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February 2017

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3 Players I Will Have My Eye on in Mesa

Written by , Posted in General

Last year, my wife and I had the opportunity to tag along with my parents to Phoenix to catch a number of Cubs’ spring training games. It was a blast. If you have never been, figure out a way to go some time. I’m sad we can’t go this year, but I’m not sure I’d want to—it was a madhouse last year, and it will certainly be even busier this year.

I have been dying for spring training since Christmas—it took me from November 2 until Christmas to recover from the season—and I can’t wait. I’m going to be glued to all of our favorite reporters the next six weeks and on into the season.

There are three players in particular, however, that I will be trying to pay especially close attention to. Here they are, with some explanation as to why:

1. Carl Edwards, Jr.

If you’re like me, Pedro Strop and Hector Rondon—especially Rondon—tend to give you a bit of anxiety late in games, but never fear, CARL IS HERE!

Last year was his first full year in the big leagues, and he solidified his spot as the Cubs’ go-to late game reliever. Below, see a Fangraphs comparison I made comparing the 2016 K/9s of Edwards, Wade Davis, Strop, Rondon, and the league average:

Obviously, the league average is going to be pulled down a bit by starting pitchers who tend to have lower K/9s than relievers, but nonetheless, Edwards established himself as a solid reliever in the Cubs’ bullpen, which is perhaps one of the club’s only uncertainties heading into the year.

Throughout the spring, I am excited to see how Edwards looks.

2. Jason Heyward

Whereas Edwards had a breakout 2016, Heyward had a depressing 2016 (at the plate, anyway). We had to sit our $184-million-dollar man in the World Series because his bat was so terrible.

Honestly, Heyward could be terrible half of 2017 and I wouldn’t care—as long as he can get his bat figured out by the time the playoffs roll around, I don’t mind too much.

However, over the course of the next six weeks or so, I want to try to catch every single one of Heyward’s plate appearances. I want to heart from someone on the team or from a reporter if he’s changed his approach or has otherwise done something to work himself out of his funk.

I don’t expect Heyward to be a slugger, but if the Cubs are going to be able to benefit from his speed on the base paths, he has to get on. I know that he is worth playing for his glove more than anything, but here I’ve compared his 2016 OBP to Jorge Soler, Ben Zobrist, Javier Baez, and the league average…it was not good (but it could have been worse):

Let’s all hope he can get it worked out by the All-Star game if not before. Patience.

3. Kyle Schwarber

I mean come on. You knew this guy had to be on the list right? All of us were chomping at the bit to be able to witness Schwarber’s first full year on the Cubs, and all of us were disappointed…until the World Series rolled around, and Schwarber launched himself to legendary status without even launching a single home run. In the World Series, Schwarber had a batting average of .412, an OBP of .500, and an OPS of .971. He scored two runs, knocked two runs in, and stole a base for heaven’s sake.

Obviously, the main reason I want to keep an eye on Schwarber throughout spring training is because I want to see how well he’s performing—and where on the field he’s performing—following his injury, surgery, and rehab.

Apparently there’s a possibility Schwarber could lead off which I don’t understand. On January 11, Jesse Rogers reported Joe Maddon’s tentative lineup against right-handed starters:

Schwarber

Kris Bryant

Anthony Rizzo

Zobrist

Addison Russell

Heyward

Willson Contreras

Pitcher

Jon Jay

We could around and around on that lineup for hours—especially about the fact that Baez needs to be starting over Jay, but that’s another blog post for another time. The Cubs’ Opening Day lineup doesn’t much matter, as we all know people will be moving around quite a bit and getting plenty of rest.

Suffice to say, I’m excited for spring training, and I’m excited to watch these three guys in particular.

Is there anyone you’re looking to watch more closely than others? Who and why?

  • Brad Lyerla

    Yikes. Look at Wade Davis’ line in the Ks graphic. I mean, huh.

    • Doug S.

      No kidding, reminds me of my retirement investments and the medication needed for the valleys.

  • Adam Peters

    I’m excited to see Willson Contreras catching more. Hopefully Grandpa Rossy will continue to mentor him. He’s got all the potential in the world back there. If he really busts his tail learning how to be a great defensive catcher he could be one of the greats.

    • chrismartin17

      Yeah, I agree.

