Under Maddon, versatility key to Chicago Cubs bench
The Cubs won't have to wait long to use the designated hitter in regular-season play.
The place should bring a smile to the faces of Cubs fans: Cleveland.
You remember Cleveland. The last time the Cubs were there, they were doing something quite special, and a young DH named Kyle Schwarber was playing a big role, going 7-for-17 as DH and pinch hitter as the Cubs won the World Series in seven games.
It's good bet Schwarber will be the DH when the Cubs return to Cleveland for a two-game series, April 24-25.
For most of the season, though, the Cubs will play by National League rules -- the way manager Joe Maddon says he likes it -- and that means no DH.
What it does mean is a Cubs bench that changes from day to day. In other words, everybody starts and everybody is a bench player on the Cubs.
There will be some constants. Willson Contreras will get most of the starts at catcher, and Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant are everyday players at first base and third base, respectively.
The way the Cubs' depth chart shapes up, Javier Baez is the everyday second baseman, and Addison Russell is the shortstop. But when Russell needs a rest, Baez can shift over to short.
Maddon will face a couple of challenges this season. Veteran Ben Zobrist is a man of many positions, but this looks to be the year in which he gets fewer starts and has to come off the bench more. When Zobrist does start, he will sub for Baez at second and for Jason Heyward in right field.
The other situation to watch will be in center field. Albert Almora Jr. has been the presumptive center-fielder-in-waiting for the past two years, but Ian Happ has been tearing it up at the plate in spring training. If Happ wins the starting job, Almora will be the backup at all three outfield positions.
The Cubs do have a couple of "true" backup players. Tommy La Stella is listed as backup to Bryant at third base. He also can play second and first. Last season, he had a line of .288/.389/.472 with 5 homers in 73 games, splitting time between the big club and Class AAA Iowa. As a pinch hitter, he reached base in 21 of 44 plate appearances.
To back up Contreras behind the plate, the Cubs signed veteran Chris Gimenez to a minor-league contract with an invitation to big-league spring training. It's likely Gimenez will make the team, allowing catching prospect Victor Caratini to get at-bats at Class AAA Iowa.
Overall last season, Cubs pinch hitters went 59-for-248 (. 238) with 5 homers.
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