This is going to be short and sweet because Spring Training is like “Who’s Line Is It, Anyway.” The stats, scores, and results don’t actually mean anything.
This year’s version of Spring Training turned out to be more interesting than it needed to be because of the injuries and the whole 101 losses last season thing lingering around the fan base. Which is stupid. This is a different team. A better team. And last season’s 101 losses were stipulated to when anything of value was sold for parts at the end of July.
On to the recap:
- Ian Stewart tapped out of the only actual battle for camp by straining his groin. That really only pushes it back into the regular season when he returns from the DL and rehab stint. Like the front office, I remain sold on it being too early to give up on him. Not after what it cost to get him to Chicago.
- Matt Garza’s lat is a pesky bugger, and lingered around, too. I am all for the cautious approach the team is taking with him, though. However, this injury seems to put the nail in the “trade Garza” coffin. I would be somewhat surprised at anything but an extension somewhere in the same ballpark as Edwin Jackson’s contract.
- Keith Law (@keithlaw) had the following to say about Brett Jackson’s make up on Twitter this evening: “Never heard a bad word about him, going back to college/Cape.” Brett Jackson seems genuinely possessed with not being a Felix Pie reincarnate. I think we all appreciate that.
- David DeJesus won the bunt tournament.
- Jorge Soler and Javier Baez were fun to watch. They both look like they will be in the big leagues someday. Neither of them is ready…not even close. But it was fun to watch some of the power displays they put on.
Again, this is short and sweet. There isn’t a lot to say about Spring Training because nothing of real consequence happens there. Last year, Ryan Dempster got beat up a little bit in spring. He was just fine come April. The point is, every body relax. The stuff that counts is on Monday.
We’ve all seen it already:
Immediately (after the “What the hell is a hamate bone?” comments) the comparisons to Derrek Lee started. And the comparisons to Ian Stewart started. And Theo Epstein suddenly doesn’t know what he’s doing because he drafted a guy and nine months later he got hurt. And the Chicago Fire of 1871 had nothing on what is happening with the Cubs. And on and on and on…
The hamate is a bone in the wrist under the fifth metacarpal. *DUDE…PRESS 1 FOR ENGLISH!* It’s the bone in the wrist that is under the bone in the hand that is under the pinky finger. Actually, fracturing this is quite common in baseball players because of the force put on it, either when pitchers pitch or hitters hit.
Comparing Almora to D-Lee is a horrible idea. Derrek Lee had two fractures in his FOREARM, the distal radius and distal ulna. Again, in English, he broke the two bones in his FOREARM very close to his wrist, which is why when you hear someone on ESPN say “broken wrist” or read someone in the paper say “broken wrist,” it should be taken with a grain (or shaker full) of salt. Lee broke both bones in his FOREARM, which cost him a lot of the strength and stability his swing. Almora’s injury is so common among baseball players that it boarders on being a non-story.
Ian Stewart is also a bad comparison to Almora. Stewart had a bone pieces removed from his wrist because they were pressing on a nerve. Without seeing his x-rays (which I am assuming didn’t show much since it took so long for him to have the problem found), or the MRI which revealed the problem last summer, I am not sure if he had fragments or a bone spur that was pressing on the nerve. It seems like Stewart is fully healed, now, though, since he reported coming out of his minor league game yesterday with no pain.
Long story short, Almora has an injury, and it is significant. I can’t sit here and write, in good faith, that a fractured bone is not a significant injury. It’ll keep him off the field for about a month. That’s significant. However, his injury is known, was likely found early, and is common enough that treating it is pretty straight forward. My own hamate fracture was: put in a cast for four weeks, rebuild the strength. And that was it. Such it will be for Almora. And I am sure the Cubs will take it slow with their highly touted prospect. Just to make sure.
OTHER STUFF FOR THE DAY:
- The Diamondbacks quit on Sterling Peralta and sent him back to the Cubs today. Peralta was selected in the Rule 5 Draft, and since he was released from the major league roster, he was offered back to the Cubs for $25,000. He has a great arm, but never pitched about Class A. Nice to see him back.
