Spring Training Assessment
With Opening Day less than a week away, it’s time to assess the Cubs and determine what we can come to expect in the upcoming season. There have been some positives and negatives that have emerged. Let’s take a closer look.
In his first full season as a Major League Manager, Mike Quade has been impressive with the way he has conducted himself in Spring Training. Quade has demonstrated that he is a hands on type of guy. He brings a ton of energy to the ballpark and that has to rub off on the players. I have heard reports of how Quade has been actively involved in every phase of the game. When he spots a mistake, it is immediately addressed. Mike Quade has proven that he is one of the guys, which is important to teamwork. He doesn’t maintain the distance that other managers might keep between him and his players. Perhaps, that is the reason that the players have responded in a positive manner. Anyway, I like what I have seen thus far. He is an honest, candid, and a no non-sense man on a mission. He has gained my confidence that he was indeed, the right man for the job.
Mike Quade and the Cubs are in the process of trimming the opening day roster, which is no easy task. Many players have already been optioned to the minor leagues. One of the biggest questions revolve around the starting rotation. Ryan Dempster, Carlos Zambrano, and Matt Garza will be the top three starters. Randy Wells has had a good Spring and has earned the #4 spot. Carlos Silva thought that he deserved to pitch in the starting rotation but didn’t back it up. His performance this Spring was terrible. He had an ERA over 10 and was optioned to Triple A, but refuses to go. The Cubs will most likely try to trade him. Braden Looper had a rough Spring and consequently, did not make the team. He decided to hang it up and retire once again. Andrew Cashner was named the 5th starter, however, I am not so sure that he is the right fit for that role. Cashner has done very well in relief. He has the tools to be an awesome set-up guy. Last season, he opened our eyes. Many people feel that he would make a good starting pitcher, but even while he has earned a spot in the rotation, Cashner has not really demonstrated his effectiveness in that role. Personally, I think Sean Marshall is better suited, but I cannot argue his effectiveness and value in the bullpen. Another possibility is Kerry Wood, although like Marshall, that is unlikely to happen. The only other option for the Cubs would be to trade for a solid starting pitcher and move Cashner back to the bullpen where he can be the most effective. Hopefully, Cashner will settle into his new role, but time will tell.
The Cubs have a similar outfield situation to the one they had last year. Alfonso Soriano will be the left fielder. Of course, he will need to have a good year and stay healthy. He will need to produce if he wants to keep the Cubs’ faithful off his back. Marlon Byrd has had a good Spring and promises to be a team leader. Right field is where the problem lies. The Cubs have Kosuke Fukudome, who has not done well at all. It seems like he has nothing to offer the Cubs but defense. It may be time to unload him and get it over with. Tyler Colvin can definitely hit, but his defense remains a bit shaky. I do not share most Cubs’ fans optimism concerning Colvin. He simply needs to work on his defense. Reed Johnson was re-acquired this offseason. Reed will definitely help the Cubs this year, particularly against left-handers. If I had my way, I would platoon Soriano and Colvin in left, move Marlon Byrd to right, and bring up Brett Jackson to play center and lead off.
The infield needs to tighten up the defense. Darwin Barney has earned the job at second base, period. Blake Dewitt and Jeff Baker can be used as back-ups. Barney has shown all the signs of a promising second baseman. He has won me over this Spring. He has the right attitude and work ethic to succeed.
Carlos Pena remains a bit of a mystery. He is a gold glove first baseman, but his hitting still needs work. He has the left-handed power that the Cubs were looking for, but still struggles at the plate. Pena has a lightning-fast bat, but has difficulty with pitch recognition. Hopefully, that will improve and he can raise his batting average to a respectable level.
Finally, Geovanny Soto will be the primary catcher, but there is much debate over who should back him up. Koyie Hill handles the pitching staff well, but simply cannot hit. Wellington Castillo has had an incredible Spring, batting over .600, but the Cubs will probably elect to send him back to the minors where he can get regular playing time. That is unfortunate. How much more does Castillo have to do to prove that he is ready for the big leagues. He is way better than Hill who has contributed nothing to the offense or the defense. Wellington Castillo has earned a spot on the Cubs’ roster, pure and simple. To deny him the opportunity to play in the big leagues would be a travesty.
Well, Mike Quade and the Cubs’ front office still have work to do. There remains much to be optimistic about, however, there also remains some wrinkles to work out and decisions to be made. Let’s hope the Cubs can figure it out. As Spring Training winds down, Opening Day will soon be upon us. It’s time to “Play Ball!” I can’t wait.