Cubs Position-by-Position Spring Training Preview: LF and CF

Cubs Position-by-Position Spring Training Preview: LF and CF

I'm going to jump around with this series rather than go in any kind of order.  We did 3B last time, so today we're going to take a look at LF and CF.  For the past 6 springs, there was no real question as to who would play LF, it was going to be Alfonso Soriano.  The Cubs traded him away last summer and for the first time, the position is open to some extent.

LF and CF are intertwined this spring as both Junior Lake and Ryan Sweeney are capable of playing both positions, so I felt it was best to combine this preview rather than be redundant later.  Sweeney played CF better last year but there are encouraging reports from winter ball on Lake.  It will be interesting to see how it sorts out in spring training.

LF/CF Starters

There really isn't an incumbent this year unless you consider Junior Lake's last two months as a starter as giving him some kind of hold on the position.  I do think Lake has the inside track on one of the jobs in the OF, but it may not be LF.  Lake reportedly played CF very well this winter and while Ryan Sweeney played the position well, Lake's incredible athletic skills may play better in the middle.

Steamer has a pretty realistic projection for Lake, which is .258/.307/.397 with 12 HRs and 18 SBs in 507 PAs.  If he puts up those numbers while playing an above average CF, we're looking at a passable starter.  Those numbers don't play as well in LF, where the bar for offensive production is set higher.

Lake is a talented player who struggles with his approach, so there is concern he'll never be able to make full use of his formidable tool set.  But Lake has shown the ability to adapt with each level.  He's going to have to do that again as pitchers seemed to figure him out a little.  However, Lake did provide above average offensive production in each of the 3 months he played, putting up RC+ numbers of 118 in July, 104 in August, and 109 in September/October.  100 is average.

If Lake does play CF, then Ryan Sweeney becomes the LF'er.  Sweeney is a much needed LH hitter who gets on base at a decent rate and plays good defense.  He's been considered something of a tweener in his career.  That is, he has a CF type bat but this defense is best suited for a corner, though in his defense he played CF quite well last season.   He is the safer bet to play there of the two, but he he has less upside defensively.

I think Sweeney can be a solid CF'er and a well above average LF'er defensively.  His better OBP numbers likely will make him a better offensive player than Lake, so I'd like to see Sweeney be the LF'er and I think he can do it on a full time basis.  He looked comfortable against LHP.  He keeps his right shoulder from opening up too early and hung in well versus lefties.  He put up solid numbers in a very short sample size.  But Sweeney's career numbers vs. LHP aren't as good.  His career OPS vs. LHP is nearly 150 points lower than it is vs. RHP.

I'd like to see Sweeney get a shot at showing his performance vs. LHP is a positive trend and not just small sample size noise.  In my opinion, it's a good year to find out if he can play full time with only an occasional break against the tougher LH starters.  But if they decide to platoon, the Cubs have some RH hitters who can fill in.

The MLB candidates vying for a job

Aaron Cunningham

Perhaps it's significant that the Cubs signed Cunningham quickly after he became a minor league free agent.  He's still in his prime years as he'll turn 28 in late April, so the Cubs are likely hoping they'll catch him at a time when he puts everything together.  The tools are there.  Cunningham is a good athlete and he has been a good hitter in the minors.  He was once a top prospect in both the White Sox and A's systems.  Cunningham, however, has yet to show that hitting ability at the MLB level so at this point he's looking a little like a 4A player.  But Cunningham may get his chance with an opening in the OF and his raw hit tool is better than any non-starter on this list with the possible exception of Josh Vitters.  The advantage Cunningham has over Vitters, however, is that he has more utility overall.  He can run and defend better than Vitters can, two traits that you really want out of an NL 5th OF'er.  He also has a better approach at the plate.  But Cunningham's chances to make the team took a big blow when the Cubs traded for Justin Ruggiano, who does many of the same things from the right side and has done it at the MLB level.

Casper Wells

The Cubs signed Wells to a minor league contract.  He's an athletic player who can defend and has a strong arm.  He has some raw power but doesn't make enough contact to consistently take advantage of that tool.  Wells is going to have to hit to have any impact, but as a 5th OF'er who can defend and provide some RH power to spell Sweeney on occasion, he has a shot to make the team in a small role. He can also pitch a little in emergency situations.  Like Cunningham, however, the acquisition of Ruggiano has made it tougher for him.

