Position-by-Position Spring Training Preview: RF-CF

First off, congrats to Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and Frank Thomas for their election to the Hall of Fame.  All three are worthy choices though I think there are at least 10 more who deserve enshrinement.

Now on to the Cubs article of the day…

Yesterday we combined the LF and CF previews because there is some fluidity there as to who will play each position between Ryan Sweeney and Junior Lake.   There is also some bleed over into RF, so for this piece you may have to reference that particular article if you haven’t already read it.   I considered doing the OF in one big group but the sheer list of names quickly made it apparent that such a piece would become unwieldy.

So, I slightly modified my article from what I had  originally intended.  Instead of calling this strictly RF, I went with RF/CF as I did with LF/CF.  Think of it as covering both the left-center field and right-center field gaps.  Once again we have corner outfielders who are also capable of playing CF.  And, of course, most RF’ers can play LF too, so think of these players as pretty versatile on defense.

So here we go with the RF-CF preview, but keep in mind that some of the names in the LF-CF are also a factor here.

The Starters

I don’t want to get too much into RF because I covered the potential Nate Schierholtz-Justin Ruggiano platoon in depth about 3 weeks ago.  Both players are capable defenders who have pronounced platoon splits over their careers and if anything, the trend is moving even further in that direction.  I think this platoon is a lock and has the potential to be a productive one for the Cubs.  Shieriano Ruggholtz should be a middle of the order bat on this team capable of hitting 30 HRs combined to go with good defense and acceptable OBP numbers.   The combo won’t produce a star player, but it should provide value, power, and a solid stop-gap solution until the prospects are ready.

Ruggiano has additional value in that he can play a passable CF, though you probably don’t want him starting there on a full-time basis.  If that happens, we can be sure the Cub got bit by both the injury and regression bugs, so that won’t be a good thing.  Still, it’s good to have a solid , esperienced insurance policy like Ruggiano just in case it does.

MLB players vying for a role

All of the candidates we mentioned in this portion yesterday apply here as well.  Casper Wells, Aaron Cunningham, and Darnell McDonald are all capable of playing a solid defensive RF if need be.  But there are a couple of others I haven’t mentioned yet.

Mitch Maier

Maier is a LH hitter who can man all 3 OF positions defensively.  He has 360 games under his belt and a career line of .248/.327/.344.  Because he’s entering his age 31 season and will turn 32 mid-season, we can be pretty sure that this is the player Maier is right now.  This is not an upside play.  He is who he is at this point and that is a 5th OF’er who can fill in occasionally at any position against both righties and lefties.  Oddly enough, Maier has a reverse platoon split in his career with an OPS of .708 vs. LHP and .658 vs. RHP with the significant difference being that he slugs better vs. lefties.

As a veteran player who would likely be a sparingly used 5th OF’er rather than a platoon player, I think he is good competition for Darnell McDonald should the Cubs decide that Ryan Sweeney will be a full-time player in the OF.  Maier knows his role and could add value in that he can defend all 3 OF positions adequately and provide solid OBP numbers when he does start.

Thomas Neal

Neal’s chances took a big hit when the Cubs acquired Justin Ruggiano, Casper Wells, and Aaron Cunningham this offseason.  He is most similar to Cunningham and perhaps Josh Vitters, in that he is still young (Neal is 26) and was a very good hitter in the minors who didn’t hit for much power.  The difference is that Cunningham has the better approach and at this point, he’s the better defender than Neal (or Vitters, for that matter), especially with injuries robbing Neal of his arm strength.

It will be a battle for Neal to get even a spot in the organization.  I see his primary competition for a job to be both Cunningham and Vitters, but Neal’s relative youth and history of success in the minors gives him a shot to stick around.  His best opportunity may come if the Cubs decide they need the 40 man roster spot and deal Vitters, figuring they have a similar player in the organization in Neal who doesn’t take up a 40 man roster spot at this point.

Down on the Farm

Again, many of the names from yesterday’s list apply here.  Brett Jackson, Matt Szczur, and Jae-Hoon Ha are capable of competently defending all 3 OF positions.  Additionally, Kris Bryant and Jorge Soler have enough athleticism and arm strength to play RF, who many consider the tougher of the two OF corners.  Josh Vitters may be able to do it as well.  He does have enough arm to make all the necessary throws.

