [in March]-- where he's going to start to put on a little bit of that man strength.

"He was a college-age kid when he came up, and I think he can start to put on that muscle mass now and maybe that does improve his speed, his range, his power," Hoyer said. "It's something he wanted to do and we certainly encouraged it."

Cubs eye veteran leaders for young team

Broadcaster Kasper on what Cubs may add in offseason

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Besides looking for bullpen help and another starting pitcher, the Cubs are searching for players who will be good role models for the current youngsters on the roster.

"I think people forget how young guys like [Anthony] Rizzo and [Starlin] Castro are," Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said Monday at the Winter Meetings. "They need some positive examples."

The Cubs are hoping new first-base coach Eric Hinske can fill that role as well.

"He did a great job as a bench player and being a team leader," Hoyer said of Hinske, who played last season for the Arizona Diamondbacks. "It was always about having different influences on the coaching staff for our players. You want to have different avenues. [Players] might gravitate toward the guy who has been teaching for a long time, or they might gravitate toward the guy who just came off the field."

Worth noting

• Andy MacPhail, who was the Cubs' president and CEO from 1994-2006, including a two-year stint as the general manager (2000-01), is keeping an eye on how the current Chicago front office is trying to rebuild the organization.

"They have to do it the way they're comfortable with and the way they think most guarantees their success, and I know that's what that group is doing," MacPhail said Monday at the Winter Meetings.

"I have a lot of confidence in that group that they're going to do it the way they think will most assuredly get them the end goal, because that's the prize, winning the whole thing," MacPhail said. "We got close [in 2003]. You ultimately aren't successful until you at least get to the World Series."

In '03, the Cubs lost to the Marlins in seven games in the National League Championship Series.

• Outfielder Ryan Sweeney hoped to begin work this week with Hall of Famer Rod Carew. The two worked together last season, and Sweeney said he benefited from the sessions. Sweeney batted .266 in 70 games with the Cubs, and he signed a two-year contract extension on Oct. 8.

• New manager Rick Renteria will get together with his coaches in Mesa, Ariz., this weekend to get a tour of the new facility and start preparations for Spring Training. Pitchers and catchers report Feb. 13.

• Kyle Hendricks, the Cubs' Minor League Pitcher of the Year, recently completed his studies at Dartmouth and graduated with a major in economics. Hendricks was a combined 13-4 with 2.00 ERA in 27 starts between Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa.

Junior Lake is done playing in the Dominican Republic winter league, and those who saw him raved about his outfield play.