Cubs spring training: Kyle Schwarber, Javy Baez and the fifth element
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As pitchers and catchers report to Mesa, Ariz., this week, a few Cubs spring training items:
Three Spring Issues
Field-good story? The Cubs are counting so much on the left-handed bat of Kyle Schwarber to pick up where it left off after a powerful 2015 debut that they’ve chosen left field as a sacrificial lamb of a position for Schwarber’s less-than-gold glove. Schwarber, whose struggles in his first, limited foray into outfield play, was immortalized on Deadspin last October (complete with faceplant), has worked hard this winter on outfield play, and his progress there could be one of the most important storylines of the spring for a team that committed $184 million to upgrade a shaky outfield with Gold Glover Jason Heyward. Assuming Schwarber closes a sizeable production gap in his left-right splits, his glove in left could be in play 150 or more games.
Super Javy? A year ago Javy Baez’s exceptional infield skills and unrefined hitting skills created the biggest internal debate among team officials over a roster spot in camp. This time around, Baez is viewed as a potential linchpin for the Cubs’ bench – a possible super-utility player in the mold of new teammate Ben Zobrist, team president Theo Epstein suggested. Already the best overall defensive infielder on the club, Baez said he adjusted quickly to center field during work there in games during winter ball in Puerto Rico. He has the next six weeks to define his role for a projected contender – or start another debate about his future.
Taking the fifth: With the addition of John Lackey to slot into the starting rotation behind Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester, the back end of the starting five suddenly takes on a look of potential depth – and an actual job-battle drama. Despite some outside suggestions that Jason Hammel’s spot is in jeopardy, the Cubs are counting on the right-hander to be their No. 4 and produce more like the 2.86-ERA pitcher he was before a July knee injury hampered him for the rest of the year (5.10 after that). That would make the No. 5 job a spirited battle between newcomer Adam Warren (3.66 in 17 starts for the Yankees in 2015) and incumbent Kyle Hendricks (whose 15-9, 3.49 performance in 45 career starts looks especially impressive for a No. 5). Lefty Clayton Richard could be a fallback in that battle.
Comings and Goings
Arrivals: CF/RF Jason Heyward, RHP John Lackey, 2B/OF Ben Zobrist, RHP Adam Warren, LHP Rex Brothers, LHP Edgar Olmos.
Departures: SS Starlin Castro, CF Dexter Fowler, OF Chris Denorfia, IF Jonathan Herrera, OF Austin Jackson, RHP Dan Haren, LHP Tsuyoshi Wada, RHP Jason Motte, RHP Fernando Rodney, RHP Tommy Hunter.
Friday: Pitchers and catchers report (first workout Saturday)
Feb. 24: First full-squad workout
March 3: Spring training opener vs. Brewers at Maryvale, Ariz. (2:05 p.m.)
March 31-Aprl 1: vs. New York Mets in Las Vegas (7:05 p.m., CSN; 3:05 p.m., Ch. 9)
April 4: Season opener, at Los Angeles Angels (9:05 p.m. ABC-7)