MESA, Ariz. — The Cubs have won the World Series. 

They have an everyday lineup packed with young position players that aren't going anywhere anytime soon.

Sprinkle in a few veterans and the Cubs' big-league roster is already overflowing with talent, to the point where everybody's favorite barroom game right now is trying to figure out how everybody plays.

So why don't we throw another name in there? 

Jeimer Candelario is enjoying a breakout spring for the Cubs, leading the team in hits, (8), runs (5), games played (9) and at-bats (24) through the first week-and-a-half of game action.

The 23-year-old infielder has five hits in six at-bats in the Cubs' last two games before leaving Sunday's game after getting hit on the ankle with a pitch against the Texas Rangers. He was a homer shy of the cycle on Saturday against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

"He's just different this year," Joe Maddon said. "He's more comfortable. ... He watches, he listens, he's quiet, but he's engaged. He's engaged really well. He's gonna be a nice player."

This is actually Candelario's second big-league camp with the Cubs and he made his major-league debut — and appeared in five games — as an injury call-up during the first week of July last year.

Maddon sees a guy that's more comfortable in his "major-league skin," an assessment Candelario agreed with. He said he feels more comfortable in the clubhouse, surrounded by players and coaches he already knows in a situation he's already been through.

"The way they take care of you — the teammates, how they treat you, how they respect you and how they go about your business," Candelario said, "it really gives you confidence and good rhythm here in big-league camp.

 

"When you don't know everybody well, you are kinda quiet and in your own spot. But right now, I know everybody here and I feel confidence and I feel blessed to be here with these great teammates and great people and great talent."

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Candelario exploded in spring training last year, too, hitting .350 with a 1.056 OPS and seven extra-base hits (four doubles, three homers).

But then he was sent back down to the minors — Double-A Tennessee, to be exact — where he struggled to the tune of a .219 average and .690 OPS in 56 games. He finished the year on a tear after being called up to Triple-A Iowa in June, hitting .333 with a .959 OPS in 76 games.

"Love the guy," Maddon said. "He showed it to us last spring. I think he went out at the beginning of last season and might've applied a little bit too much pressure to himself. Finally, the numbers righted themselves by the end of the year.

"... I think part of it was, he did so well here and then goes back. These are kids. The expectations they fill themselves with, sometimes, are unrealistic, like 'Oh, I did well in spring training, it should be easy.' Then all of a sudden, it's not and then you start to panic.

"I have a lot of faith in this kid. ... For me, the maturation for him is he feels good in his own skin. When that happens, heads up. It's like finding your voice; he's not quite there yet, but he's approaching that Stage 3: I belong here, I can do this.

"He's getting real close to that, from what I can gather. And once he really arrives there, heads up, 'cause he's got some big-boy tools."

Candelario's Triple-A explosion last season netted him spots on Baseball America's Top 10 Cubs prospects (7th) and Baseball Prospectus (5th). He did not appear on BP's 2016 list and came in at 10th on BA's rankings.

Candelario has been almost exclusively a third baseman as he climbed the ranks in the Cubs system, but he played 12 games at first base last year and started there in the place of Anthony Rizzo (tight back) Saturday and Sunday in Cactus League play.

Which brings us to where he fits in the big picture with the Cubs.

When you start rattling off the names of guys who can play third base (Kris Bryant, Javy Baez, Tommy La Stella, even Ben Zobrist and Munenori Kawasaki), it seems like a really tough spot for Candelario to crack, even if Maddon loves his defense at the hot corner.

But if Rizzo went down for an extended period of time, Candelario figures to be toward the top of the list as a first base replacement if the Cubs deem his bat ready.

 

Maddon already confirmed Bryant and Baez are the backup first basemen at the big-league level right now, but if Candelario keeps hitting the way he has, he may force his way into the lineup if a need arises.

Even in the outfield, though he's never played there in the six seasons he's been in the Cubs system.

"He's the kinda guy you could put in the outfield if you wanted to, but he's so good on the dirt, you'd probably like to leave him there," Maddon said. "However, if the bat comes and these spots are taken, then you do something else."