- Brett Jackson has some mild shoulder soreness. He’s currently on life support, and family has been notified. Or, he’s going to sit out today and give it some rest. On second thought, rest is probably more accurate. But since we’re all over-reacting to injuries, I thought I’d give it a whirl with B-Jax.
- The Cubs have split squads going today. The regulars mixed with some top prospects play the Japanese National Team today, and the other squad takes on the Sox on WGNA at about 2, local time.
The positional previews return after a bit of a delay, but some clarification as to how the starting rotation is going to stack up when the Cubs break camp and head north.
While this preview is going to be the rotation as a whole, when injuries are settled, the start of the season, with the injury to Matt Garza and the delayed return of Scott Baker, is going to show off whatever depth the front office was able to assemble this winter. Between a challenging schedule and the rotation not being at full strength to start the season, there is some real likelihood that this is going to be the rotation until the end of July, and no longer…
1. Jeff Samardzija
This differs from the division preview only in the manner that Jeff is taking the ball on Opening Day. As hard as he’s worked, he’s earned the opportunity to start in Garza’s absence. This season figures to be a step forward for “Shark,” after posting some solid numbers in his first season in the rotation and improving as the season wore on. The most impressive improvement came in the walks department, issuing 56 free passes in 174.2 innings last season after walking 50 in 88 innings in 2011. Samardzija has all of the tools to be an ace caliber pitcher and this season is going to be the first step toward that.
2. Matt Garza
Look, I know he’s starting on the DL. I also know he might be back for a couple of months, then packing his bags for good. I also know he is going to be a vital starter for the team when he gets back. He’ll either display that he is healthy and the team will trade him for pieces for the future, or he will show that he is worthy of the extension that has been talked about since he got to Chicago. This is a big year for Garza professionally, and I would expect that he shows it. I love the guy and think he would be worth a deal similar to the one Edwin Jackson signed…but that’s not up to me.
3. Edwin Jackson
The aforementioned Jackson signed a 4 yr/ $52M deal this winter, which finally gave him some stability. He’s been with five teams over the last three seasons, but he’s seemingly always been around winning teams. His numbers aren’t jaw dropping, but he eats innings, and doesn’t walk very many. At the tail end of his deal, the Cubs expect to be a contender, and are hoping he’s in the back of the rotation. They also hope that some piece of mind about where he’s going to be and some stability in coaching and messaging helps improve his numbers. He was a top prospect coming through the minor leagues, but his career has never quite matched that potential. He’s been around for a long time, but is still young enough that he may improve some, yet. It seems, though, that with Jackson, what you see is what you’re going to get.
4. Scott Feldman
Feldman, like Scott Baker is on a one year contract to prove that he can be an effective starter. His numbers make you cringe a little bit, but the man was pitching in Texas, where ERAs go to die. His career has been spent swinging back and forth between the bullpen and the rotation, and again, here, with some certainty that he will be taking the ball every fifth day may help him pitch better. He’s out to prove that he can be a major league starter, so I would expect him to come to work everyday because he’s going to be a free agent again next winter.
5. Travis Wood
Travis Wood is likely going to be the one sent to Iowa when Scott Baker returns. The reality is, Wood is young and has minor league options remaining, so he’ll be the one to go. That being said, Wood was solid at times last season for the Cubs, and showed some real growth in his first season after coming over from the Reds. His future, either as a back end starting pitcher or a long reliever in the ‘pen, seems to be pretty bright at the moment.
