Once More Unto The Breach – The Ivy Drip’s Season Preview: The Outfield
Whereas the Cubs infield actually could be pretty interesting right off the bat, and certainly will be by the middle of the season, the outfield is probably at the other end of the spectrum. There’s the distant light of Kris Bryant possibly in September. but we still don’t know if he’ll actually be an outfielder by then. Until then, there’s a lot of questions and a lot of “guys.” Remember this when it’s Soler, Almora, and Bryant out there in a couple years. You’ll have a good laugh.
Junior Lake – Honestly, I don’t know what to make of ol’ Junior Bunk other than he’s ridiculously entertaining in every sense. When he’s good he looks like he can carry a team. When he’s not he looks like an impressionist painting of anarchy. Both of those are fun to watch though. Lake’s total numbers for last year end up being pretty good to ok. But is 64 games really enough to know? He showed some pop at times, and has this spring. He also never walked and struck out a ton, and both of those are about the only things I can guarantee will happen again. There’s a ton of speed, though it can kind of be in every direction. He’s only played outfield for part of one season, so restricting him as much to left field where there’s the largest margin of error seems the best way to go. You see the athleticism and want to try him in center, but it feels like the Cubs should resist that when they can. Even with that speed Lake stole only four bases last year, and I’d expect that to rise a little with more knowledge. Of course, you can’t help but notice the .377 BABIP and conclude that will drop like an anvil, and when it does and drags his OBP with it, you really start to worry. But he was so raw last year and should have more polish now, it really could be anything. And that’s better than being nothing.
Ryan Sweeney – I’ll admit to liking Ryan Sweeney, inasmuch as you can like anyone like Ryan Sweeney. We know he’ll get hurt, and when he’s not hurt he’ll be more serviceable than you realize. He won’t star or anything. Sweeney fools you in some ways because he looks like a player. He’s got a sweet swing, an athlete’s glide in center (before he runs into a wall) and you just feel like he’s letting you down even though he’s putting up decent numbers. The thing is Sweeney has only had one really bad year out of five full ones in the majors, and that was in Boston. Other than that he’s basically been average, hitting between .260-.280 and getting on base somewhere in the .330-.340 range. He showed a little more power than he previously had last year with six homers in 70 games, but that could be due to playing in Wrigley instead of Oakland. Wouldn’t expect much more. Sweeney won’t really let you down, but he won’t make you notice either. A perfect placeholder, really.
Nate Schierholtz – There’s a temptation to look at Schierholtz’s career-high in homers with 21 and doubles with 32 and conclude he had a great season. Don’t. While he maintained some power in the second half, those 10 homers were just about the only hits he got in July-September. His second half OBP was .286. He hit .230. His K’s skyrocketed. It was a vicious market correction, and Schierholtz isn’t as bad of a player as he was in the 2nd half. But he’s not as good as he was in the 1st half. Again, another placeholder.
Justin Ruggiano – There’s always a player the Cubs sign in the winter that I just decide I’m going to hate until they prove me wrong. Ruggiano is this year’s, following Brent Lillibridge last year (thankfully that lasted only two weeks or so). Ruggiano put up an impressive 91 games for the Marlins in 2012, and then wasn’t very good in a full campaign last year. He strikes out a lot too (sensing a theme with this Cubs team?), and if the goal is to platoon him he’s never hit lefties all that well. I guess he can swipe a bag here and there, but as stupid as it sounds I’d just rather see Josh Vitters or Brett Jackson get these at-bats. They might suck even more, but I feel like I’ve invested too much time in them anyway. Whatever.
Ryan Kalish – The buzz seems to be that he’s going to make the team. They say there was a time when he was a prized Red Sox prospect. He’s had some monster stretches in the minors, with 2010 being the peak that got him a call to Boston. Since then he hasn’t been able to stay healthy at all, playing in 93 games at any level the past three years. You know how I said I want to throw out Mike Olt’s last season? I don’t know that you can throw out three seasons. Kalish never showed too much power when he was healthy but did show a good eye and can take a walk. He could hit a lot of doubles if he’s back to full strength. A flier, but maybe one worth the shot.
Others – Darnell McDonald, Josh Vitters, Brett Jackson, Chris Coghlan: Please don’t make me watch Darnell McDonald ever again. Please. Vitters missed almost all of last year with an injury but was moved to the outfield. He’s still only 24 if you can believe it, and I get this feeling that he could be a better platoon guy than Ruggiano if given the chance. I think he’ll get a look at some point if only to entice a trade. I should probably give up on Jackson but just can’t yet, and everyone said his swing looked much better this time around. He also was racked with injuries last year, and probably only maxes out as another Ryan Sweeney with slightly more power and way more strikeouts. We know Sweeney will get hurt, and one more injury could see Jackson get a chance too. I’m still hopeful, I don’t even know why any more.