Putting in Work: The Cubs played a two-game set against the Reds this past weekend in Las Vegas with the Cubs playing the part of Danny Ocean and his crew, and the Reds being some combination of a fading Al Pacino/lazy Julia Roberts plot arc in Oceans Twelve (trust me this makes sense if you watched these games and seen the trilogy).
We know from last year the Cubs don’t need the thin Las Vegas air to beat up on the Reds, but they sure took full advantage of it: banging out 38 hits, plating 33 runs, and outscoring the Reds 33-11 over the weekend. The somewhat surprising ringleader of this hit brigade was Albert Almora Jr., who went 4-for-8 with two home runs and five runs batted in. It will be interesting to see how Joe Maddon works Almora into the lineup in the early part of the season. I’m assuming that initially Almora will get the 2015 Addison Russell treatment and be slotted into the ninth spot in front of Kyle Schwarber, Kris Bryant, and Anthony Rizzo. On the one hand hitting in front of those three players is probably the best-case scenario for a young hitter like Almora, but, on the other hand, if Maddon sets his lineup in this fashion the number nine spot that Almora would occupy is critical to turning the lineup over. It will be important to make sure that the amount of times that Schwarber comes to the plate with the bases empty is kept at a minimum. With his natural instincts on defense serving as a nice floor to his overall value, the Cubs don’t need Almora to be an above average hitter. But Almora’s development at the plate, along with Jason Heyward’s wild card status after a lost season, could be the difference between the Cubs having a great offense vs. having a potential record-breaking offense in the 2017 season.
Both Ben Zobrist and Addison Russell have missed the past couple of Spring Training games with neck and back tightness respectively. The good news is that Joe Maddon expects both of them to be ready for Opening Night in St. Louis. Obviously this isn’t ideal this late in the spring, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. I’d have to think that the potential of either a Russell and/or Zobrist lingering injury probably leads to Tommy La Stella getting the final spot on the twenty five man roster when the Cubs break camp, but stranger things have happened before. Speaking of roster cuts…
Camp Happenings: Ian Happ, who probably exceeded everyone’s expectations by hitting .417 with five home runs and an 1.285 OPS, was reassigned to minor league camp. Going into Spring Training I expected Eloy Jimenez to be the minor leaguer that would shake up Sloan Park, but Happ stole the show from both my vantage point and the vantage point of Jed Hoyer. On the one hand, I don’t think Happ is as good as his Spring Training performance would indicate, on the other hand, Cubs management has shown a golden touch with selecting college hitters in the first round of the draft, so perhaps they’ve found another gem. If Happ can continue this performance at Triple A-Iowa, it’s definitely conceivable that he could be the centerpiece in deal for that elusive young, cost-controlled starting pitcher.
Other roster cuts include Rob Zastryzny (LHP) and Eddie Butler (RHP), who were optioned to Triple-A Iowa, and John Andreoli (OF) and Taylor Davis (C) who were reassigned to minor league camp along with Happ. With Brian Duensing having issues with his back, it’s likely Zastryzny will be the first to get the call to the big league club, but Butler wouldn’t be that far behind after a solid spring.
Lead photo courtesy Matt Kartozian—USA Today Sports