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Season Preview: Cubs Report (part two)
The position players
Part one was focused mainly on the pitching staff. Now it’s time to break down the position players that will presumably start the season for the Cubs.
Willson Contreras - There’s almost no chance that they aren’t going to trade him, so why the hell is he still on the roster? Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want Willson to go, and it’s a joke that they won’t sign him long-term. But what could possibly go wrong if you start a season with a catcher that you clearly want to trade? I mean, those guys hardly ever get hurt, do they? And if he gets hurt and can’t be traded, he’s sure as hell going to leave for nothing after the season. Well played, Cubs. Well played.
Yan Gomes - Every time somebody on Marquee brags about Yan is a “starting caliber catcher” they’re wrong. Well, I mean I guess he is starting caliber if you’re shooting for mediocre and old, which, maybe the Cubs are shooting for. If the plan was for him to be the backup all season, it would be fine. It’s not the plan. So it’s not fine.
Frank Schwindel - Frank seems like a really nice guy. Watching this feature on him on the Cubs YouTube channel (which actually produces really good content, and apparently is never asked to share any of it with the team’s TV network), you can see that.
It would be really cool for Frank to prove himself to be a quality big league hitter and churn out a few quality seasons before he gets his AARP card. It would be cooler if he did it at DH and never had to take his clanky glove out to first. What jumped out to me was his mom talking about how hard it was to see him DFA’d last year. Mrs. Schwindel, I have some bad news for you…
Nick Madrigal - The Cubs post-World Series downfall was in large part attributable to their failures putting good pitching into play. That’s one thing that Little Nicky won’t have problems with. The problem that does exist? He’d have been a nice compliment to Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Kyle Schwarber and Javy Baez. In true Cubs’ fashion, he’s here, and they’re all gone. But hey it’ll be fun to watch him hit 30 singles a month before he pulls his upper ass muscle again.
Nico Hoerner - He’s the adult sized version of Madrigal, and he’ll be the primary shortstop with Andrelton Simmons out with a sore arm and with Jonathan Villar limited to third base because of excessive girth. Maybe this is the year Nico hits his first homer since 2019! Or, maybe not.
Patrick Wisdom - Pee Whiz would be a really, really good player if he’d not strike out so much. And, he knows it. So here’s his plan. He’s going to just stop swinging at the high fastball. He never hits it, so he’s just going to stop swinging. That’s just crazy enough to work! Honestly, he should try to get Ian Happ to do the same thing. OK, so with Pee Whiz not swinging at high fastballs, he’s just going to destroy pitching all season, right?
Oh, come on. You know damn well the first time he falls behind 0-2 and a pitcher throws him a fastball (probably in the second inning today against Corbin Burnes) he’s going to swing at it.
Jonathan Villar - Villar is a really nice pickup for the Cubs. He’s versatile, has some speed, he can handle multiple infield positions. Wait, this is 2017 right? No? It’s 2022? Oh, never mind, then.
Alfonso Rivas - He’s a useful player. He gets on base, he doesn’t strike out, he can light up righthanded pitching and hold his own against lefties. So what’s the problem? Well, if he stands behind the first base bag he disappears. Rivas is a guy who would have been in the big leagues three years ago if he’d been born a righthanded thrower and grew up playing second base. Instead, he’s a first baseman without much power who can maybe play a passable outfield. He should absolutely get at bats for this Cubs’ team, but he will be long gone when they’re finally decent again.
Seiya Suzuki - It’s not just crucial that he’s here because he’ll still be young if this rebuild actually works and the Cubs are good again. We need him. We, the fans. We need somebody to watch and he’s going to be fun. Just watching him make adjustments at the plate in spring training was impressive. We should all be prepared for him to get off to a slow start, but at some point it’ll all click into place and he will go HAM on the National League. Too bad he’ll be mostly doing it by himself.
Clint Frazier - Clint was a very good signing, and the kind of player that the Cubs should be taking more chances on **cough** Austin Meadows **cough**. There’s never been any doubt about Clint’s talent. Injuries have limited him, inconsistent playing time early on with the Yankees didn’t help, and frankly, Clint was kind of a pain in the ass in New York and everything was somebody’s else’s fault. He’s going to get lots of chances with the Cubs, and if he’s ever going to turn into the player he was projected to be, we’re going to find out this year. I actually think he’s going to be really good.
