According to a report from the Tribune, Matt Szczur is not sure when he will be able to play in Cactus League games.
Szczur was sidelined with a left oblique injury around the time pitchers and catchers reported on Feb. 19. Szczur has “been playing catch and running, but there’s no timetable for his return.” Szczur has not been cleared by the Cubs’ medical staff to participate in batting practice. And the Spring Training clock is ticking.
Szczur hit off a tee Monday for the second straight day and told Mark Gonzales his left oblique “feels fine.”
Last month it was believed the fifth outfielder job was Matt Szczur’s to lose in Spring Training. The Cubs had a projected starting outfield of Jason Heyward in center, Kyle Schwarber in left and Jorge Soler in right with Chris Coghlan as the fourth outfielder on Joe Maddon’s roster pushing Soler for playing time.
Since pitchers and catchers officially reported to Mesa, the Cubs re-signed Matt Murton to a minor league contract, traded Chris Coghlan to Oakland, re-signed Dexter Fowler, signed Shane Victorino to a minor league deal and moved Soler to left as part of a possible platoon with Schwarber.
While the front office added depth to the roster and options for the outfield, Matt Szczur has not been able to compete for a job that appeared to be his 30 days ago.
Matt Szczur is out of minor league options. While it is possible the Cubs could send him through waivers and he would not be claimed, it is highly unlikely teams like the Phillies and Braves that are clearly focused on the future would pass on Szczur.
Szczur has been on the Iowa-Chicago shuttle for the past two seasons. Szczur has played in 80 games in the big leagues and hit .224/.276/.343 with seven doubles and three home runs for a .619 OPS. Against left-handed pitching in the majors, Szczur owns a .286/.324/.476 slash line with six doubles, two home runs and a .800 OPS.
In between trips back and forth last season, Szczur batted .292/.355/.442 in 70 games with the I-Cubs. Szczur had 78 hits, 12 doubles, a triple and eight home runs, along with 22 walks, for a .796 OPS. And he was 20-for-25 on the bases.
Matt Szczur is 26 years old and doesn’t turn 27 until the third week in July.
Shane Victorino is playing in the exhibition games and he’s switch-hitting again. Victorino claims he’s healthy for the first time in over two years. And if he is, Victorino would seem to have the upper hand on the job that was believed to be Szczur’s when camp opened.
If the Cubs decide to carry another outfielder on the active roster when the season starts, Maddon will need a player like Szczur or Victorino on his bench. Szczur can play all three outfield spots and would provide Maddon with at least average to above-average defense at each position off the bench.
The front office, Maddon and the coaching staff could have several difficult decisions to make at the end of the month. And for Matt Szczur to be part of those conversations he’s going to have to hit the ground running when he’s cleared to play.