Sizing up Cubs position players in training camp
MESA, Ariz. -- Position players officially "reported" for Cubs spring training Tuesday even though many have been in Arizona for some time.
A few worked out at the practice fields next to Sloan Park, and fans lined up from home plate to down the first-base line to watch. Imagine what it will be like when formal workouts start and the Cactus League games begin.
"We're excited, but we've got to be tame, too," said first baseman Anthony Rizzo, who has been through the bad days and the good with the Cubs. "This is the time of year everyone is excited. Belief here is a lot higher, but we've got a lot of work to do just in spring training to get to where we want to be in April, get to where we want to be when the first game starts."
With position players, there are few jobs to be won on a roster that appears almost set. Let's take a walk around the diamond and see how the roster shakes out.
Miguel Montero is back as the No. 1, with veteran David Ross backing up and catching left-hander Jon Lester every fifth day. Ross says he'll retired at the end of this season. Kyle Schwarber continues to work behind the plate, but he'll see most of his time in left field.
If you're looking for a prospect to watch, it's Willson Contreras, a 23-year-old who was added to the 40-man roster this winter. At Class AA Tennessee last year, Contreras put up a line of .333/.413/.478 with 8 homers and 75 RBI. He could see some major-league time this year, perhaps as a September call-up.
Here is where things look interesting, not as far as winning jobs, but in manager Joe Maddon finding playing time for certain people.
The Cubs are set with Rizzo at first, newcomer Ben Zobrist at second, Kris Bryant at third and Addison Russell at shortstop.
At this point, the backup infielders look to be Tommy La Stella and Javier Baez. La Stella missed most of last season because of rib-cage inflammation, which limited him to 33 big-league games.
Baez, who has prodigious power potential, took over for Russell at shortstop in Game 3 of the division series against the Cardinals after Russell suffered a hamstring injury that ended his postseason.
Beginning this year, Baez finds himself as a bench player looking for swings.
"These are some wonderful problems right there," Maddon said. "You've got to be mindful in advance. You've got to look at who you're going to be playing, who's going to be pitching, whether you want to give somebody a day off. Game in progress in the National League, a lot of these guys will play coming off the bench."
Arismendy Alcantara, who has 81 games of major-league experience over the past two seasons, is in camp, but he's a long shot to make the team.
On the prospect watch, Jeimer Candelario made the 40-man roster after going .291/.379/.462 with 5 homers at Class A Myrtle Beach.
The Cubs have size in the outfield with Schwarber in left, Jason Heyward in center and Jorge Soler in right. Heyward is a Gold Glove-winning right fielder who now moves to center field. Maddon does not sound worried about the switch for the athletic and smart Heyward.
"I don't understand why people would have any trepidation about this whatsoever," Maddon said. "I've watched this guy cover immense amounts of ground. Our corner in right field is kind of funky, as you know. He played that extremely well. I saw him in the big gap in St. Louis. He's really good at coming in on the ball. The biggest thing is the communication part of it because he's in the middle of two other guys.
"He just kind of smirked at me because he said that's pretty much what he did even as a right fielder in St. Louis, the fact that he was vocal in the outfield, even right field."
Chris Coghlan is back, and he likely will spell Schwarber in late innings for defense. Former Cub Matt Murton, a nonroster player, has returned from a solid career in Japan. Matt Szczur saw action in 47 games for the Cubs last season. He is out of minor-league options. Albert Almora, the team's top draft pick in 2012, is a nonroster man. At Tennessee last year, he had a line of .272/.327/.400 with 6 homers and 46 RBI.
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