    • Sherm

      It’s not easy – that’s for sure. He’s incredibly athletic (not sure if you follow the Cubs on Instagram, but if so, check out his box leaps – he’s got incredible balance and leaping ability)

      So – quick story that I found funny: My 9 year old grandson (who is a basketball stud – lead his summer league in scoring and assists) decided to play baseball this spring for “fun” since his sister plays fastpitch softball and he thought he’d give it a go. Coach asks him if he wants to catch in practice and he says “sure” and does. On the way home, he says to my daughter, “I know why Grandpa Rossy is retiring. Catching sucks.” She said she almost drove off the road…

      Contreras is very special. One concern I have is that I hope that catching doesn’t wear him down too much. He’s got “Molina-like” reflexes with more speed and a better bat…I keep trying to think of who it is he reminds me of, and can’t quite reach it. But I will say this, I think he and Javy Baez are cut from the same cloth – not “Jacks of all trades” either…more like “Master of all trades” which is super rare. I want to see those two in Cubbie blue for a LOOOOOONG time…

      • The only catching I’ve done is in the bullpen.. my knees agree with your grandson.

      • Sherm

        I caught for about 15 years – it’s brutal. And those bozos made me do MOST of the catching the year I went to fantasy camp…so if I ever go again? Not gonna do it. Not an inning. Nada. Zip. Zilch.

      • Just toss your jersey on the pitchback screen.

      • JTBarrett16

        So glad I’m left-handed. Lefties don’t catch.

      • Adam Peters

        My son is a lefty catcher. He’s awesome too. His pickoff throw to first is killer.

      • Eddie Von White

        I was a left-handed catcher in Little League but my first choice was first base where I raked – literally – nothing got by me.

      • cap’n realist

        Eddie von Raker

      • cap’n realist

        I can see how this could work…

      • cap’n realist

        lefties like you search for the keys to the batters box…

      • JTBarrett16

        It’s funny, I field left-handed, but I bat right-handed

      • Doc Raker

        You were great behind the dish. Had the jug machine actually listened to your pitch calling genius we would of been undefeated.

      • cap’n realist

        1 finger Sherm

      • JTBarrett16

        With his snap throws, cannonball arm, and Baez’s quick tags, no one will steal bases on the Cubs. Even if you had a pitcher who is terrible at holding runners on like Maddux or Lester

      • Sherm

        “no one will steal bases on the Cubs”

        If the over/under is 0? I’ll take the over…

      • JTBarrett16

        Let me re-phrase that. Very few players will steal. I’ll put the over/under on stolen bases allowed at 49.5

      • Sherm

        How many allowed last year? What’s the league average? How many times do we play the Nationals?

      • JTBarrett16

        Why the Nationals? 7 games with them. Shouldn’t we be concerned about the Reds because Billy Hamilton can fly and we play them 19 times. After looking at the stats, we allowed the 2nd most stolen bases with 133. Only the Mets allowed more with 135. With a full year of Contreras and more playing time for Baez, I amend my line to 76.5

      • Sherm

        Keep an eye on Trea Turner. Kid can fly and unlike Hamilton? Really knows HOW to run the bases.

      • chrismartin17

        They just need to actually start Baez at 2B, which they should. But people keep talking like Zob will be 2B primarily and Jay will start in CF.

        I don’t get how Jay plays over Baez.

      • JTBarrett16

        It’s a good problem to have. I don’t think Jay plays over Baez. I think 2B/CF will eventually be a 3-man rotation with Baez Zobrist and Almora. Gloves might be moved around, but those sticks will rotate

      • chrismartin17

        It is definitely a good problem to have.

        I think JHey could move over to center as well, and have Zob in RF.

        We were planning on JHey being in CF all year last year until Fowler surprised everyone.

      • JTBarrett16

        Fowler was the final piece to the offense

      • It didn’t make sense the first time you said it either.

      • Sherm

        There it is – Joe Maddon’s 2017 “Mantra”:

        Moving gloves and rotating sticks.

        Or Gloves might move, but sticks will rotate.

        Or how about “He went, but we still go?”

      • The ground crew at Sloan is going to love spraying out ‘the gloves might move but those sticks will rotate’ every morning.

      • The interesting part for me will be watching his mental maturity catch up with his athleticism. He and Baez and unquestionably gifted, but they’re both so very young. It presents itself in different ways… hot dog (Baez) vs hot head (Contreras) but all of it should go away with maturity. And if it doesn’t, well, that will differentiate good from great.

