This is a battle I know all too well. In fact, given my extensive personal history of watching a lot of high school games from some of the closest seats in the house with a uniform on, I feel I am perhaps extra qualified to delve into this topic, and it might explain my interest in a bench position that will likely change several times during the season, but if you’ll indulge me, let’s take a look at just who might pick up a bat for the Cubs in the last spot on the 25 man roster.
Some of this will depend, of course, on how many relievers the Cubs choose to carry in their bullpen when April arrives. They have certainly stocked up in that department of late, so there are plenty of arms to choose from when arranging their reliever staff, but given the significant changes to the offense since last season, the bench picture is a bit less clear. I’ll assume that Javier Baez, Jorge Soler, and David Ross are the givens, but knowing that the Cubs will carry at least one more bat on the bench (if not two), it leaves a few viable options for the other spots.
Until last season, La Stella had only played second base, but he showed some of the defensive flexibility that has become so valued on this team when he spent some time at third base in 2015. Though it was a season that was heavily abbreviated by injury, he showed flashes of the kind of productivity that you hope for from a backup infielder with a just below average wRC+ of 99 and even a just above replacement level fWAR last year. The key for La Stella might be the fact that he bats left because the offense otherwise tilts toward right handed hitters, and a lefty bat will be needed for pinch hitting duties especially.
I love his enthusiasm about joining the Cubs organization, but the outfield is already pretty crowded. Victorino’s value may come from the fact that he has started switch hitting again and that he can play all outfield positions. I’ll admit to some doubt about his ability to keep up the switch hitting given that he abandoned it a few years ago due to back injury, but I’m willing to entertain the idea that he might be able to keep it up. His rather extensive postseason experience is intriguing as well, but Victorino strikes me as minor league depth who will serve the added bonus of mentoring some of the young players he’ll be riding the bus with across the Pacific Coast League.
There really isn’t much to get fired up about when you examine what Kawasaki has done at the plate in his MLB career, but he can handle any spot in the infield other than first base, and he also bats left, so he presents the same option as La Stella would, but with perhaps greater defensive flexibility. That said, the real case for Kawasaki being on the 25 man roster is probably this:
— FOX Sports: MLB (@MLBONFOX) March 4, 2016
Though his triumphant return to MLB has been since a bit overshadowed (Dexter Fowler probably owes him a beer or something), Murton last played for the Cubs in 2008 before being lumped into the Rich Harden trade that sent him to Oakland and out of our lives, but he has had a rather successful career playing for the Hanshin Tigers for the last six seasons. Even in Japan, he’s handled both corner outfield spots like he did here, and gets on base readily and shows flashes of power. Realistically though, Murton seems to stand little chance at being anything other than inury insurance.
I still am not totally sure how to pronounce his last name, but as recently as 2013 he was ranked in the top ten in the Cubs farm system. Since then, of course, things have changed pretty significantly. He found bits of success during his time in the majors in 2014, but last year he struggled somewhat even during his time in the minors. He spent the bulk of his season in Iowa last year, where he had a wRC+ of 78 compared to 126 in AAA in 2014. That difference gives me some reason for hope that he’ll bounce back in 2016, but not without some skepticism. Alcantara’s strongest case for making the roster could come from his switch hitting and his defensive flexibility. He’s had experience at second, third, and center along with some time at shortstop in the minors and in the winter leagues.
Poor Matt. His right handedness and the very deep outfield depth chart will likely keep him in Des Moines for much, if not all, of the upcoming season. He’s already had some injury trouble this spring, which is not at all what he needs if he’s going to force his way onto the 25 man roster. Szczur could be the beneficiary of an unfortunate injury to another outfielder above him in the depth chart and the fact that he can play anywhere in the outfield could help, but I don’t see it happening for Szczur.
Given the depth of pitching that the Cubs have and the increased defensive flexibility of their offense, it would not surprise me to see them break camp in April with an extra arm and rely heavily on Swiss Army Knife Baez to provide depth all across the field, so only one of the aforementioned guys will join him on the bench, and though he perplexed me a bit last year, I think Alcantara might just surprise us and be the guy in the 25th spot on the roster.