As a reader was kind enough to point out, Travis Wood is out of options. Thinking he had one more is a fine illustration of my ability to count. That said, it doesn’t change that he is likely the odd man out of the rotation when Baker joins the club. He will then probably join the cluster of pitchers in the bullpen. **
Other Contributors: Scott Baker, Carlos Villanueva
There is no doubt that Scott Baker will be in the rotation when he returns to the team in May. The cautious approach to bringing him back from Tommy John surgery is being applied, and while Baker made it clear at the Cubs Convention that he feels good and is ready to go, the team is making sure he is 100% when he returns. I can’t say I blame them. That’s probably a wise move for a guy who is going to be trade bait at the deadline. Carlos Villanueva is on a two year deal, and will be mostly used as a long man out of the bullpen, but he’s a very good spot starter. He’s a guy who can be leaned on for a start without massacring the bullpen, which is an asset that nearly every team would love to have.
I take this opportunity (and depart from the positional previews temporarily) to comment on Matt Garza’s lat.
The official party line from the Cubs has been that Matt Garza had an MRI, which revealed a “mild” lat strain. At this point, I have no reason to doubt that’s the God’s honest truth.
What most people aren’t exactly aware of is what some of these terms mean. And when the team says he should be back in two weeks, then returns saying he’s going to miss the first month of the season when he should be
coming back, fans think the worst: They were lied to.
A muscle is like a rope. Like a rope, a muscle is remarkably strong, until there is any kind of damage to it. And just like cutting even a small amount into a piece of rope, if there is even mild muscle damage, any force to the damaged muscle can cause some serious damage or complete failure. A strain is a tear, and it comes in varying degrees of severity. Grade 1 is the least severe, and is likely what the MRI of Matt’s lat showed. Grade 2 is more severe, but it not a complete rupture…which is grade 3.
Matt Garza and Dale Sveum have echoed similar things throughout the process. They’re taking it slow, and making sure it’s healed. There are a number of reasons why the process is taking more time than initially expected. Matt Garza could be one of the unlucky “slow healers.” We’re out there. It happens. There could have been some swelling in the area of the strain that prevented the healing process from taking place initially, and the healing didn’t actually start until later. Regardless of the reason, “discomfort” is a signal that the injury persists, even if only slightly. Referring back to my rope analogy, however, the slight remains of an injury to a muscle which will have a great amount of force applied to it when he pitches can lead to the grade 2 or 3 strain. Those are both a lot worse, and would likely take away from a major portion (if not all) of the 2013 season for Matt Garza, and would render him 100% untradeable.
In a purely speculative exercise, maybe the Cubs shut down Garza for two more weeks. Just to make sure. At that point, it’s March 18. At that point, if Garza is given a clean bill of health, he lost a month of Spring Training to stretch out to be able to throw the number of pitches a starting pitcher throws out of gate in April. Missing the first month of the season doesn’t seem so unreasonable, anymore. Again, I can’t tell you with certainty what’s going on in Arizona, but that seems like a pretty plausible explanation.
Let’s hold off on the panic or doubting what the team is saying here. There are a lot of reasons to think you’ve been lied to by a professional sports team. This time just isn’t one of them.
The positional previews continue with the infielders tonight, and will be capped off over the course of the weekend with the rotation, the bullpen, and the coaching staff.
The infield probably offers the most stable portion of the roster, with a wealth of young talent and players who have staked claims on positions as pieces to build around. Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro, and Darwin Barney all appear to be locked into their positions, at least for a few more years. Wellington Castillo is a talent who could make his claim to the catcher position, and there are some intriguing prospects who could lay claim to the hot corner.
Catcher: Wellington Castillo, Dioner Navarro
I list both Castillo and Navarro because no catcher plays everyday. The most physically demanding position on the diamond requires two players who can handle the job effectively. This season, Wellington Castillo has the opportunity to stake his claim to the job as the primary back stop. Being guided by veteran, and 2008 All-Star, Dioner Navarro was one of the better moves the front office made this off-season. Navarro has history with Matt Garza and has been around long enough to be a calming and guiding influence on the young, talented Castillo. The talent aspect is what jumps out about Castillo. Bruce Levine posted a great article for ESPNChicago today about Castillo, and quoted one NL scout saying, “As a hitter he makes hard contact and has plenty of power. The only thing you aren’t sure of when you watch him is how he calls a game. Last fall they had so many below par starters that I could not evaluate his game calling skills.” Without spoiling the rest of the article, it goes on to talk about how it’s tough to judge Castillo’s ability to call a game because of the pitchers he was working with last year as the season came to a close. I tend to disagree with that a little, because he got reps with those pitchers in Iowa, but there is something to be said about major league experience. Either way, Castillo is mighty talented, and has a chance to solidify himself as the catcher of the future this season.