Darnell McDonald

If Sweeney is to play full time then I think that McDonald has a shot at that 5th OF'er spot.  As a veteran he can handle a bench role in which he is expected to see very sporadic playing time.  The Cubs have also stated that they would like some coach on the field players and McDonalds fits the bill there.  He's well respected by the organization and there has been some talk that he'll continue to be employed by the Cubs in some capacity after his playing days are over.

The Farm

Josh Vitters gets asked about a lot on our board.  I try to be diplomatic but I have concerns about the former #3 overall pick.  Vitters has shown he can hit but he hasn't done it consistently throughout his pro career.  The biggest issue has been his approach at the plate, which is overly aggressive and not conducive to drawing a lot of walks.  Given that he's no longer a player scouts think will hit for a high average, he may struggle to get his OBP above .300.  He did show some improvement in his approach at the AAA level so there's some hope.

He's going to have to add value somewhere.  It isn't going to be with his defense  Vitters hasn't shown great instincts as a defender at any position and won't have the athleticism to make up for it in the OF.

The most encouraging numbers Vitters has put up of late is vs. LHP, making him a potential platoon partner in the OF, perhaps with Sweeney.  That's a tough way to break in for any young player.

Vitters is going to have to work hard this offseason and in spring training to make his defense adequate, put up some solid ABs, and then show he can provide some pop vs. LHP to have a chance to stick.  It's worth noting that he does have one significant advantage over every the three players immediately ahead of him on this list -- he's already on the 40 man roster.

Brett Jackson

Jackson is a longer shot than Vitters, especially if Lake shows he can play CF.  There simply isn't a lot of utility as a 5th OF'er for the Cubs who happens to hit LH.  The Cubs already have Sweeney and Nate Schierholtz as players who will play everyday vs. RHP and the Cubs will not platoon Lake.  Jackson's best shot may come if the Cubs decide Lake can't play CF at all, thus giving him an opening as a potential backup CF.  But even that is unlikely as Ruggiano can play CF adequately if needed.

Barring injury to one of the other 4 outfielders, the most likely scenario for Jackson is AAA Iowa where he'll try to get his once promising career back on track.   Jackson will take walks, hit for some power, run the bases well, and play good defense -- but none of it matters if he can't make enough contact at the plate.

Matt Szczur

Szczur will certainly start the year in AAA but he has a few things going for him in case help is needed later.  The first is that he's already on the 40 man roster.  The second is that he can provide value with his defense and legs right off the bat.  The question with Szczur, as always, is whether he's going to hit and hit hit for power.  The latter seems unlikely despite having some strength in his wrists and forearms.  The swing saps some of that power potential but it has worked for him as far as putting the ball in play and helping him utilize his speed.  I think he's potentially a good 4th or 5th OF'er who can provide speed and defense off the bench along with the ability to get an occasional knock or walk.

Jorge Soler

Like Szczur, Soler is on the roster, but he is a huge longshot to make the team at any point this year.  It will take a breakout season.  We're much more likely to see Soler in 2015 or 2016.  He's a corner OF'er and he and Kris Bryant may have to sort that out when and if they both get to the big leagues.  Both players have prototypical RF tools -- solid athleticism, a strong arm, and power at the plate.

Kris Bryant

Bryant will start the year in AA but he is on the fast track and though he lacks a roster spot, he may force the issue by the end of the season.  Bryant is currently playing 3B but many feel his future position is in the OF.  He's a good athlete and his strong arm -- and he's played well there at the collegiate level, so it's a likely destination at some point in his career.  Wherever he plays, he's going to be a force at the plate with his ability to get on base and hit for big time power.

Jae-Hoon Ha

Ha's primary tool is defense and so he projects more as a 5th OF'er.  He's a smart, instinctive player who gets the best out of his average tools but the question remains as to whether he'll hit enough to garner much playing time.  He can play CF well, so that is an advantage for him but he's not on the roster, so he's behind the 8 ball from the start.  Szczur, Jackson and Vitters are ahead of him in that respect and he's got players fast approaching behind him.  This is a big year for Ha.  He may have to outperform those players ahead of him and will likely need an opening in terms of an injury to get a shot.


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  • Both Steamer and Oliver project a similar MLB line for Vitters as for Lake, and Vitters has the added anchor of a weak glove. He looks like a replacement level player to me at this point, maybe worse.

  • In reply to Eddie:

    He hits LHP much better, so I think his best outcome is the short side of a platoon but his poor defense makes him a better fit in the AL, where he can DH from time to time.

    He was a natural hitter but didn't develop. That probably was in some part due to the old regime but I'm not sure Vitters was all that willing to work hard to change his approach either.

