The combination of springing forward and getting my first dose of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine has me feeling a bit sluggish, which should come as a benefit to you. I’m going to keep this column short and just hit on a few topics from spring training that will have varying degrees of long-term impact on the Cubs organization.
First up is Jake Marisnick getting onto the field for the first time after being held back due to a balky right calf. The Cubs erred on the side of caution because Marisnick is a role player whose value lies almost exclusively in his speed and who missed most of last season with leg issues. Now good to go, he figures to be their fourth outfielder and a frequent late-game defensive replacement.
Saturday’s contest against the Royals in Surprise featured almost all backups, so the rest of the roster played a simulated game in Mesa. Marisnick led off each of the game’s first five innings — remember, sim game — and collected three hits in that time. While that can’t be expected to continue over a larger sample, it’ll be nice to have a bench player who can excel in a limited role.
When it comes to excelling in a limited role, you can probably find better examples than Craig Kimbrel during his time with the Cubs. The once-elite closer has been anything but since signing midway through the 2019 season, a product of injuries and inconsistent mechanics that have led to him pumping middle-middle fastballs at much lower velo than he’s used to generating.
Part of that could be a matter of doing too many squats while waiting out the expiration of the draft-pick compensation tied to his qualifying offer two years ago. While working out is never a bad thing, problems can arise when Father Time hops on your back to add weight to every rep.
Kimbrel looked like he was at least most of the way back to his old self late last season, kissing triple digits with high heat and bending his curve for strikes, but what we’ve seen so far this spring is not good. He has been sitting low-mid 90’s with the fastball and even the outs he gets are loud, but the Cubs are hoping a few tweaks can get him back in the right lane.
93, 94, 94 on subsequent fastballs, two of which were hit on the screws in the air for outs.
— Evan Altman (@DEvanAltman) March 9, 2021
“So, I’ll touch base with him, see how he’s feeling this morning, and we’ll try to tackle that and make sure he feels good, or gets back to finding those keys and the mechanics that we’ve identified.”
Maybe I’m just being paranoid, but it’s never a good thing when the manager is speaking publicly about issues like this. It’s not a matter of throwing a veteran under the bus or anything, it’s just that the admission of something being wrong rather than the decreased velo being a function of ramping up is worrisome.
That said, the Cubs and Kimbrel identified issues last season that had been hurting his performance. He was setting up differently prior to throwing the curve, enabling hitters to lay off, and his release point was causing the fastball to sit lower in the zone. Some small corrections led to major improvements in his last eight outings, now we just have to hope he can do that again.
Shifting from near-term fear to long-term hope, we find stud outfield prospect Brennen Davis. Drafted in 2018, the former two-sport standout from Gilbert, AZ is only now ready to play his first full season as a pro. In the meantime, he was able to spend the 2020 campaign at the Cubs’ alternate site in South Bend and he’s been in big league camp this spring.
‘‘He’s becoming a man right in front of [our eyes],’’ Ross said recently. ‘‘Every time I see him, I’m like, ‘This guy’s just one of the best athletes every time he steps out on the field.’ It’s been fun to watch that.’’
Davis is still a little raw because he didn’t focus solely on baseball in high school, but his superior athleticism has allowed him to make up all that ground and then some over players who may have specialized earlier. He is CI’s No. 1 overall prospect in the system and should make a lot of noise in Double-A Tennessee this season as long as he stays healthy.
Though it doesn’t quite make up for the possibility that Kimbrel has lost the edge, seeing Davis coming into his own over the past year has been pretty cool. It’ll be even cooler if he continues along the very steep developmental path he’s set for himself.