The Cubs Storylines of the Spring series concludes with a look at the outfielders in big league camp.
The Cubs outfield has just as many questions as the rest of the team. There are two players that could provide answers in a big way offensively and defensively if they are able to stay on the field and produce to expectations, Dexter Fowler and Jorge Soler.
The front office traded for Dexter Fowler to hit at the top of the lineup and get on base. The Cubs have not had a true leadoff hitter since Kenny Lofton patrolled center field well over a decade ago. Fowler’s defense should improve playing a majority of his games in the smaller parks in the NL Central and if he can get on base at just his career clip (.366) the players expected to drive in runs will at least have someone on base while they’re at the plate.
Jorge Soler provided a glimpse last season of what he’s capable of, but no one has seen him on a field for a full season. Fowler and Soler getting their work in and staying in the lineup throughout the spring will be key and help the Cubs break camp with a competitive roster.
Kris Bryant will see time in the outfield this spring and Mike Olt could as well. Olt is willing to play wherever the Cubs would like him to. Olt is just focused on proving he belongs in the majors. Bryant will not start the season on the roster, but watching him during the games in either left or right field might give the Cubs options down the road.
The wild card in the outfield is Arismendy Alcantara. He’s expected to see time all over the field this spring (second base, third base, shortstop, center field and left field). If Alcantara can show Joe Maddon he made adjustments in Winter Ball that the stats say he did, Alcantara will be on the Opening Day roster and his versatility could open a spot for another player.
With the way the roster is currently constructed and if the Cubs begin the season with a 12-man pitching staff, the last outfield spot could end up going to Arismendy Alcantara. But if Javier Baez, Mike Olt, Tommy La Stella and/or Alcantara struggle this spring or Welington Castillo is traded, another spot or two could be available on the active roster for an outfielder.
Jorge Soler is one of the many young players the Cubs are depending on to produce this season. The team is taking steps this spring to ensure Soler’s leg problems are behind him and Maddon won’t have a ‘Soler Schedule’ to manage like his predecessor. Soler is going to be limited early while the Cubs monitor him closely and steadily increase his playing time.
Jorge Soler showed how good he could be last year when he played, both in the minors and majors. But Soler seemed to get away from his approach after the impressive big league debut. Maddon should help keep Soler grounded as long as he stays off the disabled list.
Chris Coghlan put his career back on track last season and turned a minor league contract into an everyday job at the big league level. Coghlan produced at the plate to the tune of a .283/.352/.452 line that included 28 doubles, five triples and nine home runs for a .804 OPS but was very shaky at times in the field. Working with Dave Martinez and Doug Dascenzo might benefit Coghlan, especially with his routes. Coghlan earned a chance to keep a spot on this year’s roster. But Coghlan has not played 100-plus games in back-to-back seasons over the course of his career.
The Cubs are banking on a platoon of the two Chris-es in left, Coghlan and Denorfia, at least early in the season. While the focus will be on the kids and keeping them healthy, an injury-free Chris Coghlan would help at the top of the lineup especially in April and May.
Ryan Sweeney, Junior Lake and the Fifth Outfielders
As long as Jorge Soler, Dexter Fowler, Chris Coghlan and Chris Denorfia avoid injury, there is one spot on the roster kind of up for grabs in the outfield. Based on contracts and minor league options, Ryan Sweeney would seem to be the frontrunner for the fifth outfielder’s job. But Maddon said the entitlement program is over and players must earn their spot on the roster regardless of his previous status.
Ryan Sweeney is under contract for this season ($1.5 million) and has a club option ($2.5 million) for next year with a $500,000 buyout. Even with the Cubs owing him $2 million, his roster spot should be less than guaranteed. Sweeney has not lived up to projections that were placed on him early in his career, plus he’s really had a hard time staying off the DL during his time with the Cubs. Sweeney would give Maddon another left-handed bat and versatility in the outfield, but if he can’t stay on the field his roster spot might be better served going to another player.
Junior Lake had a not-so-good season a year ago but made significant strides in Winter Ball working with Desi Wilson. Lake has a tool-set that is hard to find, but he has a tendency to look like the best player on the field and the worst all in the same game. Lake has a minor league option left, and the front office might have to use it. If Lake can show his new skipper what he’s capable of, Lake is the type of player that Maddon loves having on his bench. Junior Lake is at a crossroad in his career and at this point it’s too early to say which road it will go down.
For as much as Matt Szczur could provide to a team defensively and on the bases, he appears to be ticketed for Iowa to start the season. Szczur showed some pop in 33 games in the majors last year with a pair of doubles and two home runs. Szczur could play his way onto the Opening Day roster, but he appears to be behind Sweeney and Lake on the depth chart right now.
Non-Roster Invitees – Position Players
A majority of the top position player prospects will start Spring Training in big league camp. It will be interesting to follow how Joe Maddon uses Addison Russell, Kyle Schwarber and Albert Almora before they are reassigned to minor league camp.
If Kris Bryant performs as expected he should be one of the last of players sent down to minor league camp this spring.
C Taylor Teagarden, INF Jonathan Herrera, INF/OF Chris Valaika, OF/1B Mike Baxter and OF Adron Chambers signed minor league contracts with the Cubs this past off-season.
Chris Valaika is back with the Cubs after testing the free agency this winter. Of the position players that signed minor league deals and will be in big league camp on non-roster invites this spring, Valaika, Herrera and Baxter would seem to have the best shot at beginning the season with the Cubs. With that said, it would likely take several injuries in order to get down to either Valaika or Herrera or Baxter on the depth chart.
2015 Cubs Spring Training Previews
- Cubs Baseball Begins, Pitchers and Catchers Report to Spring Training
- Starting Pitchers
- Relief Pitchers
- First Base
- Second Base
Cubs Storylines of the Spring
Joe Maddon will address his team Wednesday prior to the first full squad workout of the spring. The Cactus League and competition for the open spots on the roster begins in nine days. It’s time for Maddon and his staff to figure out which pieces fit together that give the Cubs the best chance to win games when the bell rings on April 5 … Let’s Go.