While it’s not the kind of news that figured to make my list of five things to watch in Spring Training, the announcement that Albert Almora and Duane Underwood (I left the suffixes off because I can never decide whether it’s supposed to be “, Jr.” or “, Jr” or just “Jr,” so I have chosen to stand on the principles of laziness) is nonetheless interesting. Well, inasmuch as a couple of guys with no chance to make the roster being part of the big-league camp can be considered interesting. Then again, as a not-so-closeted Almora honk, I relish any chance to see the kid play.
Underwood is definitely an up-and-comer, though he hasn’t been present on the recent lists of the top 100 or so prospects in baseball. Not that that is a death knell by any means, just that he’s still a bit under the radar. I’ve only had one opportunity to see the kid pitch in person and it wasn’t pretty. My arrival at the ballpark in Winston-Salem for the opener of the second round of the Pelicans’ playoff run was marked by the crack of a two-run home run off a Dash bat. No sooner had I found my seat than a second crack marked a second home run. I know that one game does not a player make, though, and Underwood has got all kinds of potential.
In addition to the two rising prospects, the Cubs invited 16 other non-roster players to Spring traing. Nine of those offers went to pitchers: righties Stephen Fife, Brandon Gomes, Jean Machi, Felix Pena, Jonathan Pettibone, Armando Rivero, and Drew Rucinski will join lefties Luis Cruz and Jack Leathersich.
And because they don’t already have enough catchers, the Cubs are bringing in Taylor Davis and Tim Federowicz to get work behind the plate. They’ll work out infielders Jesus Guzman, Munenori Kawasaki (he of the mad GIF skillz) and Kristopher Negron, along with outfielders John Andreoli and Juan Perez as well. I’m not saying these guys have no shot, but if this group was auditioning for 8 Mile, they’d all be reading for the role of Cheddar Bob. Then again, he did have a shot.
These are a lot of organizational depth players, so I don’t think we can expect to see too much from them once camp opens. At the same time, it’s possible one of them comes out of nowhere or finds a spot due to an injury. It’s most likely the next time we’ll near most of these names again — outside of the box scores from split-squad games, that is — will probably be on the waiver wire. Then again, it’s not as though a roster is built on Day 1 and maintained as such for a whole season.
With Almora and Underwood, however, being in camp is about rubbing elbows with guys who are likely to be their future teammates at some point in the future. That may not be in 2016, although if his bat keeps up in AAA I could see AA making his way to Chicago when rosters expand. His glove though? Man, I love to watch him play center. Underwood finished 2015 in advanced-A, so it’ll be a couple more years before he’s ready to contribute for the Cubs, but I’m interested to see what he can do against the big boys.
Pitchers and catchers report tomorrow, right?