The Cubs have several questions left to answer over the next 12 days. There are 12 games left in the Cubs exhibition season and 10 of those will take place over the final nine days of Cactus League play.
There are two positions in the infield to be filled before Opening Night against the Cardinals, second base and third base. And the Cubs still face the decision of whether or not to start Kris Bryant on the first day of the season or wait for two to three weeks into the season before bringing him up.
Joe Maddon has been able to see firsthand the top prospects in the system this spring, including two players not on the spring roster, Gleyber Torres and Billy McKinney.
Kyle Schwarber has made quite the impression in big league camp and so has Albert Almora.
Almora hasn’t created the headlines this spring he would have a year ago coming off what has been incorrectly labeled a down season for the soon to be 21-year old. Almora has not only proved this spring that his defense is ready for the big leagues, he’s played with a confidence that was missing last spring. Almora has appeared in 14 games, plus the B-Game, this spring and he’s 8-for-21 with three doubles, a walk and two strikeouts (.381/.409/.524) for a .933 OPS. Almora is ticketed for Double-A Tennessee and should be among the next round of spring roster cuts.
With decisions still need to be made, here’s a quick look at how the position players still officially in camp have performed to this point in the Cactus League.
Miguel Montero – Montero hasn’t exactly squared the ball up this spring (4-for-24 with a double, no walks and six strikeouts) but he appears to be getting comfortable with the pitching staff. Montero has shown a strong arm and good hands defensively … and really nothing at the plate. Montero has played in only eight games and should benefit from regular time over the next 11 days.
David Ross – Ross has caught only seven games but his defense has stuck out. Ross has been as advertised with a strong accurate arm and he even has a home run on this year’s spring resume. With the way Lester said he struggled with adjustments when Montero was behind the plate, Ross should be behind the dish the next two times Lester is on the mound.
Welington Castillo – Castillo has been one of the big standouts in camp. The ability has always been there, but he’s never put it all together … this spring he has. Castillo has been very good both offensively and defensively. The Cubs are now thinking about starting the season with three catchers. One would think a lot of that has to do with the way Castillo has impressed Maddon in camp.
Infielders and Outfielders
Anthony Rizzo – Rizzo’s spring numbers do not look good (4-for-31 with a double) but his approach seems to be the same as it was last year. Rizzo is working counts, not expanding and has squared several balls up, unfortunately the ball has been hit right to the fielder on several of those occasions. Rizzo appears to be focusing on hitting the ball to the left side and he’s just gotten under several hard hit balls to left field. Defensively, Rizzo has been Anthony Rizzo.
Starlin Castro – Castro has appeared tentative offensively and defensively this spring but finally started to look like Starlin Castro last Thursday night. That was the game that Castro first felt the tightness in his groin and missed the next three days. Castro drove the ball that night, went to the right side and appeared confident in the box for the first time. Defensively, Castro needs a strong finish in the Cactus League. Whether or not its Addison Russell is debatable, maybe it’s just the inconsistent playing time but he has not picked up where he left off last season in the field.
Mike Olt – What a difference a year makes. Olt looks like an entirely different player in the field and with the bat. Olt has made several sensational plays at third base and it’s obvious he is not favoring the shoulder this spring. At the plate, his numbers and strikeout rate might not be what some would like to see but he’s put together quality at bat after quality at bat (12 strikeouts and seven walks in 30 at bats). Olt appears confident at the plate and has a plan when he steps into the box, just not swing as hard as possible and hope to make contact. Outside of Welington Castillo and maybe Matt Szczur, Olt has arguably shown the most improvement this spring to where he was last season.
Javier Baez – The numbers look bad and he’s not been much better at the plate. Baez has shown signs that the adjustments were starting to click. But the consistency from at bat to at bat has not been there and it appears when he gets frustrated he abandons the works he’s done and reverts back to the bad habits. Baez has not carried his issues at the plate to the field and he’s looked good at second base and shortstop.
Tommy La Stella – It’s hard to say if La Stella has been better offensively or defensively this spring. La Stella has been rather impressive at third base and made both the routine and difficult plays look routine this spring. Second base has been as expected, solid in the field with limited range. La Stella has grinded out at bats and is 9-for-28 in 12 games with a double, a triple, two walks and five strikeouts.
Kris Bryant – One word might describe Bryant’s spring at the plate, ridiculous. He has squared up just about everything and the fact that 10 of his 12 hits have gone for extra bases (eight home runs, two doubles) just backs up the statement. Bryant is having a stellar spring and making life difficult for the front office. In the field, he was very good in Saturday’s game at third base but before that he was a below average fielder. Without sounding too much like a homer or an apologist, his defense was well behind his glove early in the Cactus League schedule and that’s a problem. It will be interesting to see how many games he plays in the outfield before he’s re-assigned to minor league camp.