Since I won’t go into those players again, I want to focus on a couple of different players for this section who I think profile well as right fielders…

Ryan Kalish

Kalish was once the 5th rated prospect per Baseball America and 4th per Baseball Prospectus (right between Josh Reddick and Anthony Rizzo) in a strong Red Sox farm system.  Back then Kevin Goldstein felt Kalish had the potential to be a .280 to .300 hitter and a power/speed combo that could yield 20/20 seasons.  He considered him to have star potential if he could stay in CF.

Those questions about staying in CF have only increased since then.  Kalish has suffered through numerous injuries and age has filled him out physically.  At this point, he’s probably a corner OF’er but he is still a good athlete capable of playing the more demanding RF position.

The power numbers, however, will likely be short of what you ideally prefer in an OF corner, so Kalish will have to add to this offensive value by getting on base and thankfully, he does have a good approach at the plate that should allow him to supplement his batting average with a fair amount of walks.

As long as he has retained his good athleticism, and the word is that he has, then Kalish can also add value by being a superior defender.  He may not be an ideal fit in a corner, but if he is fully healthy and plays up to his ability, he can still be better than average.

Kalish is probably my favorite under-the-radar signing in an offseason that has featured nothing but under-the-radar signings so far.  It’s no risk, as he’s on a minor league deal and doesn’t even take up a 40 man roster spot, but the reward potential is an average to above average long term corner OFer.  The fact that he does it from the left side makes him even more valuable to an organization that is loaded with RH hitting prospects.

Kalish will turn 26 before the opener this year so he’s just about to enter his prime.  We could see him manning RF full time by 2015, when he’ll be entering his age 27 season.  If the Cubs trade Schierholtz at the deadline, a distinct possibility as a soon to be 30 year old entering the last year on his contract, it could come even sooner than that.

Rubi Silva

Silva is a long shot to make the majors in 2014 but he should start the year in AAA after spending all of 2013 and part of 2012 in Tennessee.  the 24 year old Silva is a LH hitter with intriguing raw tools.  But he could potentially sabotage his solid hit tool because of an extremely aggressive approach at the plate.

He makes hard contact and has the good speed to leg out hits, though that speed doesn’t translate well to stealing bases.  It does translate, however, when he plays the OF, where Silva is an excellent defender with perhaps the best pure OF arm strength in the minors.  He can play all 3 OF positions well and provide some occasional pop to go with his above average raw speed.

I think he can provide the same basic skill set as Jackson but is the better hitter right now despite BJax’s better approach.  The high energy, quick-twitched Silva may be best suited for coming off the bench to provide an occasional spark.  I do not see him as a starter because I think he will be exposed with significant playing time.  In my opinion, he’ll be better off as a pinch-hitter, defensive replacement, and occasional starter providing you match him up against pitchers who aren’t as capable of exploiting his aggression.


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  • Great info. Its a terrific indepth scouting report. Silva and Kalish are interesting. To bad about Jackson and its strange how far hes fallen off the prospect chart in a year. RF appears to be solid and hopefully Lake and Sweeney can do the job until.

  • In reply to rockyje:

    Thanks rocky. Jackson has been a bit of a disappointment to me because he had a better approach than other top CF prospects like Corey Patterson and Felix Pie. Hopefully he figures it out. We know that he'll do whatever it takes to make it.

  • I think McDonald or Maier will win the 5th OF spot out of ST, but it will be a relatively short stay for either. Every year fans make a huge deal out of the 24th and 25th guys on the MLB roster and without fail one or both are off the team by the end of April. It just doesn't make much of a difference.

    Eventually the team either needs to give Vitters/Jackson a chance or cut bait. Kalish and Silva are another couple of older prospects that figure into the picture before the season ends and I figure one will get a crack after the trade deadline when Schierholtz is moved.

  • In reply to mjvz:

    That is true. No matter who wins that 5th OF spot out of the spring, it is almost certainly temporary. In fact, it's probably desirable. Many Cubs fans were ready to move on from the 2012 25th man/5th OFer two years ago, yet Joe Mather hung around much more than anybody would have liked.

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    Let's face it: This is a very mediocre, replacement-level group.

    Schierholz is probably due for some regression, and he was just OK last year. Ruggiano is a decent enough RH complement

    The good news is that we're paying replacement-level prices, and probably someone younger and better is on the way by 2015.....

  • In reply to Zonk:

    I doubt it will be replacement level. We could have said the same thing about the Cubs 3B platoon last year, yet the Cubs 3Bs hit 30 HRs and provided good defense. I think the platoon of the two players, much like the combo at 3B last year, will amount to at least a 2 WAR player.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    OK, granted Luis Ransomurphy had a good year last year; 30 HRs, a .748 OPS, and better than average defense. We probably got 3 WAR out of spare parts.

