Spring Training Preview: Around the Horn
(Photo by Stephen Green)
Baseball is finally back. Pitchers and catchers reported to Spring Training this past weekend, and Cubs fans everywhere got a little more excited with the realization that the baseball season is almost here.
To get us back into gear, the February issue of Vine Line previewed the squad heading into Mesa, Ariz. We broke the team down into five categories—starting pitching, relief pitching, catchers, infielders and outfielders—to give fans a clearer picture of what to expect when the Cubs break camp and head to Chicago.
Below is a look at the infield. The February issue is on newsstands now, with single issues available by calling 800-618-8377. Or visit the Vine Line page on Cubs.com to subscribe to the magazine.
Darwin Barney had a breakout season in 2012 on the defensive side of the ball, winning a much-deserved Gold Glove, but his bat still leaves something to be desired. With a front office that highly values the ability to get on base, Barney’s sub-.300 OBP could be a cause for concern. While his glove alone makes him playable on an everyday basis, it will be interesting to see if he can improve enough offensively to help ease any doubts Theo Epstein and company may have about his future role.
Starlin Castro deserves credit for realizing that despite a solid batting average, he can still improve as an all-around hitter. Under the tutelage of new hitting coach James Rowson, who took over when Rudy Jaramillo was relieved of his duties on June 12, Castro was asked midseason to alter his aggressive style at the plate. He struggled at first, which explains why his batting average fell when Rowson took over. However, toward the end of the season, something seemed to click. Not only did his batting average rebound to a respectable .283, but he was also walking and hitting for more power. With a full offseason of training under his belt, expect an improved approach at the plate to lead to big things in 2013.
Anthony Rizzo hit 15 home runs in just 87 games after a midseason call-up. In his second season, he’ll be relied upon, along with Alfonso Soriano, to provide much of the power for the Cubs’ offense. Rizzo will likely slot back into the three hole, where the Cubs envision he’ll be a mainstay for the better part of the next decade. And his defense at first will also keep up the high standards set by his predecessors Derrek Lee and Mark Grace.
The biggest question mark is what will happen at third base. With a lack of options in the minors or via free agency, the Cubs decided to retain veteran Ian Stewart. It appears the team will enter Spring Training with Stewart battling Luis Valbuena for the bulk of the playing time. Though both left-handed hitters struggled with the bat last season, Stewart’s ceiling is much higher, as he provides plus defense and has shown in the past that he has solid power (25 home runs in 2009). If Stewart can prove his issues over the past few seasons were actually the result of a nagging wrist injury—which he finally had surgically repaired in July—it’s possible the Cubs may once again get solid production from the hot corner. Otherwise, look for Stewart, Valbuena or whomever else the Cubs may find, to serve as placeholders until one of the organization’s third-base prospects is ready to step in and assume the role on a long-term basis.