First Base: Anthony Rizzo
Two things jumped out at me about Anthony Rizzo since his call-up. The first was that he is a terrific defender at first. The second actually happened at the Cubs Convention this year when I really got to see him up close, and that is how big he is. He looks about as well put together as any baseball player I can think of. His hitting is tremendous, but he was known for that when he came over from the Padres. This season is going to be a challenge for Rizzo. How will he fare in Wrigley when the wind is blowing in and it’s cold? How will he adjust to the adjustments being made for him? I can speculate that he’ll be fine, and it is my guess that he will be. If he prepares and plays hard, his at-bats should continue to be positive. I am not sold that he will double his numbers from last season and become a 30 HR/ 100 RBI guy this season. I do think he will hit between 25 and 30 home runs, though, and probably drive in 80-90 runs. Those are Derek Lee type numbers, and he has a Derek Lee type glove, so we’ll take it…all while trying to remember he turns 24 this August.
Second Base: Darwin Barney
I’m not even going to hide it…I love Darwin Barney. I love that he hustles. I love that he takes pride in his defense. I love that he thinks the team can go to the playoffs this season. I love it all. I don’t even mind his career .305 on-base percentage. I’m not saying I would mind seeing that come up some, but I don’t even see it as that big of a problem for a guy who will likely be hitting in the lower third of the order. I do believe some of his on-base issues are with hitting so low in the order. A guy hitting in front of the pitcher with an offense like the Cubs had last season wasn’t going to get any free passes, and was going to get attacked. That shows in his numbers from last season against his numbers from his previous work in the bigs. If his offense rebounds at all, and he defends his Gold Glove, he will be the same steady player you’re used to seeing.
Third Base: Ian Stewart
I’m still going with Stewart here because it’s been a week and nobody is grabbing the bull by the horns and taking the job this spring. Brent Lillibridge is not going to be the every day third baseman. Luis Valbuena had a great winter and has started off well this spring, but I think everyone who has a say in the matter knows that he is a utility player. Josh Vitters has the same problems he had last season and seems ticketed for Iowa to work on his hitting and defense. Junior Lake is built like a third baseman, but hasn’t done anything to prove he deserves to be in Chicago, yet. It may be Ian Stewart’s job to win, but it’s not like anyone else has grabbed the bull by the horns and taken the spot. My feeling is, when Stewart gets back into action this spring, if he shows anything at the plate, and shows he is still the good athlete that Dale Sveum liked at third last season, he will be there on Opening Day. And he should be. The Cubs gave up a lot to bring him in. The sample size he showed last season is not anywhere close to enough to determine is he is a bust.
Shortstop: Starlin Castro
Entering his fourth big league season, the veteran of the group is the nearly 23 year old Starlin Castro. He hit .283 last year, and seems genuinely upset about it. That is a scary good thought. If he can be the .300 hitter he was in his first two seasons, increase his power to the extent that everyone seems to think he can, and keep the steady improvement of his defense going, he is going to be a lock for the All-Star team he’s already made twice. Don’t be fooled by his error totals, either. A number of those were early last season. And after the San Francisco debacle, his attentiveness improved dramatically throughout the season. As the only player to go all 162 last season, I would expect nothing less than continued improvement*.
