Five New Spring Training Storylines

Prior to the start of organized baseball activity in Mesa, I had put together five storylines I’d be watching. Now, that is not to be confused with Patrick Mooney’s five storylines, which, unless I’ve miscounted, only includes four items. I don’t mean to throw shade at Mooney — he is, after all, the Cubs Insider (presented by — just that I only saw four bold topics and kept wondering what I was missing.

Numerical oversight aside, I wanted to review my topics to see if they were still salient now that we’re into our second full week of camp. Not surprisingly, my focus has indeed shifted. You could have just clicked the link I provided earlier (thereby earning me another $0.001 or so in Google ad revenue), but since you care little for my well-being or my kids’ future, I am forced to provide the quick-and-dirty below:

  • Fleshing out the starting rotation
  • Catchers, catchers everywhere
  • Javy Baez in center
  • Sophomore stars
  • Soundbites for days

I hope you’re happy and that failing to follow the link was worth it. Back to the mines, kids! 

Sorry about that, gotta keep the lights on somehow though. Okay, where were we again? Oh yeah: Mooney’s list was pretty similar, if a bit more nuanced, as he laid out Jake Arrieta’s attempt to reprise his Cy Young performance, the puzzles of the rotation and roster itself, and the chemistry of the team in light of the new additions. Solid points, all. But at this point in the season, our attention can and should shift rapidly.

So as we leap out of February and march closer to the regular season, I wanted to take a fresh look at five storylines to follow.

Flip the Switch

I wrote glowingly of Shane Victorino’s potential presence on the roster, advocating for him even if he remained just a right-handed hitter. No sooner had I gotten ready to publish that piece, however, than word came out that the Flyin’ Hawaiian was feeling healthy enough to return to switch-hitting. As with every player not named Pablo Sandoval, Victorino is probably in the best shape of his life, at least the last three years of it, and he’s not yet feeling the effects of the back and hamstring ailments that forced him to abandon the left side in the first place.

If he’s indeed well enough to maintain switch-hitting status, I think that final roster spot is as good as his. Of course, this is all built upon the idea that the Cubs will only be carrying four bench bats, meaning that the options are slim after David Ross, Jorge Soler, and Javy Baez. Which brings me to my next point.

Pitcher/Hitter ratio

In writing about Victorino, I’m operating under the assumption that the Cubs go with eight bullpen pitchers, thus giving them a 13/12 pitcher/hitter mix on the roster. That seems to be the prevailing opinion at this point, though a wealth of multi-inning-capable relievers could allow them to go with 12 pitchers, thereby opening a spot for Tommy La Stella as well.

I was told the other day that it’d be ridiculous to think that the Cubs need to lug around an octopus in the bullpen, that seven arms is plenty. While I agree that they can get by with fewer pitchers, I don’t believe they will. Given the explicit strategy of limiting starters’ innings, not to mention Joe Maddon’s love of exploiting different matchups, I tend to think they’ll load up on as many arms as possible.

How that all breaks down, however, will be very interesting. Does Neil Ramirez recapture his form from two years ago (I don’t think so)? Does someone like CJ, uh…Runamucker? Rosenbagger? Ravenboozer? Gardenhoser? Rulingfurter? Ah…Riefenhauser, I was way off. Anyway, does someone like him or Edgar Olmos jump up to snag a spot?

If the Cubs do go with fewer pitchers, I think we’ll see both TLS and Victorino heading north.

Maddon’s antics

While they have no objectively quantifiable impact on the team’s performance, it’s awesome to see Joe Maddon randomly rolling onto the field in an old-school brown van and just bringing the funk. I love this stuff.

Javy Baez at first base

With Dexter Fowler back in the fold — plus the ability of Jason Heyward to shift over and the potential that Victorino makes the roster — it’s highly unlikely that Baez seems any real time out in center. That doesn’t mean he’s not going to be working at a new position, though, as Maddon has named him the primary backup to Anthony Rizzo at first. Javy’s gonna need an extra bag just for all the gloves he’ll be using this spring.

I’m all for this shift, as anything that enables Baez to get more at-bats is a good move in my book. I also like the idea of getting Rizzo a little more rest from time to time. He has been nothing short of spectacular over the past couple seasons, but it still appeared as though he struggled through occasional periods of fatigue. Whether those were mental or physical or some combination of both, giving him semi-regular breaks could work to the Cubs’ advantage.

So there you have it, five new storylines for Spring Training. Wait, was that…shoot, I’ve only got four. Dammit, Mooney, now you’ve got me doing it.

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