    Color me pessimistic on Nate, though; I just think the power won't hold up. And if he isn't hitting HR's, he isn't adding alot of value. Advanced metrics hates his defense. Ruggiano is better in the field, but contact is an issue

    Hope I'm wrong

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    In reply to Zonk:

    PS: If I am wrong, then the FO is onto something. Why bother spending big money on 2-3 WAR players like Nelson Cruz, when you can scrap-heap a couple guys together for the same result?

    Obviously they feel that way, maybe Platooning is exploiting a market inefficiency. Players with heavy splits like Nate and Justin do tend to get underrated.

  • In reply to Zonk:

    I agree completely. I wouldn't spend more money and a draft pick on Nelson Cruz when you'll get similar production from a Shierholtz/Ruggiano platoon.

  • In reply to Zonk:

    Signing Cruz would be one of the dumber moves the FO could make. Look at the projections on fangraphs for each player.

    Steam: .256/.323/.428 0.6 WAR in 277 PA
    Oliver: .264/.341/.480 4.5 WAR in 600 PA (holy crap!)

    Steam: .256/.314/.432 1.0 WAR in 500 PA
    Oliver: .257/.311/.466 1.6 WAR in 600 PA

    Nelson Cruz
    Steam: .254/.316/.463 1.5 WAR in 540 PA
    Oliver: .260/.327/.492 3.2 WAR in 600 PA

    I doubt that these systems even take into account the platooning that will be done with these players. The Cubs lose nothing going with Ruggiano/Schierholtz as opposed to Cruz. The added benefit is that an injury to either Schierholtz or Ruggiano will have much less of an impact to the team than it would if we went with a guy like Cruz.

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    In reply to Andrew:

    No question, though I didn't mean to imply we should sign Cruz, I was using him as an example. The chances of us signing Cruz are approximately zero.....

    Regarding Mr. Cruz, it's debateable whether he is ever worth the 1-year deal he turned down.....we'll find out, but it could get ugly for him

  • In reply to Zonk:

    I think he should have taken that deal. Was surprised when it was offered because I was sure he'd take it. I was wrong on both counts.

  • In reply to Andrew:

    What is going on with that Oliver projection for Ruggiano?

  • In reply to Denim Dan:

    I just noticed that. Wow. I am going to go out on a limb here and say he doesn't reach that.

  • In reply to Denim Dan:

    I have no clue where that comes from...Projected for as many WAR as Cano and Heyward. Oliver automatically gives all players 600 PA which definitely skews things for part time players. It has Baez providing 4.2 WAR over 600 PA too. There must be something in the stats that could indicate he has a lot of hidden power, perhaps since he played in miami so will benefit from Wrigley.

  • In reply to Andrew:

    Oliver is insane.

  • In reply to Zonk:

    I can understand the pessimism on Nate. I don't share it, but I can understand it. I think we can expect a similar player to last season. I have to disagree, though, that advanced defensive metrics hate Schiertholtz defense. He has a -1.1 UZR/150, which is basically a league average RF'er -- and that is just one year sample size, which tends to mislead on UZR. His career value there is 6.0, which is an above average defender. That larger sample size tends to be more accurate. It's possible that Schierholtz took a downward turn, but without anything to cause it (i.e. an injury or past peak year player), I have to believe it's just small sample size noise.

  • I think Ruggiano could be one of the bigger surprises this season. He got hurt badly by a .260 BABiP last season. If it had been his career average .309 BABiP, he would have a .318 OBP. That makes him a fairly average hitter and he probably provides a bit better than average value on the basepaths and in the field. I wouldn't be surprised if he ends up being the better half of the platoon with Schierholtz.

  • In reply to Andrew:

    I hope you're right. I really liked that deal for the Cubs. I like Bogusevic but Ruggiano is the better fit and the metrics to indicate he should bounce back this season.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    IMO, Ruggiano is a tough guy to figure. He's a guy who should have gotten more of a shot at regular playing time at a younger age. And BOTH of his MLB seasons are flukey (at opposite ends of the spectrum). There was an article (can't remember where) that showed that he hit in outrageously bad luck last year.

    All in all, He's probably about what his career MLB numbers say he is. I do think he'll outperform Schierholtz and may win a lot more playing time as the year goes on. Still, because of his age, he's nothing more than a stopgap, even though he may well be the Cubs best outfielder in 2014.