    Maybe the light bulb goes on later and he turns out to be a late bloomer, but even if that's the case, the Cubs don't have the time or room to keep him on the roster for much longer.

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    I go back and forth on Bryant. I think he can play third adequately and the bat provides a ton of value there. But he is about the bat and the key for him will be keeping that bat in the lineup as close to 162 games as possible. I tend to think he'll suffer from fewer injuries as the starting right fielder and so that might make more sense.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Olt will be heallthy this year and attempt to show his ofense and power plus his defense make the cubs a better team as Bryant can play right field and not field as well as Olt.

    Also Baez should be playing third so that Barney or Alcantara and or valbuena can play 2nd.
    barney has a half year to show he can hit. he wil deternine if Baez plays 2nd or third.

  • So once Soler and Bryant are up (I know that is still a long way down the road) and it's determined Bryant is a libility at 3rd, no one else sees Bryant ending up at 1st?

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    In reply to Oneear:

    It's a waste of his arm as long as he retains the ability to play elsewhere. He seems to be athletic enough that, worst case, Soler can play right and Bryant left. I tend to think, though, if Bryant establishes himself as a starting outfielder the Cubs will seriously consider moving Soler for the lefty they so desperately need.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    I don't see a problem at all with Soler in left and Bryant in right. In fact that fits together very well.

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    In reply to John57:

    It could. But it does potentially cause a problem: Soler, Almora, Bryant, Baez, Castro, and Castillo are all right handed. If Bryant and Baez make it, combined with Almora's ceiling, it might be time to take some present value for Soler by moving him for a lefty. Just one of several ways it could work out.

  • In reply to Oneear:

    Rizzo is under contract through 2019, and the Cubs hold club options for 2020 and 2021. He's not going anywhere.

  • In reply to Eddie:

    Not if Rizzo keeps hitting around .200 with RISP. His lefty splits have to improve too. V-bomb might be needed in 2 years.

  • In reply to Lee Smith HOF:

    Average with RISP is more just luck than skill. History has shown that over larger sample sizes, average w/RISP is about the same as average overall with all players. I do agree he needs to improve vs. LHP. He made progress in 2012 but struggled last year.

  • In reply to Oneear:

    I' don't know why some pencil him in at RF ? I figure we'll be better served defensively with Bryant in LF. For those who want Lake there I see him as the future # 4 OF'er.

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    In reply to TheRiot2:

    Because he has the athleticism and the arm to be an outstanding -- potentially even gold glove -- right fielder. (So does Soler.)

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Bryant LF,Almora CF and Soler RF, As Cub fans we can hope and dream of that scenario.Olt will be a key to the future if he makes it with Rizzo or Vogelbach @ 1B. It's nice to have solutions when necessary.

  • In reply to TheRiot2:

    Maybe the NL needs the DH. Vogelbomb would make an ideal one.

  • In reply to TheRiot2:

    As I mentioned below, I would flip Bryant and Soler around. Does anyone else think that Soler is not done filling out and could be like Frank Thomas big (or who was that big LF for houston a few years his name escapes me) when he is done growing? He looked very mechanical in the OF in AFL when I was there, and I can't see that getting better as he gets bigger. I may be way off here...its my first year of really taking a look at these kids up close and doing some VERY amateur scouting...

  • In reply to Pappy:

    I got the sense that Soler was still growing into his body when I saw him at Kane County and instructs, but according to reports, he really filled out some in the AFL, so I personally can't opine as to how much he's got left to grow from there.

    Both he and Bryant can both get pretty big by the time they're physically mature, but I'm not sure about Frank Thomas big.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    As I have said before, he looked ENORMOUS....not fat at all, just like Triple H huge! Bryant is a big dude too, but he looked rather small next to Soler I thought. But you are right, Bryant could be a big dude too with some filling out.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    I dunno...I will bow to your better knowledge, but just based off what little I saw in AFL, Soler doesn't have what I would deem the athleticism for GG fielding...he looked to...i dunno...bulky and mechanical?? Didn't look fluid. He reminded me of a LF more than a right. The arm is certainly there, but he just didn't look like a fielder out there...more like a masher who had to play somewhere and there is no DH spot for him. Granted, this is only three games that I saw him in, but on short viewing, I don't see that kind of fluid athleticism in the outfield. Part of that could be also he was playing next to a gazelle like almora...
    As for bryant, I wouldn't write him off at third. He, on the other hand, looked VERY smooth and fluid at third and made some very nice plays. That said, I could totally see him as a possible GG right fielder because that arm is for real, and he just looks comfortable in defensive situations. Soler looked like he was fighting the ball off instead of attacking it, if that makes sense.

