Some of the luster of spring training starts to wear off at this point, I think. The initial excitement of the first games is two weeks behind us, and the two weeks until Opening Day can seem long. Eno Sarris actually speculated recently that spring training might be too long, but for now we still have a solid month-plus of games to anticipate each March. But while the final scores and win/loss records don’t really offer a lot of useful information, there’s still plenty to watch for—if you take it with a grain of salt. Let’s take a look:
Putting in Work:
As Ryan Davis illustrated here earlier this week, Javier Baez continues to show off his growing defensive flexibility. He has spent time in the outfield, middle infield, and first base already this spring. He’s been called “the new Zobrist” a few times, but our own Stan Croussett sees it just a bit differently:
Hot take: Javier Baez is better defensively than Ben Zobrist. He is not the next Zobrist. He is the first Javy.
— Stan (@Crewsett) March 16, 2016
While Baez understandably commands a lot of attention, the speedy John Andreoli is working his way into the conversation with a 1.214 OPS so far and quite a flash of power (four spring homers as of this writing). As a non-roster invitee, he’s not realistically expected to end up anywhere other than the minors, but he’s at least been someone fun to keep an eye on so far. Who knows, maybe he’d make a good pinch runner during a playoff push.
After a year of batting the pitcher eighth in the order, Joe Maddon has hinted that he is open to, and possibly leaning towards, using the pitcher in the more traditional ninth spot:
Maddon sounds like he’s mostly leaning towards pitcher batting ninth but still open for discussion
— Jesse Rogers (@ESPNChiCubs) March 16, 2016
The flexible Maddon will surely keep his options open, though, especially with such a flexible roster.
Finally, Jorge Soler has spent some time working in left field, and though it has not been pretty to start out, he and Maddon are both confident that he can eventually handle the position well enough to get himself into the lineup at that position during the regular season. This will be a key part of getting plate appearances for Soler, as the addition of Dexter Fowler crowds the outfield a bit.
In our last Cactus Catchup, there was a lot of roster activity, but since then, not much has really changed. Charcer Burks and Vimael Machin were both assigned to the major league team on Wednesday, but this is assuredly a move to get them looks against higher level talent, as Burks spent 2015 at Low-A South Bend and Machin split his time in 2015 between South Bend and short-season Eugene.
Javier Baez slid into first on Wednesday and hurt his thumb on this play, leading to his absence from the lineup yesterday. While I appreciate the hustle, after missing a month of the 2015 season with a broken thumb that resulted from a headfirst slide, I’d rather not see him slide this way again, especially in spring training.
The biggest Chicago baseball news in the last few days actually came from our south side brethren (Hey! There’s a White Sox local site as of this week – check it out!), as Adam LaRoche suddenly retired over a dispute involving his son’s presence in the clubhouse (read more about that here). It’s a story that is still developing, and there were even rumors of a White Sox player boycott over the issue. It also prompted some reaction from Cubs players in Arizona. David Ross in particular spoke well to the importance of recognizing both the joy of having a child in the clubhouse and, at the same time, that they are still in what is technically a workplace.
The city of Chicago banned smokeless tobacco at stadiums, and there was some reaction from Cubs players, as the ban will affect their ability to use chewing tobacco during games. Miguel Montero joked that it might help him quit, but Maddon had a bigger issue with the decision: “I’m into personal freedoms,” he said. “I don’t understand the point with all that. Just eradicate tobacco period if you’re going to go that route. I’m not into over-legislating the human race, so for me I’ll just have to listen and learn.” However he and the players feel about it, the ban will start right in the middle of the baseball season, so they’ll have to adjust.
3/15: Cubs 11, Padres 1. The aforementioned Andreoli hit a homerun, and Jeimer Candelario continued what has been a very impressive spring, going 2-for-4 with a double and an RBI. Jason Heyward hit a double as well, ultimately going 2-for-4 and driving in three runs. Clayton Richard had the start and pitched two innings without giving up a run.
3/16: Cubs 0, Royals 10. The Cubs mustered just a smattering of hits and just one extra base hit from Ben Zobrist. John Lackey pitched deeper into the game than he did his last time out, but he surrendered six hits and two runs. He did strike out four, however. Carl Edwards, Jr. and Hector Rondon both struggled in relief, seeing action in the sixth and seventh innings. Edwards coughed up 3 runs on 2 hits and a walk, and Rondon looked even worse, allowing five runs to score on his watch. This is an important time to remember, however, that pitchers are often still working on breaking and off speed pitches, so an outing like Wednesday’s isn’t necessarily indicative of a problem.
3/17: Cubs 15, Diamondbacks 4. Soler, Andreoli, and Kristopher Negron each homered, and Fowler, Heyward, Kyle Schwarber, and Tim Federowicz all had triples. On the mound, Jason Hammel put together a very nice start, throwing 4 innings of one run ball with five strikeouts.
Lead Photo Courtesy Rick Scuteri—USA Today Sports