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    FYI, Jon Sickels posted his top 20 Cubs prospects list. I liked the list here better, but for what it's worth it's out there

    Pretty much the same top 10 everyone has, with a couple slightly different changes toward the bottom and minor differences of opinino

  • In reply to Zonk:

    Excellent. I'll check it out.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Sickels is in love with the Cubs system. These are the kinds of grades he usually gives the St. Louis system, while I contemplate quick and mess-free suicide options.


  • In reply to Eddie:

    Brett Jackson has fallen out of the top 20. Ouch.

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    In reply to Eddie:

    Deservedly so......

  • In reply to Eddie:

    Some excellent grades up top. Gotta like that. I like the top half of the list but I have to disagree with a few of this 2nd half choices.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I'm guessing based on what Sickels has said before that the 11-30 range is pretty interchangeable. It's nice seeing Encarnacion that high.

  • In reply to Andrew:

    I really want to like Encarnacion more than I do. I just didn't love his swing when I got to see him at Kane County. Hopefully I'm wrong.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    FWIW, I went back and looked at guys who had similar performances at Boise (to Encarnacion) at the same age over the last 15-20 years or so. The group was split almost exactly 50-50 between guys who went on to be MLBers and guys who I had never heard of, who never made it past AA ball.

    IMO, the scouting on him basically tells us about the same thing--he has a shot at a MLB career, but is far from being a lock. He's a 50-50 guy (if that), on the cusp.

  • In reply to SVAZCUB:

    For me it was just more about his swing. I didn't like it all that much and he's a little thicker than I expected, so I don't know if he can continue to play the speed game he does now. And if he can't stay in CF, then he's probably a 4th OF'er.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    He gives Bryant and Baez an "A". That's a little surprising, because his grading system is tough; usually "A"s are for top-10 prospects. That makes them both almost can't-miss prospects. Baez to me is still risky, and Bryant unproven, though Bryant hasn't been challenged yet either through 3 levels.

    I would like to see BA's top 100 list, I feel like Baez and Bryant will both be in the top 10, and Albert in the 15-25 range

  • In reply to Zonk:

    He's usually big on walk rates and strikeout rates too. He really understands the metrics side of the game, but I'm happy to see that he is embracing the scouting part of the game more and more.

  • In reply to Zonk:

    Nice to see that 7 of the # 11-20 prospects were pitchers. Hopefully some of the stocking of young arms will see a few of these guys take that extra step this year. Also, that's the second Jefferson Mejia talk I've heard this week.

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    In reply to Zonk:

    Baez is going to shock a lot of prospect gurus if he continues to refine his approach as much as he did second half of last year.

  • John, do you know why Mejia only pitched nine innings in three starts after he signed? He was immediately eligible for the DSL because he was 18.

  • In reply to cubsin:

    I don't know for certain, but I don't think it's anything to be alarmed about. My guess is that they were just breaking him in slowly and getting his feet wet as they do with a lot of prospects picked out of similarly aged pitchers out of high school. I expect him to hit the ground running next year somewhere in the US, probably Mesa.

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    Just going off my gut , I believe Ruggiano will be one of the biggest surprises this year. Nothing numbers wise to back it up , just a hunch. By Sept it will be Bryant / Lake / Ruggiano and Sweeney leaning toward Silva as the 5th. Schierholtz will be traded. Lake only holding Cf till Almora gets here. RuggSween holding till Soler arrives. But then it could be the cold getting to me !!!! Were not used to this in Florida. Come on spring training !!!!

  • It seems like we have a ton of 4th and. 5th outfielders. Add that the list of outfield prospects. What will the cubs do with them all. I would think some will great released ?

  • Great stuff, John. Good athletes and good solid ballplayerish across the board. I'm very excited. Sweeney, Kalish, yeah those guys are good players and hopefully the opportunity will bring that out. If they're both able to squeeze 130-150 games out of themselves I can see some really solid play! Added bonus...two good years on the cheap from one or more of this scrap heap group will really help keep Almora/Soler/Bryant, etc' s clocks and prices down.

  • In reply to Ben20:

    Thank you. Some interesting guys still in their prime. Maybe Sweeney or Kalish pull a Josh Reddick and the Cubs can solve their LH issue from within the sytem.

  • I love these position analyses, John. Thanks for putting in that work. Now you have me getting excited about Kalish. I said before that BJax could be key to future moves by the Cubs FO, because if he ever "gets it" he would, on the one hand, solve a left-right bat balance in the lineup, and on the other hand, create a good problem in deciding whom could be expended for another pitcher, perhaps, as opposed to trading one of our RH prospects for a lefty bat. So Kalish might just do that, too.

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