  • In reply to Pappy:

    To be fair, Soler was probably a bit rusty and wasn't 100%. I remember seeing him play for the Chiefs and he sometimes looked a little bumpy out in the field after the long layoff, but he looked a lot better that fall in instructs.

    I do agree with you that Bryant in RF and Soler in LF probably works best, but I also don't think you saw Soler at this best.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    That is a fair statement, as he was coming off injury. I all the sports I play and coach, the one thing I have always been able to identify is defensive studs...and soler just doesn't fit the eye test for me. I will be interested to see if I am wrong in the spring...

  • In reply to Pappy:

    I agree in that I don't think Soler is going to be a defensive stud either. I think he can be an average RF'er or perhaps something of an above average LF'er, especially when you factor in his strong arm. I know what you mean though, he wasn't always smooth when I saw him in Peoria. He was better in AZ, but I don't think he's going to win GGs when all is said and done.

  • In reply to Oneear:

    1B is a worst case scenario for a lot of reasons, but here is a couple: One, it means that Rizzo didn't pan out (or Vogelbach for that matter) and two, you waste his athleticism and good arm at 1B.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    FYI, In B/R's recent publishing of Cubs Top 10 Prospects they listed Candelario at #8, ahead of Villaneuva and Vogelbach, and reported that he would likely be moving to 1B as he continues to fill out. Having him in the mix for 1B rather than 3B gives the Cubs even more interesting options for the future.

  • In reply to Cleme:

    It's possible he may one day move to 1B, but Candelario is already pretty filled out and I was told by someone in the organization that the plan was to keep him at 3B. His work ethic will help him stay, both in terms of staying in shape and working on his defense. He hss more value at 3B.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I second the motion.
    He is at the point where Lake and a left fielder of thirdbaseman is going to be trade bait for a catcher who has good defense and a left handed bat.
    But check with Theo, he has a plan,.

  • In reply to Oneear:

    I would like to think Volgelbach is working on his defense and has a very good bat.

    he would be the replacement or Rizzo may platoon with Olt, if Baez moves to tird base.

  • And of course there is Almora on the farm who can play CF.

  • In reply to John57:

    There is, but I can't make him part of a 2014 preview. I even hesitated putting Soler on there, but if he starts at AA he has a shot if he breaks out from there.

  • At this time Vitters should start at AAA, we needs the BA's and work at playing OF. She is still young enough to hope his bat
    come around

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    I think he should be playing everyday as well. For me, the best option is Cunningham if you want a RH bat. He's a 4A guy and probably going to be a role player anyway. Plus he adds some value with his defense, decent baserunning, and ability to take walks. And might as well give him a shot, maybe he does what Bogusevic did.

  • My 2¢ on some of these guys. Lake is rough for CF but let's keep in mind how little OF experience he actually has, not just CF but anywhere. His defense should improve by leaps and bounds, given his athleticism.
    I'm on record with both Vitters and Jackson as saying I don't think they make it and if they do, I think it'll require the old change of scenery. Both are in a pretty deep rut. Szczur I like but see him as a 4th OF sort of guy. That could change if he puts up better offense as he moves up. Soler and Bryant I really haven't seen enough of to comment but I like the buzz that I hear. Ha I have been watching since he moved up to Tennessee at 19. He is excellent defensively and a good base runner with good baseball instincts. The question on him is can he hit, the same as with most prospects. Jae-Hoon looked like he might have been putting it together early last year before he got hurt. It'll be interesting to see what happens this year. In my opinion, he's an everyday guy, if he can hit (big if, admittedly).

  • In reply to GAHillbilly:

    I like Ha, he's a good ballplayer. I think he makes a good 5th OF'er because of his defense. Not sold on the bat, though. I think he needs a full year at AAA. He's still young and he's not on the roster, so no need to really rush him yet.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I agree on that, I'm just talking when it's all said and done. As much as I like him, I'd say it's probably less than 50% that's he's ever an everyday guy, anywhere in MLB. And I definitely agree with the full year in AAA.

  • Viitters needs BA's and to play full time so AAA is the best for him
    at this time.

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    Vitters and B. Jax will soon be a distant memory.More failed prospects from Hendry. Too bad and the hype surrounding them was apparently unfounded.