      • chrismartin17

        A couple of years ago, my wife and I went to a Nashville Sounds game to watch them play the I-Cubs. Baez was on the team at the time. He hit a home run after enduring some questionable ball/strike calls.

        As he was rounding the bases, he was chewing out the umpire and he got thrown out. It was hilarious, and pretty indicative of his head at the time. Haha. I’ll always cherish that memory.

      • So funny, Chris. See, maybe he has already matured from that because that is more what I’d expect from Contrares now. (A side note: I was about to say “I saw him in Nashville too!” but then I remembered it was the Smokies not the Sound, it was in Kodak not Nashville, and it was Josh Vitters not Javier Baez. So close tho!)

      • Sherm

        That is hilarious. I prefer that kind of fire to admiring his own homers…or ALMOST homers.

      • chrismartin17

        lol exactly.

      • Adam Peters

        Sherm, I’m with you re: catching. I tried to talk my son out of it, but he was adamant. I will admit, he’s really good at it.

      • cap’n realist

        In disturbing news, they now keep track of scoring and assists in 9 year old basketball. ick.

      • Sherm

        It’s travel ball – 12 and under, so yeah, they track everything. He’d have had twice as many assists, but so many of his passes hit his teammates in the face…

      • JTBarrett16

        When I played youth ball, they tracked that. And this was 20 years ago

  • Raker Doc

    Schwarbs for sure. Wade Davis being the new closer will be interesting to watch.

    I noticed we have several VFTB buds with double first names, Peter Adam, Martin Chris, White Von Eddie, Sherm Sherm, Butts Seymour, S Doug, Joe Big Toe, CAPS CAPS, SwanJ, Lyerla Brad, Obvious Capn and Lebowsky Big.

    • Eddie Von White

      Davis Wade and Jr. Eddie Carl’s (my favorite). Cue Sherm here…

  • I drug my dad down there last year, Chris. You’re right, it was a shitshow. Awesome, but waaaay busier than I had anticipated. We’re doing Vegas this year for the two Cubs games at Cashman.. six weeks to go.

    • Sherm

      I was going to try to get to Vegas for those, but have to leave for China on the 26th…so won’t be able to make it, unfortunately. I’ll be overseas for opening day…which is a bummer – BUT, the only OTHER time that has happened was last year, and that worked out pretty well, so…

      • Eddie Von White

        Go to China. The World Series depends on it.

      • Sherm

        I’ll try – it’s up to the folks who “Fly the Friendly Skies” to make sure I get there (but tickets and hotels are all locked up…so I guess the WS is already half in the bag!)

      • cap’n realist

        I remember texting you during the last series when your were only half in the bag….

    • Seymour Butts

      Might consider Vegas. My folks live there.

      • Doug S.

        Heart Attack Grill for the pre-game?

      • Sherm

        For him, that’s pre-patient.

      • Doug S.

        They have a scale out front where you can weigh yourself pre and post meal. The display is in big numbers to amuse your friends, family and tourists taking phone photos of complete strangers standing on a a scale.

      • JTBarrett16

        Do they have a steak or burger challenge? There’s a burger chain here called Fuddruckers and on Fat Tuesday every year they have a 3lb burger challenge. 3 lbs of freshly shot and grilled cow, plus 1lb of french fries. My supervisor from Domino’s had a burger named after him at a local place, and one day I went there and had it. 2lbs of burger, bacon, cheese, egg, onions, tomatoes, lettuce, pickle, ketchup, mustard, and BBQ sauce.

      • Doug S.
      • Sherm

        Have they always been there – or moved there later in life?

        I went to high school and college there – started a family and escaped in 1983 to San Clemente and never really looked back. I still go there 4 – 6 times a year, but wouldn’t want to live there again. Now that I’ve escaped California…well, I’d go back there, so never mind.

      • cap’n realist

        No… Stay in the Carolinas. I don’t need even 1 more car in front of me on the 405…

      • Doug S.

        Remember when visiting LA folks, its not I-10 it’s the 10, the 405, the OSU……OK maybe not that last one..

      • Sherm

        It’s okay – I’d be going the other way…

      • ND originally unless I made that up.

      • Seymour Butts

        Indiana, Wyoming…etc

      • Seymour Butts

        Just the last couple of years.
        Really, Really tired of snow.