Since taking over in 2012, the Cubs’ current front office has made it a seemingly never-ending search to find players that can add versatility to their roster. They first tried veterans such as Jeff Baker, Emilio Bonifacio, Chris Coghlan, Joe Mather, and Luis Valbuena before scoring big in free agency with Ben Zobrist. Management also tried some players they inherited in the farm system like Arismendy Alcantara and Junior Lake before hitting the right combination with Javier Baez.
The Cubs also kept an eye out for versatility in the draft, starting with David Bote in 2012 and later adding Chesny Young and Andrew Ely in 2014 and Ian Happ in 2015. Both Bote and Ely are beginning their season at Double-A Tennessee, while Young and Happ are members of Triple-A Iowa. Young won a batting championship in the Carolina League with the Myrtle Beach Pelicans two years ago, and came close to winning as second one with the Tennessee Smokies last year. Currently, Bote is among the top hitters in the Southern League while Happ leads the Pacific Coast League in home runs after having a torrid spring.
In a 2015 interview, Young explained that he spent about an hour before each game practicing every position, placing emphasis on the position he was playing that game. In his career with the Cubs, Young has played six positions including all four of the infield spots. Play-by-play man for the Myrtle Beach Pelicans, Nathan Barnett, explained that Young “had the ability to compartmentalize parts of the game and keep things simple”.
Such ability is partially the results of the Cubs mental skills program that they are implementing at all levels. South Bend assistant coach Jonathan Mota can relate to the hard work the players are putting in. With an eleven year minor league career, Mota played every position on the diamond, including pitcher and catcher. “You have to come to the park ready every day” said Mota, “you have to put in more work than everyone else”. Mota repeated what seems to be the Cub mantra this year of “staying in the moment”, adding “you have to come in with the mentality that this is something you really want to do”.
This past summer, the Cubs also selected Trent Giambrone and Delvin Zinn as well as Zack Short, their second position player chosen. Assigned to the South Bend Cubs to start the year, Short received some off-season comparisons to Red Sox super-sub Brock Holt. On South Bend media day, Short shrugged off those reports, acknowledging that he considered them a great honor. “He (Holt) is a great player” said Short.
In explaining his role with the team, Short related that he had played third and second base as well as shortstop both in high school and in college “so it’s not like it is anything new to me”. When asked if he had been approached about the idea of playing the outfield, Short said that he had not, but “I’d be willing to do anything they asked”.
In preparing for the season, Short said he talked with Young in spring training about coming up with a routine. “It’s similar to college” explained Short, “if you develop a way to prepare, you set yourself up for success”. Short seems to have taken some of his talks with Young to heart, as he was witnessed taking multiple reps at third, short, and second base prior to a game he wasn’t even scheduled to play in.
It was a great way to put a frustrating opening night behind him, as Short went 0-for-9 and committed four errors in both games of a doubleheader. Short was both gracious and humble when addressing his start to the season, saying “you have to put any bad breaks in the past”. After a night off to clear his head, Short returned to shortstop and was placed at the top of the batting order, going 3-for-3 with a double in the first win of the season for the S-Cubs. Since then, both Short and South Bend have taken off, with the S-Cubs winning five of their next seven games and Short batting .364 over that span.
But Short will not be the only member of the infield that will be used in a variety of roles. Manager Jimmy Gonzalez reported in the South Bend Cubs’ preseason kickoff that infielder Yeiler Peguero will see time at second base and shortstop, while Isaac Paredes will play both short and third base and Wladimir Galindo will line up at third and first base. “I love having that option” said Gonzalez, “it’s great for their development and it gives a bunch of guys a rest”.
Tags: Andrew Ely, Arismendy Alcantara, ben zobrist, Chesny Young, Chris Coghlan, David Bote, Delvin Zinn, Emilio Bonifacio, Ian Happ, Isaac Paredes, Javier Baez, jeff baker, Jimmy Gonzalez, joe mather, Jonathan Mota, Junior Lake, Luis Valbuena, Tom U, Trent Giambrone, Wladimir Galindo, Yeiler Peguero, Zack Short