This post-World Series offseason was the shortest in Cubs history, but in many (many) ways it felt very long. On Tuesday, though, at least a light semblance of baseball returned, and to the relief of fans everywhere.
The Cubs are back in Mesa, and that means the return of our Cactus Catchup series, in which we’ll do our best to keep you appraised of the most important Spring Training happenings in camp. In the process, we’ll probably also show you some pictures of players making funny faces and stuff. With that, let’s recap the first week of the Cubs’ title defense.
Putting in Work:
We got some big pieces of news relatively quickly this week. One of the bigger question marks coming into camp was how exactly the catcher position will shake out. Willson Contreras bloomed in the second half of last year, and he didn’t seem like someone who would easily be pushed out of the lineup, but the Cubs still owe $14 million to the still-very-good defender Miguel Montero, and Kyle Schwarber’s budding catching ability is still in the picture as well. But Joe Maddon quickly announced that Contreras will the be starter, and Montero will be used as a backup—a setup that does seem to make the most sense given the circumstances.
Montero struggled with his health throughout last season, so it makes sense for him (despite his contract) to take on a lighter role workload-wise. Montero was a bit outspoken at his disappointment at not being heavily used in the playoffs last year, but Maddon indicated that he doesn’t see this as something that will be a problem this year. Montero, for his part, seems as excited as ever:
Amazing first day. Let's go cubs !!! ⚾️⚾️⚾️
— Miguel Montero (@miggymont26) February 16, 2017
Meanwhile, doctors have cleared Schwarber to catch, but, as Theo Epstein quotably put it: “We’re just going to walk before we run. Or walk before we squat, I guess, would be the appropriate thing to say.”
Schwarber, for his part, seems like he still wants to catch, but understands that left field is probably where he’ll be most needed in the short-term. His bat could be so good that it doesn’t make sense to either risk injury or slow down his development with catching in mind.
It was also announced that Contreras will be Jon Lester’s catcher, which is newsworthy because of how closely Lester and David Ross have worked together over the past two years. The pairing makes sense on paper—Contreras is good at controlling the running game with his arm—but we’ll have to wait for the season to see how it works out in practice. It’s good to have the situation behind the plate worked out (at least on the surface) so early, because it was one of the areas where the most questions existed coming into camp.
Jason Heyward is also still working hard at his swing, and the start of Spring Training allowed for the proliferation of new Heyward hitting videos, including this one from BP Wrigleyville’s own Randy Holt:
Some Jason Heyward action from this morning. pic.twitter.com/RAph1PkwQa
— Randy Holt (@RandallPnkFloyd) February 15, 2017
I’ll spare you my own extremely speculative analysis here, but I’ll use this as an opportunity to ask you check out Zack Moser’s piece on Heyward’s reworked swing from a few weeks ago.
Carrie Muskat also reported that Mike Montgomery indicated that he’s happy to be a starter or a reliever this year, which is good to know due to the cloudiness around his exact role in light of the Brett Anderson signing a few weeks ago. It seems likely, though, that he’ll have to start at least sometimes—180-200 innings from Anderson just doesn’t seem realistic, and a six-man rotation seems like a good option for at least part of the year.
Dearly Departed: Strictly speaking, no one has left Cubs’ camp, and we should be skipping this section today, but I would like to take a moment to recognize David Rollins, the left-handed relief pitcher who was DFA’ed six times (Mariners, Cubs, Rangers, Phillies, Rangers, Cubs) this offseason, most recently departing after the Cubs’ acquisition of Alec Mills from the Royals. But—good news!—Rollins passed through waivers successfully this time, and joined the Cubs as a non-roster player for Spring Training, where he will still have at least a theoretical shot at making the bullpen. In this case, a departee returned to the Cubs very quickly.
Since this is the first Cactus Catchup, I’ll also recognize Dexter Fowler, Travis Wood, Jorge Soler, and Jason Hammel in this space.
I didn’t include David Ross in the Dearly Departed section because he hasn’t gone anywhere:
— Tim Sheridan (@BoysOfSpring) February 17, 2017
Ross has returned to the Cubs as a “special assistant,” and it is good to know that his leadership won’t go completely missing in this year’s clubhouse.
Joe Maddon, as he tends to do every spring, said some new things. This year’s batch included, apparently, “Don’t forget the heartbeat,” “Authenticity,” “Be Uncomfortable,” and the old favorite “That’s Cub.” I won’t pretend to totally understand the appeal and meaning of all of these slogans, but that doesn’t mean that I won’t buy a t-shirt.
Once the initial sheen of Spring Training wears off, you realize pretty quickly that camp happenings are actually pretty light and that the countdown until Opening Day is actually pretty long. But the Cubs are playing baseball again, and, for now, that’s good enough.
…Also, Javy Baez has blond hair now:
— Bruce Miles (@BruceMiles2112) February 14, 2017
Lead photo courtesy Mark J. Rebilas—USA Today Sports