The first full squad practice of the spring is several days away (Feb. 24) and questions about the team’s outfield defense was one of the many topics Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and Joe Maddon discussed Friday at the team’s facility.
Jason Heyward enters camp as the starting centerfielder. Kyle Schwarber is expected to see a bulk of the playing time in left field. Jorge Soler is the Cubs’ starting right fielder. Schwarber and Soler worked on their defense this winter. Soler slimmed down and got a little bit leaner, according to Theo Epstein, in order to be a better defender in the outfield.
When asked Friday about an outfield of Heyward, Schwarber and Soler, Epstein said, “Those are three big guys. So when they run into gaps I’m going to cringe.”
According to Bruce Levine, there are “areas of depth that still may need to be addressed” this spring. And one of those areas is the team’s outfield defense.
Levine explained that the defensive improvement made by Schwarber and Soler could determine if the Cubs need to make a trade to shore up the outfield defense.
Chris Coghlan is considered to be the team’s fourth outfielder and will likely see time in left and right field. Coghlan has not shown he’s a late-inning defensive replacement to this point of his career.
The way the 40-man is currently constructed, Matt Szczur is the only player that could be considered a true centerfielder on the roster. Juan Perez is in camp on a non-roster invite. The former Giants’ outfielder has shown at the big league level he is more than capable defensively.
As for the other options on the Spring Training roster, Albert Almora Jr., Arismendy Alcantara, John Andreoli and Javier Baez will see time in center field when the exhibition games begin.
The Cubs would prefer to play Heyward in right field, according to Bruce Levine, than in center which makes a defensive replacement in center crucial for the team.
Heyward told Levine on Friday, “I have a good grasp of center field. Right field is pretty much me, so I am good there. As far as playing center, I need to just take more reps. I know the basis of center. I just need to act it out and after that, it will become home.”
Levine explained that Javier Baez “will get a tremendous amount of work in the outfield this spring that will help determine if he can play center field and push the other two young outfielders for playing time.” Ben Zobrist could also be used as a defensive replacement in one of the corner outfield spots.
Albert Almora Jr. could figure into the equation this season. The Cubs are extremely happy with the progress Almora Jr. made at the plate over the final two months last year. Almora Jr. is one of the early birds to Spring Training and has impressed the front office in his early BP sessions. Almora Jr. is ticketed for Iowa to start the season, but he is “on a fast track to the Major Leagues” according to Bruce Levine.
Offensively, the Cubs projected starting outfield could end up being one of the best in the leagues during the season. Defensively, Maddon and Dave Martinez will have to find the right combination over the next six weeks for Opening Day … and at least for the first several games of the regular season.