  • In reply to TheRiot2:

    Javy Baez is a Cruller Jim draft pick as well. A little boom, a ton of bust. That's Hendry's amateur ballplayer legacy in Chicago.

  • In reply to Eddie:

    Well, I'd have to say there is a whole lot of boom to Baez. Not just a little.

  • In reply to Eddie:

    Yes but it was with Ricketts giving the guidance not the Tribune. Hendry would do much better if Ricketts was there telling him to get the best prospect and don't worry about the cost to sign them.

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    In reply to John57:

    I think this overstates it. The picks were part of the problem, but Hendry's inability to develop talent was also a major issue. Javy Baez made essentially no progress his first season and has made huge steps each of the last two. I don't believe that is a coincidence.

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    In reply to Mike Moody:

    Not that I disagree with the lack of development by the previous regime point, but how much progress could he have made in 18 ABs in 2011? It was pretty clear Hendry was never allowed to spend like that on previous drafts.

  • In reply to Matt McNear:

    This. Bashing Hendry's player development program is certainly well founded, but absolutely nothing can be drawn from Baez's 18 ABs during Hendry's regime. Absolutely nothing.

  • Almora will not be rushed. The very earliest you will see him is 2015.

  • In reply to cubbybear7753:

    Agreed, but I think he'll move more quickly than your average prospect.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I agree John

    As you have stated he is mature beyond his age from a baseball aspect, I think they will move him as soon as he shows he can handle each level regardless of the number of AB's.

  • Vitters and Jackson need lots of playing time in AAA. Maybe
    in July they can be included in trade package.

  • If my count is correct, the Iowa roster is at about 40 right now. It seems like a couple of these guys could be sent packing by April One.

  • John, you left Almora off, since you just wrote an article about him possibly being fast tracked could he be up by next season? (2015)

  • Dont sleep on Ryan Kalish. If healthy I like the fire in his belly.

  • In reply to Rbirby:

    Agreed - he could be a darkhorse for CF or either of the corner spots IF he's healthy ehough to keep himself in the game.

  • In reply to Rbirby:

    I really like the Kalish signing but I do think he's ticketed to the minors regardless. But you're right. I think he's got as much a shot to make it later in the year as Ha or Jackson. Kalish will be in the RF preview, though he could end up in LF too. He's just the most likely to me of all of these guys to end up in RF if Bryant isn't ready next year or if they trade Schierholtz at the deadline.

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    Unfortunately I think both Vitters and Jackson will no longer be part of the organization this time next year. I really held out hope for both especially Jackson when I saw how this guy goes and gets it in CF. He's a tough nosed type of kid that Cubs fans always fall in love with but his K's seem to doom his future.

    37 days left? I need baseball

  • In reply to bocabobby:

    Love the way Jackson plays the game. If he can only fix that contact problem, but that's not easy to do.

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    WoooHooooo It's only 36 days left!

  • Ouch. Cunningham's MiLB stats are a splash of cold water in the face for all us penciling in all our stud prospects into our 2015/16 Cubs line ups. He put up really good numbers in AA and a AAA (e.g., 2011: .329/.389/.532) stints, but just can't get it done at MLB level. I know lost of folks say there's no guarantee on any of them, but Cunningham is a useful cautionary tale. Thankfully, as John often says, we have numbers on our side so a few of our studs should come through, even though some definitely will not.

  • In reply to Nondorf:

    I think it also emphasizes the value of scouting. There were doubts from that angle despite the good numbers. It's why you always need a good balance. Rule of thumb to me is that it's more emphasis on scouting early on and then at about AA, I divide it at 50/50 between scouting and metrics. Players tend to begin to stabilize around then.

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    Lake, Almora and Bryant from left to right eventually

  • If Lake eventually winds up as a corner OF, I'd rather see that arm in RF than LF.

  • Let me get this straight...

    Schierholtz, Sweeney, Ruggiano, Lake

    Cunningham, Wells, McDonald, Kalish, Maier, Szczur, BJax, Vitters, Ha, Silva

    I hate to say it, but we have WAY too many outfielders competing for jobs in Iowa. Seems like it's time to start wheeling and dealing, or some guys are going to get released or repeat AA.

  • In reply to HackWilson09:

    Yeah, that is a lot isn't it? I think we can safely say that not all of those guys are going to make it. As you say, some will get released, others will repeat, and some may get sent off on minor deals.

  • In reply to HackWilson09:

    One of those guys is going to be in Chicago as the 5th OFer, probably from the McDonald/Cunningham/Wells/Maier group. One will get released from the group of (Wells/Maier/Cunningham). One will go to AA (Kalish?). And one will be probably be traded/released from BJax/Vitters/Ha group.

