Young Cubs outfielders making an impression


Young Cubs outfielders making an impression

By Jason P. Skoda contributor

MESA, Ariz. The Cubs outfield is for the over 30 crowd.

Alfonso Soriano is 36, David DeJesus is 32 and Marlon Byrd is 35. The fourth outfielder is slated be Reed Johnson and he is 35.

All have produced in the past, but have shown signs of wear and tear in recent years.
Enter Brett Jackson, 23, Matt Szczur, 22 and even Tony Campana, 25.

Any slip ups, injuries or maybe even a shakeup of the clubhouse after a bad couple of weeks and the youngsters just might be ready to take over.

While Campana, who had two hits on Sunday in a 7-5 10-inning loss to the White Sox at HoHoKam Stadium, made his major-league debut last season, Jackson, as everyone knows, is the next big thing at Wrigley Field.

When you see him in person, its been pretty impressive, every part of his game, Cubs manager Dale Sveum said earlier this week. He comes to play every game. He comes to kick the other teams butt. Theres no doubt about it. A very aggressive, confident kid whos probably going to end up playing here a long time.

The feeling is the current contingent of outfielders are far from done otherwise there would be more of a push to keep Jackson on the roster on Opening Day.

Byrd has lost a ton of weight and is gliding better in the outfield, DeJesus just signed a two-year, 10-million deal this offseason and Soriano has lessened his leg kick and seemingly found a groove this spring at the plate.

"The other day, Brett Jackson was hitting a ball down the line and pushing into second," Byrd told the Chicago Tribune. "The next time I get up, I'm like, 'All right, he hit it down the line. I'm doing the same thing.' These kids can play, and that's the exciting thing."
Sveum, of course, feels that way after taking over the top spot in the Cubs dugout this season with the expectation of being around long enough to benefit from the young talent down the line.

I dont see why he wouldnt be ready, he said of Jackson. Maybe just develop the last part of his game as a little bit better two-strike hitter and not putting himself in some of those counts with swinging and missing. As far as the ability or anything, I dont see what else has to happen.

Szczur, who will start the season at Double-A Tennessee after spending 2011 in Single-A Peoria and Daytona, is still getting at-bats because of a strong of split-squad games despite getting sent down.

Its a huge honor to still be here, Szczur said after going 0-for-3 on Sunday. When I am up here, getting one at-bat here or one at-bat there its hard but it is still a chance to show them something.

Bench coach Jamie Quirk said the extra look is vital for a young player like Szczur.
Its great for the young guys to get four or five at-bats, said Quirk, who managed in Arizona while Sveum was in Las Vegas. Its mental toughness. They get to keep playing and show their skills. Anytime they can show their skills it is a plus.

Szczur said the idea of playing with Jackson, who is hitting .318 with a home run and five RBIs in 22 at-bats, in the confines of Wrigley someday has crossed his mind, but he is more focused on the present day.

We just go out there and play, said Szczur, who is hitting .158 in 19 spring at-bats. It is exciting to see us out there together. Were having fun. I have to worry about the day-by-day for now but I am excited to see what happens.

Notes: The Cubs will play a B game Monday against the Indians at Goodyear with right-hander Randy Wells getting the start. Right-hander Chris Volstad had another solid outing, giving up one earned (his first of the spring), in four innings against Texas in Las Vegas. He allowed four hits and struck out three. The crowd of 12,469 was the second largest of the spring for the Cubs after getting 13,245 on Friday.

State of the Cubs: Second base

State of the Cubs: Second base

As the Cubs maneuver through a pivotal offseason, we will break down the current state of the team by sectioning it off into position groups. Here is the fifth installment on the second basemen.

Second base was the only position group the Cubs had close to starter-level at-bats available this winter, but that is probably no longer the case with Tuesday's signing of Daniel Descalso.

The Cubs entered December with only Ben Zobrist as a true second base option for 2019 with Daniel Murphy a free agent and Javy Baez sliding over to shortstop full time for at least the first month of the season (or longer if Addison Russell is not a part of the team's plans after his suspension).

The Descalso move changes the middle infield equation quite a bit:

Depth chart

1. Ben Zobrist
2. Daniel Descalso
3. David Bote
4. Addison Russell?

First, the Russell/Baez aspect. 

It's still not guaranteed Russell will be back on the active roster when his suspension is up in early May, which would create a larger hole on the middle infield depth chart.

But for right now, Russell is under contract and he may be a part of the active roster in the first week of May, so if he does return, how does that change the shortstop/second base rotation?

Speaking strictly about his on-field production, Russell's offense has left a lot to be desired over the last few years, but his defense has been elite. An active Russell on the roster would mean the Cubs could have arguably the best middle infield defense in the game with him at short and Baez at second. 