Addison Russell – While Javier Baez has likely benefited from Kris Bryant’s spring, Addison Russell has not received the attention he deserves. A big example was Saturday when Russell took Felix Hernandez deep and no one talked about it because of Bryant’s two blasts in the same game. Russell has arguably had a better camp than Bryant due to his defense. And has been very, very good at the plate (9-for-22 with three doubles, a home run, two walks and three strikeouts). It would not be a stretch to say Russell has been better than advertised this spring.
Arismendy Alcantara – Alcantara has quietly gone about his business and has been very good this spring after a slow start. Alcantara has played center field, left field, third base and second base and while he’s made mistakes in the field, at this point in his career it should be expected. Alcantara is learning different positions at the highest level, so it will be up to the coaches to work with him to max his ability at each spot. At the plate, he is 8-for-29 in 11 games with a triple, two home runs, four walks and nine strikeouts.
Jorge Soler – Soler has been impressive in the field and at the plate and more importantly he’s been healthy. Soler has not shown any effects of the hamstring issues or leg issues that have limited him in his pro career. Soler appears to be locked in and the next time he chases a pitch might be the first time this spring. Soler (12-for-34 with a double, a triple, two home runs, a walk and six strikeouts) has produced offensively, tracked down balls in the outfield and has shown off that strong, accurate arm. It’s been said of all the young talent in the system that Soler could end up being the best of the bunch, so far this spring he’s not done anything to dispel the high praise.
Dexter Fowler – Impressive is the one word that might be describe Fowler’s performance in the Cactus League (5-for-27 with two doubles, five walks and five strikeouts). Fowler has worked long at bat after long at bat while showing good range in the outfield. The Cubs haven’t had a true leadoff hitter in well over a decade and might just have one this season.
Chris Coghlan – Offensively, Chris Coghlan has been fine this spring. Coghlan is 7-for-25 at the plate in 11 games with two doubles, a home run, six walks and seven strikeouts. Coghlan had problems in the field last season and hasn’t been much better in Spring Training. And that’s a problem. Coghlan has taken several bad routes this spring that have given teams extra bases. With so much emphasis being placed on defense by the front office and Joe Maddon, Dave Martinez and Doug Dascenzo really need to spend time with Chris Coghlan.
Chris Denorfia – Denorfia has been solid this spring at the plate (5-for-20 with a home run, three walks and three strikeouts) and in the field. Denorfia hasn’t played his way off the roster and has looked like the player he was prior to last season. Denorfia has appeared in only one game since March 17, the B-Game last Thursday against the Angels. Reports have not suggested he’s dealing with an injury.
Matt Szczur – If one was to rank the players in terms of overall performance this spring, Szczur would likely fall in behind Bryant, Russell and Castillo. Szczur hasn’t done anything but improve his stock in the Cactus League and seems to fit the mold of a player that Maddon loves having on his roster and one that excels in his environment. Szczur has an option left and will likely be sent down due to a roster crunch and not for anything he’s failed to do this spring. Throw out the fact the three balls have left the park, Szczur has made good contact while flashing his defense at all three spots in the outfield.
Junior Lake – Lake has had a good spring with an improved approach at the plate. Lake still hasn’t played a complete game and has lived up to his reputation this spring. One minute he looks like the best player on the field, and there have been more of those moments this spring, just not enough of them to make the team.
Ryan Sweeney – Sweeney hasn’t really earned a spot on the roster this spring as he has continued to struggle at the plate (4-for-21 with two doubles, a walk and four strikeouts). Sweeney can play all three outfield spots and hits left-handed which should keep him on the roster unless another team calls.
Non-Roster Invitees – Of the minor league free agents the Cubs signed this off-season it would appear at this point only Jonathan Herrera has an outside chance of making the team out of camp. Herrera has been solid at the plate (6-for-24 with a double) and in the field. Herrera’s best shot of landing an Opening Day job should be linked to Starlin Castro. If Castro’s minor tightness turns into a major injury and the Cubs feel it would be best for Baez to begin the year in Iowa it could open a spot for Herrera on the roster. Mike Baxter (1-for-26), Adron Chambers (5-for-20), Chris Valaika (3-for-28) and Taylor Teagarden (2-for-8) appear Iowa bound depending on the language in their contract that might include an opt out if they did not make the team.