  • "There simply isn't a lot of utility as a 5th OF'er for the Cubs who happens to hit LH. "

    I do not agree with this statement at all. Especially considering your optimism regarding Sweeney's ability (or at least being given the opprtunity) to play everyday. Schierholtz is the only guy that needs to be platooned, and we have Ruggiano available to do that. If the Cubs 5th OFer is not left handed, they may not have a left handed pinch hitter on their bench. I suppose Watkins is competing for a utility spot as well, but he isn't exactly threatening with the bat.

    I don't see any reason (beyond the fact that he is bad) that Jackson (or some other left handed OFer) wouldn't be given a fair shot at the 5th OF spot. In fact, Jackson's skill set of defense, speed and some pop is well suited for the role. I don't think he will win the job, but if anything, I think the fact that he is lefthanded gives him an advantage.

    The immediate need for a righthanded hitting OFer was resolved when Ruggiano was acquired and coupled with the fact that Lake appears in line to win a job, a third right handed hitter would actually slant the team too much in the wrong direction. Having two Right handers on the bench would not be the end of the world, but it is hardly the preferred roster construction given the FO's stated preference for finding left handed hitters and the amount of effort teams put into platoon matchup advantages with their bullpens late in games.

  • In reply to mjvz:

    You could be right. Maybe it's more of a wash, but while I'm optimistic on Sweeney hitting LHP well enough to play everyday, I think it's more of a question than Lake playing everyday.

    There are other ways to resolve the situation. If Roberts makes it as a utility infielder, he's very capable of filling in in the OF, and so that could give the Cubs some flexibility to add Jackson as a lefty compliment to Lake. But I really question how many ABs Jackson can get in that role. He'd basically be a pinch hitter/pinch runner and occasional fill in for Lake. Hitting isn't his strong suit and if reports on Lake are accurate, the Cubs don't really have a weak defensive OF'er, so they likely won't need a late inning replacement. Jackson needs ABs right now. So does Lake.

    I'd rather have Watkins off the bench as a LH hitter with some speed (and who can also play some OF if needed) and keep one of the RH hitters to give Sweeney the occasional day off. You also have Kottaras off the bench, not to mention Valbuena and Schierholtz when righties start.

  • John, I think you forgot to mention Thomas Neal, I think he's going to get as much of a chance as Cunningham, Casper Wells and McDonald to make the team out ST, if he's healthy.

  • In reply to Caps:

    Thanks Caps. You're right, but I decided to save a few for RF and since Thomas Neal played there last year, I will use him then along with Kalish and Maier, who are better corner defenders and profile better in RF than some of the guys on this list. I kind of regret not putting Maier in this one though because he can play CF too. It was hard to split them up since there is so much gray area. Part of this was subjective on my part, but we'll cover them in RF.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Awesome, I think the real dark horse is Kalish and I hope he returns to his previous form before all the injuries.

  • In reply to Caps:

    I'm most excited about him as well. Really liked that pick up. One of my favorite under the radar moves for the Cubs...well, I guess all of the Cubs moves have been under the radar so far. But Kalish is my favorite under-the-radar under-the-radar signing.

  • In reply to Caps:

    Is he going to be healthy for ST?

  • In reply to Caps:

    Neal! I forgot. And Ryan Roberts can play left and do the DeRosa thing. That's 12 guys competing for one job!

  • Good and well thought out post John!

  • I have to disagree with a lot of the posters here wanting to get rid of B. Jax and Vitters. Im not saying they automatically deserve a spot on the big league club but I think the only difference between them and a lot of the low risk flyers Theo and Jed have taken in is that their struggles have been closely followed by Cubs fans.
    I feel like their failed auditions in 2012 left a bad taste and everyone is ready to move on but they are still relatively young, cheap and only a year removed from dominating the PCL (Vitters played well in limited time last year also).
    While I don't have the latest scouting reports on these guys I just see a lot of similarities between them and the guys we have been signing. I feel like there is still value there and not every prospect has to be a superstar.

  • In reply to UIowaCory:

    That's a good point. There really isn't much difference in their skill set or expected level of production. And they have the advantage of already having roster spots, so it wouldn't necessarily cost the Cubs a player.

    I do think Jackson and Vitters need ABs, however, for the very reason you stated. They're still young. I'm hoping they can be role players but Vitters needs work in the field and in his approach and Jackson needs to be able to at least hit his weight, so for me, additional development wouldn't hurt them.

