The Cubs Storylines of the Spring series continues with a look at the infielders in big league camp.
While the Cubs have two positions in the infield to find answers for this spring, it’s imperative for the Cubs success this season for Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro to stay healthy throughout the spring and prepare for Opening Night.
Anthony Rizzo is a big key to his team reaching its goals this year. Not only is he generally considered one of the top five first basemen in the game, but the Cubs simply do not have a strong enough backup at first base if Rizzo was to miss significant time this season.
Arismendy Alcantara is expected to see time at second base, center field, third base and shortstop this spring and is really the type of player that could excel under Joe Maddon. Alcantara could figure into the starting job at second base if Javier Baez and Tommy La Stella struggle this spring. And he could keep third base warm for Kris Bryant if Mike Olt cannot hit enough or if La Stella cannot field the position.
Non-roster invitee Jonathan Herrera figures to have an inside track for a backup job if the Cubs are not comfortable with Alcantara, Baez, Olt or La Stella breaking camp on the active roster, or if injuries clear a spot for him.
Starlin Castro has been at the Cubs’ complex for a majority of the last two months preparing for Spring Training. Castro and the Cubs say he’s fully recovered from the high ankle sprain that wiped out the last month of his season. Castro really bounced back a year ago and was driving the ball with more authority than he had in the past. And before the injury, Castro started unlocking the power potential the front office thought he had.
Rick Renteria developed a relationship with Castro that many feel was one of the big reasons for his turnaround and now it is Maddon’s turn.
Joe Maddon is the fifth different manager Starlin Castro will play for in the majors (Lou Piniella, Mike Quade, Dale Sveum and Rick Renteria). And it will be up to Maddon to build the same trust with Castro that he had with his previous manager.
Starlin Castro is often overlooked and quite frankly undervalued in the game and by the fan base. But let this sink in, Castro does not turn 25 until the end of March and he’s played a majority of the last five years at the big league level. And in those 740 games, Castro has collected 846 hits.
For the first time, Starlin Castro will begin Spring Training for a team expected to win. Maybe that will help keep him from losing his concentration from time to time.
Mike Olt said he’s prepared all winter and is focused on winning the third base job this spring. And he’s looking forward to proving he belongs in the big leagues.
Olt should have at least three gloves with him throughout the spring. Olt is expected to spend time at third base, first base and both right and left field. Olt may be focused on third base, but showcasing his versatility to Joe Maddon could go a long way to him having a role with the Cubs throughout the season, regardless of how the roster changes after the first month of the season.
Mike Olt will always have a lot of swing-and-miss in his game. But if he can show that his performance in September (.263/.370/.368/.738) is more indicative of what is to be expected moving forward, he could be a valuable piece of the Cubs puzzle during the upcoming season and beyond.
All eyes will be on Kris Bryant as soon as he officially steps on the practice field. Bryant left for Mesa on Feb. 15 and is already in camp.
Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and Joe Maddon have already fielded the questions about where Kris Bryant will start his season. While the trio did not rule out Bryant breaking camp with the Cubs, it’s very unlikely Bryant is with the Cubs on Opening Night and he’ll be with the Iowa Cubs, if all goes as planned, until the front office knows its gained the extra year of control.
Kris Bryant is on record saying he plans on making it hard for the front office to send him to Triple-A Iowa to start the season. If Bryant lights up the Cactus League, the Cubs will take a beating in the press, and by a majority of the fan base for sending him down.
Kris Bryant reported to Spring Training as a third baseman, but he’s been told he will be exposed to the outfield this spring. It is important for the Cubs to have their players be as versatile in the field as possible and some think either left or right field is where Bryant will end up in the big leagues.
The Kris Bryant watch officially begins Wednesday, Feb. 25.
Javier Baez has a lot to prove this spring. And while the home run totals will likely be rather impressive in Cactus League play, his approach at the plate and contact rate will mean more to the front office and coaching staff than the stat line.
Make no mistake there will be a lot of extremes throughout Baez’s career. The strikeout totals figure to be rather high, but his power numbers should be as well. Joe Maddon liked what he saw during the two days he spent with Baez in Puerto Rico, both in the plate and in the field. Baez said at the convention that he and John Mallee found mechanical issues with this spring and corrected them.
If he can get off to a good start and apply the adjustments he made, Baez will quiet the critics and in the process he will be allowed to continue to prepare for the season. If he strikes out 10 times in the first four exhibition games, the media will be all over him throughout the spring. And that scenario does not bode well for Baez to succeed.
Javier Baez begins Spring Training as the Cubs’ everyday second baseman and should start the season there unless he has just a miserable Spring Training.
2015 Cubs Spring Training Previews
- Cubs Baseball Begins, Pitchers and Catchers Report to Spring Training
- Starting Pitchers
- Relief Pitchers
- First Base
Cubs Storylines of the Spring
The position players that are not already in Mesa must report to the Cubs complex by Tuesday. The first full squad workout of the spring is Wednesday. Joe Maddon is already meeting with his players on a one-on-one basis. Spring rotations and lineups will soon be posted with the Cactus League openers just 10 days away. The Storylines of the Spring reports wrap up with the outfield and non-roster invitees.