The Cubs could start Russell a few times a week at shortstop and play Baez over there the rest of the time. When Russell plays short, Baez can play second or he can go to third and move Kris Bryant to the outfield. On days Baez starts at shortstop, the Cubs can bring Russell off the bench to play shortstop and move Baez to one of the other spots to improve their late-game infield defense.

For the first month of the season, expect to see Descalso and Zobrist man second base a majority of the time. Zobrist will still only play 4-5 times a week as the Cubs look to continue the plan that made the veteran utilty guy one of the top comeback stories in the league in 2018, with a heavy dose of rest and some regular time in the outfield and away from the demanding position of second base.

Descalso's career splits are essentially the same, so even though he's a left-handed hitter, he can still draw starts against southpaws, allowing Zobrist to spell Jason Heyward or Kyle Schwarber in the outfield.

Either way, Ian Happ appears to be out of the second base equation for the Cubs. The young switch-hitter did not draw a start at second in 2018, playing only two games and 3 innings at the position.

What's next?

Probably not much, save for a few non-roster invitees that could surprise in spring training. The Cubs have next to no infield depth in the minor leagues at the moment, but that will change as the winter goes on.

The big-league roster does not have much room, though the big question mark that remains is Russell and where/if he is included from May on.

The Cubs could opt to keep Bote in the minors to start the year and add another veteran on the bench, but as of right now, Bote's league-minimum salary, versatility and stellar glove are awfully enticing.

The bottom line

The Cubs' second basemen are going to have an average age of 35 in 2018 (at least to start) with Zobrist (38) and Descalso (32) manning the position.

State of the Cubs: SP
State of the Cubs: RP
State of the Cubs: C
State of the Cubs: 1B
State of the Cubs: 2B

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Cubs fill multiple needs with Daniel Descalso signing

Cubs fill multiple needs with Daniel Descalso signing

The Cubs have crossed multiple items off their winter checklist.

After The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal reported the deal Tuesday morning, the club confirmed the two-year, $5 million pact with veteran Daniel Descalso, including an option for a third year. He will make $1.5 million in 2019, $2.5 million in 2020 and there is a $3.5 million option in 2021 or the Cubs are on the hook for a $1 million buyout.

Descalso fills a lot of needs for the Cubs this offseason as a veteran known as a quality leader in the clubhouse/dugout, middle infield depth and another left-handed bat.

The 32-year-old is coming off a career season with the Arizona Diamondbacks in which he set new highs in homers (13), RBI (57), walks (64), OPS (.789), OPS+ (106), on-base percentage (.353), slugging percentage (.436) and runs scored (54).

He also played all over the diamond, recording time at second base (52 games), third base (37 games), first base (11 games), DH (7 games) and left field (5 games). He even pitched in two games, so he could be an option for manager Joe Maddon if the Cubs need some position players for mop-up duty again in 2019. Descalso has played a lot of shortstop in his career, as well, but he's recorded just 2 innings at the position since the start of the 2017 season so it's more likely the Cubs are interested in him as primarily a second/third baseman with the ability to move around more in the Ben Zobrist utility role if the need arises.

Descalso began his career with the St. Louis Cardinals, coming up through their system as a third-round draft pick in 2007 and spending 5 seasons with the Cubs' divisional rivals. He then moved on to the Colorado Rockies for 2015-16 before the two-year stint with the D-Backs.

With his journey around the NL, Descalso has made the postseason five different times, notching 48 games on baseball's biggest stage in October and posting a .226/.286/.387 slash line (.671 OPS) in those contests.

Descalso is an affordable option for the Cubs, who have said over and over again this winter they are operating on a tight budget. The multi-year commitment can help him grow and develop into a leadership role in the Cubs clubhouse with more security and stability than a one-year deal provides.

Descalso effectively takes Tommy La Stella's place on the Cubs roster as a more versatile infield option and provides some more pop/leadership though with a lower batting average than La Stella. 

The Cubs needed some infield depth heading into 2019, especially with Addison Russell out for at least the first month of the season on suspension and his status unknown beyond that point. Descalso can split time at second base with Zobrist, allowing the Cubs to follow the same rest forumla that helped the 2016 World Series MVP have a resurgent season last year (.305 AVG, .817 OPS).

The signing allows Maddon plenty of quality options on a given day, letting him choose a lineup from Descalso, Zobrist, Albert Almora Jr., Ian Happ, Kyle Schwarber, Jason Heyward and David Bote.

The Cubs have an interest in a more stable lineup/playing time equation in 2019, but it's never a bad thing to have more versatiity and depth on the roster.

Descalso may also be a fit for the Cubs at leadoff when he plays given he has posted a healthy walk rate the last three years includng a sparkling 15.1 percent in 2018. The veteran had success in that role last year (.357.412/.857 slash line) but in only 17 plate appearances and over his career, Descalso is hitting just .168 with a .266 OBP and .584 OPS in 24 starts in the leadoff spot.

The Cubs still figure to add another bullpen arm or two this winter and should add more shortstop depth behind Javy Baez.

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