  • And this is why I was in favor of signing a short term veteran such as Michael Morse to play LF. Maybe some of the spare parts (BJax, Vitters, etc.) can be packaged up in a trade for someone along the lines of Josh Willingham (I think he's with Tampa), or another guy who can provide power (25-30HR) and veteran leadership.

  • In reply to VaCubFan:

    I don't believe Vitters and Jackson have any trade value right now.

  • I'm interested to see what the Cubs Front Office does with all the fringe/bubble guys knocking at the door both positionally & pitching wise. Considering the amount of work that Epstein/Hoyer put in to get the most out of trades, and work the system (CBA) to squeeze extra value from anywhere possible.... I wouldn't think they would be very keen on losing even marginal value for nothing, so I'm interested to see what they do with the 40 Man roster, especially what kind of shuffling, trades, etc, they do with guys like Jackson, Vitters, Ha,Watkins, Cabrerra, Beeler, Raley, Szczur, etc, etc, etc.

  • I disagree that RISP is more luck than skill. I agree that in an analytical sense it seems arbitrary. Over the long course it can become a numbers game in this sense- Give a .300 hitter enough at-bats, eventually he his average will gravitate up or down to .300. Likewise, the more RISP situations that arise for a player, the more likely his RISP average will mirror his normal batting average.

    However, I believe that many players hit for a higher RISP because they have a talent for it. Aramis Ramirez comes to mind. Without crunching the numbers, he seemed to have better success with RISP because of his willingness to take what the pitcher gave him and go the other way. He realized it wasn't always about the home run. Oftentimes it is sacrificing your ego and hitting singles the other way to drive in runs, if this was what the pitcher was giving you.

    Likewise I believe there are players who hit worse with RISP than their normal batting average. One of the reasons is that they tend to try and crush the ball with runners on base. With a savvy pitcher on the mound, guys like this are meat. They will nibble at the outside corner and these over anxious hitters will routinely make weak contact by pulling off the ball or worse, ground into rally killing double plays. Another reason is trying too hard. This is what I believe happened to Rizzo last season. For a young player it is extremely difficult to set aside a bad batting average mentally and focus on the next day. For him it compounded and what you have is a poor season with RISP. I do believe with experience and more help around him he will improve.

    Long story short, I believe that a pattern of success at RISP is not luck. Certain guys excel in clutch situations over others. I believe it takes three major factors- 1) A great hitter is most likely great all the time so it helps to be a great hitter 2) Being smart and unselfish 3) Having the right mental makeup and experience

  • In reply to JV36:

    Sorry John, my post was meant to be a reply to a comment you made earlier about RISP. Seems a bit off the topic of your article when I post it all by itself :) Keep up the good work, your blog is very informative

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    In reply to JV36:

    You're on the mark. ARam is a career .294 hitter (568/1932) with risp and has a .905 OPS. He has excelled in all clutch stats, such as a career .383 avg with a runner on third and less than two outs, .316 w/0 out runner on 3rd, .321 w/0 outs 1st & 2nd, .396 w/0 outs 1st & 3rd, .417 w/0 outs bases loaded, and so forth and so on. (and for most of these stats, there is a significant sample size)

    I think for some players, perhaps John is right, but I think that for the most part, the human element does come into play. Some people just aren't that good in clutch situations regardless of their field, while others excel in crunch time. Testicular fortitude can't be discounted.

    And I don't think it was an accident or anomaly that nearly every member of the 2013 St. Louis Cardinals had excellent stats w/risp.

  • In reply to Mike Partipilo:

    Thanks for the statistical info Mike. I'm glad it backs up what appeared to the naked eye when watching him hit in those situations. On another note, I think Aram got a bad rap while a Cub. Everybody was so hung up on him supposedly not hustling. I can only imagine what playing a 162 game season is like. I'm not saying it's ok to dog it but sometimes you have to pace yourself. Add the fact that he was slow to begin with and I don't think he was hurting the team by going 80% down the line. I think it's more important to have him in the lineup everyday then bitch about him not going all out on a routine grounder. Anyway, thanks again for the info

  • John, you can't have a LF/CF discussion and completely leave Justin Ruggiano out of it. 77 of his 102 starts last year came in CF. He's certainly got a better chance at getting playing time in there than all those (affectionately termed) scrap heap guys. Sweeney may have hit well against lefties last season, but every other year prior was even worse than what Schierholtz hits against them. If Sweeney hasn't truly turned the corner on hitting lefties, we could see Ruggiano playing some CF at points this season.

