Brad Nelson looks to capitalize on opportunities

Nelson

(Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

No position player in Mesa has more of a lock on his Opening Day roster spot than 2012 rookie phenom Anthony Rizzo. But after hitting 15 home runs in 87 games for the Cubs in 2012, the 23-year-old was invited to play for Team Italy in the World Baseball Classic, which means he’ll be away for a few weeks. That has opened the door for some fringe players to capitalize on his absence.

One of those players is 30-year-old journeyman Brad Nelson. A fourth-round pick in the 2001 draft, the lefty slugger has compiled a boatload of games and stats in his minor league career—a dubious honor. A career .269/.350/.451 hitter, Nelson has a 181 minor league homers, including 24 in each of his last two years in Triple-A Round Rock (Texas). In 621 games played primarily at first base, he’s committed just 44 errors for a .992 fielding percentage.

Though it’s still a long way from Opening Day, Nelson has put himself in as good a position as possible to claim a roster spot. In 19 plate appearances, the first baseman is hitting .333 with two homers, a triple, a double and five RBI. He’ll be starting at first base as the Cubs host the crosstown rival White Sox for the first time in the new year on Thursday.

The North Siders will face the Sox one more time this spring, when they travel to Camelback Ranch on March 15. During the season, the Cubs will face the South Siders in a newly formatted, four-game, home-and-home series. The Cubs will travel to U.S. Cellular on May 27 and 28, and then the teams will face off at Wrigley Field on May 29 and 30, with the BP Crosstown Cup still on the line.

First pitch for Thursday’s game is scheduled for 2:05 CST, and the game can be heard at Cubs.com. The Sox will send lefty Jose Quintana to the hill. Here’s the lineup he’ll be facing:

CF David DeJesus
2B Darwin Barney
RF Nate Schierholtz
LF Alfonso Soriano
3B Luis Valbuena
C Welington Castillo
1B Brad Nelson
SS Edwin Maysonet
P Carlos Villanueva

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