*If you’re on the “he’s a bum and it’s time to trade him” wagon, you’re an idiot. Starlin Castro might be the best young shortstop in the game, and he’s 22. He’s not anywhere close to his prime, so I will repeat myself…when that kid grows up, he’s going to be really, really, really good.*
Bench: Luis Valbuena, Brent Lillibridge
Both of these guys offer quite a bit of versatility, but neither is an attractive option at first base. Lillibridge is a super-utility player, who can play all over the infield and can give you some innings in the corner outfield, also. Dale Sveum loves his versatility, so I expect him to break camp with the major league team. Valbuena is similar in that he can play second, short, and third. He’s another nice piece off the bench who is capable of giving a regular a day off. First base is likely to be backed up by Castillo and Navarro because there really is nobody else. Lillibridge can do it, but being 5’11” makes him a bit short for the job.
Starting with the outfield in breaking down the season seems to be pretty easy. There are no spots up in the air at this point, as all three spots are filled. Actually, the only question in the outfield is who the fifth and final outfielder on the roster is going to be.
Right Field: Nate Schierholtz/ Scott Hairston
The most interesting spot in the outfield is the one with the platoon. Newcomers Nate Schierholtz and Scott Hairston offer a little bit more of what a corner outfielder should be in their ability to hit for power than David DeJesus did for much of last season, but neither of them is a long term solution to the side that has been most problematic since the departure of Sammy Sosa. They are mere placeholders for top prospect, Jorge Soler, who figures to be the long term solution to what has been a revolving door for eight seasons.
Nate Schierholtz was signed to a one year deal, and is finally getting the chance to be an everyday player (for the most part). As a former top prospect in the Giants’ system, he sports 24 career home runs, which is a season’s worth for a player you’d want starting in a corner outfield position. Nate’s defense has never been at issue. The biggest factor for him coming to Wrigley may be the most challenging RF corner in the game, where the summer sun can make routine fly balls a little more adventuresome than they should be.
Scott Hairston is another player who has not been the everyday player over the course of his nine years, but did show some pop in his bat, hitting 25 long balls last season. Brother of former Cub, Jerry Hairston, Jr., Scott has the bloodlines to be a good player, but hasn’t gotten the opportunity to be one on an everyday basis. Considering how long he’s been around, there is likely a reason for that. There is no reason to think he won’t be productive this year, but a 32 year old on a two year contract makes him a placeholder for Soler.
Center Field: David DeJesus
DeJesus is a little more suited to play center with the numbers he puts up and his defensive ability. His willingness to work counts and take a walk makes him a favorite of Dale Sveum and the front office, as his approach is the one the organization is working to install into all of its hitters. As a fan of the game, I admire what DDJ does for the team. He’s a veteran leader who will give the team four professional at-bats each day. As an objective (as much as possible) observer, I would prefer to see someone like DeJesus hitting seventh. The fact that this is the lead-off hitter speaks to how incomplete the rebuilding process is. David DeJesus could very well find himself on another roster at the deadline this year if Brett Jackson’s progress with his swing continues at the pace it seems to have been. He could end up being this season’s Bryan LaHair…displaced by one of the up and coming prospects, and my feeling is, if Jackson gets to Chicago this season (likely), he will be there to play, and he will be there to play everyday.
Left Field: Alfonso Soriano
If Fonsi can repeat what he did last season, he’s going to command a high price at the deadline. I do not see Soriano going anywhere. Either the coaching staff and front office mean what they say about him and his value to the team as a player and a leader for young players, and truly believe he is a valuable piece of the immediate process of building toward the future by teaching young players like Starlin Castro and Jorge Soler to be professionals and how to deal with being highly touted prospects, or their words are pricing any potential suitors for him out of the market. I think the team believes the former, but the latter is probably a bi-product of it. As such, I am pretty confident that Soriano is going to be the left fielder for the Chicago Cubs through the 2014 season. And I am confident that he will hit 20+ HRs and drive in 85+ runs each of the next two seasons. If he is able to play at the defensive level that he did last season, I don’t have any problem with it.
Reserves: Dave Sappelt
I am projecting Sappelt to win this last outfield spot. He can play all three positions and his bat is not a liability. He stands to be the front-runner to lock up the last spot in a crowded outfield.