    But I think there is an even greater chance we see him in LF. Lake's peripherals were way below his slash line. Amongst players with at least 250 PA last season, Lake had the 36th worst strikeout rate in the majors, his contact percentage was 3rd worst and swinging strike percentage was 6th worst. I suspect a correction in Lake's production is coming.

    If I'm wrong on both counts and Sweeney hits lefties well and Lake doesn't experience major regression in his production, then Ruggiano will likely just be the short side of a RF platoon. But I think the Cubs got him for more than that. He's an insurance policy in left and center as well.

  • In reply to Quedub:

    Ruggiano's position with the Cubs will be splitting RF with Schierholtz and the FO has pretty much said he's here for his RH bat, so I'm writing about him there. He may play some CF from time to time, but I don't believe that's why he's here. He can also be an insurance policy for Lake, but he'll almost certainly be in RF to start the year.

    He's a below average player vs. RHP for his career. His OPS is 134 points less, his ISO is over 100 points less, and he strikes out 20-25% more often vs. RHP. And unike Sweeney, it's trending in the wrong direction. I don't want to make too much out of Ruggiano. If he's playing full time in LF, then things have gone wrong somewhere.

    It makes more sense to feature him in the RF article.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Agreed. He will be primarily a RFer for the Cubs, but I thought at least a mention would have been in order given his probability to fill in there at some point throughout the season. But I see where you're coming from. Good write-up. Keep 'em coming. I love it. Need something to keep us going thru this painfully slow off-season.

  • In reply to Quedub:

    Thanks. Maybe I can broach the possibility in the RF article when we talk about Ruggiano. I hope he's not playing full time in CF, though, barring injury. I think they need to maximize his value and play to his strengths.

  • I remember Brandon Moss was a highly regarded prospect with the Red Sox who then bounced around for a while until finding a home and being productive with Oakland. Maybe the Cubs can strike gold with Cunningham, Neal, Kalish or some of the other triple aaaa prospects.

  • In reply to kevie:

    Exactly...I think that's exactly what they're trying to do, especially with younger guys like the ones you mentioned.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Do you think we might see some more HR power out of Sweeney? He is a big guy, 6' 4" 225. His 6 HR's in 192 at bats tied a career high.

  • In reply to kevie:

    He's never hit HRs like you would expect from a guy his size but it looked like he had a bit more pop last year. 6 HRs and it seemed like he was close to a few more. I think he can maybe be a 15 HR guy with a full season.

  • Just heard Carrie Muscat articulate on the possibility of the Cubs signing the Japanese pitcher with a 24-0 record...etc etc...
    She sounded about as optimistic as the captain of the Titanic...Capt Smith. She said the loss of revenue because the city successfully fought to keep the marketing upgrades/electric signage for advertising etc etc..away so far, has put a dent in the spending dept....Honey? Bring me my violin....

  • In reply to Hey Hey:

    I'm not buying it either. Maybe they are trying to temper expectations or trying to give the impression that they're not that interested so as not to raise the price, but I think this is exactly the kind of player they should spend on.

  • The sense I get with Vitters is that he'll play the OF everyday at Iowa and may get a look with the Cubs if at some point Lake struggles and needs to be sent down. IMO, Vitters is still too young to give up on, especially if he can continue to improve his walk rates. Would it really be shocking for Vitters to put up a monster first half at Iowa and put himself in the OF mix? If he earns another look, I would rather give him playing time in RF than someone like Schierholtz, who will be 30 and has a career OPS around 730.

  • In reply to SVAZCUB:

    I think letting him play in Iowa to start the year is probably the best plan. They can see what happens from there.

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    There seem to be four players - Vitters, B. Jackson, Olt and Watkins - that decisions need to be made on within the first half of the year with the other options that are not on the 40 man up and coming. I expect two of the four from that group make the 25-man out of ST, mainly because they will need to be evaluated at the major league level to sort out further roster decisions down the line. My bet is on Vitters and Watkins making the team starting out, depending on if Vitters can play average defense in LF and at 1B, since he could fill in at those spots and also 3rd from time to time if needed. I have to think Olt will need a month or two out of spring training to really see if he's got things straight, and the same with B. Jax because of the miserable season and injuries, though I think he does have the most AAA ABs of the four. Really wish they would have at least gotten a better look at Watkins at the end of last year, but perhaps that is one of the many reasons for the switch from Dale to Rick.

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