I do think he should stop wearing 77 though. It just looks dumb.
Rafael Ortega - Sure, we all focus on how Rafael lit up righthanded pitching (.321/.374/.526) while being as defenseless as a kitten against lefties (.128/.293/.128 — yes, ZERO extra base hits against lefties). But, damn, those numbers against righties are impressive—so why is Jason Heyward slated to play center against righthanders? But we don’t spend enough time on the things that matter. He was an adult with braces last year. At 30, Rafael had a mouth full of orthodontics. He appears to have gotten them off, but as someone who still has a hidden lower retainer almost 30 years after my braces came off, I know the value of a dental plan that includes orthodonture. Ortega was, for the first time, a full member of the MLBPA during the CBA negotiations this year. So you know what that meant.
Ian Happ - I fully expect Happ to have a big year this year. Why? Because it won’t matter. It’s not like we haven’t seen him be good in spurts before. It’s usually one good month and then a lot of bad. Last year he was hitting .180/.294/.326 when the Cubs traded away Bryant, Rizzo and Javy. The season had been over for a while, but now not only was the season over but nobody was paying attention. And Happ lit up like a firefly. .288/.363/.581 with 15 homers and 40 RBI. And it didn’t mean shit. Well, this year is a whole season full of it not meaning shit. I’m sure he’ll finally put together multiple good months. Let’s hope the Cubs are smart enough to sell high on him. I’m sure they won’t.
Michael Hermosillo - Remember Roosevelt Brown? He was a Barves draft pick who once got traded straight up for Terry Pendleton before coming to the Cubs as a minor league free agent. He hit .348 and .356 in two seasons at Iowa. He was the Pacific Coast League1 hit king. He got chances with the Cubs, and he was really good as a bench player on a very bad 2000 team (.352/.378/.538). But he was a AAAA player. Too good for AAA and not good enough to do it over the long haul in the majors. Similarly, Hermosillo has been a very productive hitter in the minors, but he’s stalled out at AAA. Should the Cubs give him a legit shot this year? Of course they should. Is it likely to matter?
Jason Heyward - There once was a time when his exceptional outfield glove could help make up for some of his obvious deficiencies at the plate. That’s not longer the case. He’s already been supplanted in right field by Seiya, and he’s not rangy enough for center. At this point, Ortega, a career minor leaguer who is an average at best (and might not even be that) fielder is a much better option than Heyward. Neither can hit lefties at all, but at least Rafael can add value against righthanders.
What you will hear Marquee folk say is that Heyward had a down 2021 after a productive 2020. But we’ve already debunked how good he actually was at the plate in the short Covid season. But, let’s do it again.
In 2020 he finished with a respectable slash of .265/.392/.456. And he did this, which was awesome.
But it’s how he got to that slash that’s instructive. He started terribly and was hitting only .189 on August 6. Then he got three hits on August 7 and went on a tear for the next 28 games, hitting .342/.481/.658. It was great.
But then he finished .161/.316/.161.
In a 60 game season he was really bad for 32 games and really good for 28. Any decent big leaguer can have a hot month, and that’s all Heyward had. He just had the good sense to do it in a season with only one other month to bring his stats back down to Earth.
His 2020 didn’t prove anything, and it was followed by a really bad 2021 of .214/.280/.347. There’s just no reason to think that at 32 years old anything’s going to ever get any better.
Is there a scenario where the Cubs actually contend? What if the top of the rotation with Hendricks and Stroman is really good, the bullpen is solid and a few of the young-old guys are overproductive again?
Well, the Brewers can’t hit and the Cardinals are pretending it’s 2011…but no.
We’re Cubs fans. We know bad teams when we see them.
We’re looking at one.
Enjoy the season. Cubs Baseball: It’s different here…because it costs more?
David Brown and I did the season preview podcast, and hopefully it was as good as Marquee’s Season Preview Special that they showed 14 times last night and humiliated Frank for his defense every time.
Yes, Iowa was in the Pacific Coast League.