Quantity and quality are not the same thing. The Cubs’ outfield is a prime example of that. Soriano is the best of them, and his numbers say he’s a solid player out there. David DeJesus is best suited as a fourth outfielder, given his versatility, defensive prowess, and his mediocre bat. Neither of the right fielders in the platoon sparks much confidence in big numbers, which is exactly why they are in a platoon to begin with. The outfield is very obviously waiting for the arrivals of Brett Jackson on a permanent basis, Jorge Soler, and Albert Almora. Until that time, there are going to be stop gap players and guys playing above their ability. The production should improve in the outfield this season from right field, which is to say there should be some. The defense should be strong. But don’t bother buying any of their jerseys…they won’t be around long.
While we all sit and laugh as Ryan Braun tries to continue convincing people outside of Wisconsin (because people here are delusional and still think he’s innocent) that he didn’t use synthetic testosterone, some Cubs Spring Training bullets…
- Today, on Twitter, I discovered Meghan Montemurro, Cubs (and Sox…but who cares) beat writer for the Northwestern Herald, is all over it. She’s been dropping knowledge from Cubs’ Camp all day. Follow her @M_Montemurro. You won’t be disappointed.
- Among her topics covered are Jorge Soler and Javier Baez, and how they will be used this spring. She says that they will likely play together during spring games. That should make for an interesting opportunity to see the two biggest names in the Cubs’ system on the field at the same time. Soler is expected to play in both corner outfield slots.
- Soler says he’s going to be in the majors next year. That’s a lofty goal, and some serious talk out of a guy who hasn’t played much in the last couple of years and is likely going to Kane County to open 2013…but I love the fire and confidence. Based on the show that everyone in Mesa is reporting he put on today in batting practice, it’s an exciting thought. With him working in left and right field, he could be a legitimate option to replace Alfonso Soriano when his contract expires after 2014, should Soriano be on the roster that long. Dale Sveum says Soler is not on a fast track to Chicago, though. That seems to fit the “they’ll be up when they’re ready” approach the organization is taking with its prospects.
- Carlos Villanueva thinks he can throw 200 innings this season…which is a lot more than he ever has. For what it’s worth, Dale Sveum says he’s in better shape and has a more mature attitude than he did in Milwaukee. I can see the conditioning part of it. Beer and cheese curds tend to hurt the physique (speaking from experience more than my knowledge of his diet), but it’s great news on attitude. I think we all know he’s going to be a key guy out of the ‘pen. Travis Wood throwing well seems to work to his favor. Wood would be the only lefty in the rotation.
- Dale Sveum acknowledged 3B Ian Stewart was away from the team after surgery (which anyone who follows Stewart on Twitter already knew a long time ago), but didn’t think it was a big deal. Sveum did say he told Stewart that he could have been around a bit more. As far as rehab goes, a lot of players stay (like Garza) and a lot of players like to go off on their own (like Stewart). I don’t think it’s anything to be worried about from a character standpoint. Some players go away because it bothers them to be around and not be able to contribute. It really boils down to “to each their own” when it comes to rehabbing injuries. Sveum also said he thinks Stewart can hit 15-25 HRs and drive in between 75 and 100 runs. That would be in the Aramis Ramirez zone of production…so we would all take it. Gladly.
- Some of the people who have seen Brett Jackson’s reworked swing are saying his hands are lower, especially his back hand, and his bat speed seems to be just as good as it’s always been. That’s good news for his power. It’ll take live pitching to see how well he’s done with reworking his swing, but early reports seem to be positive. Bleacher Nation has video of the swing posted, here.
- Dale Sveum said Matt Garza looked better today than he did the other day. Hopefully, his elbow issue is behind him. I am still in the corner of extending him for a reasonable (Anibal Sanchez like) contract. He’s a great teammate and he’s a pretty good pitcher, too. Plus, if you listened to him at the Cubs Convention at all, the man is hilarious and loves to have fun. At the moment, the Cubs need to have enough a veteran or two on the roster that help keep a young team loose.
There is a lot of info circulating about position players at Cubs camp…which is great news, since they’re not due in camp until tomorrow.