3 Players I Will Have My Eye on in Mesa
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:
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?