SCOTTSDALE, Arizona -- The Cubs have very few 25-man roster spots available this year. Beyond that, almost all the positions -- starters, bench, rotation, bullpen -- are pretty much sewn up. No one's going to be the "surprise of camp" for this club, which is expected to contend for a division title this season, and make the team beyond all odds.
Given that, and the fact that we are talking about very small sample sizes (three starts or four appearances for pitchers, and maybe 20 at-bats for most hitters), here are five things that have stood out from Cubs spring camp, almost two weeks into game play.
Kyle Hendricks and Jason Hammel look great
Hammel, in two starts, has thrown six innings, allowed three hits and a walk and struck out five while allowing no runs. The second half of his 2015 season was ruined by a leg injury, and it was pretty clear he was affected by it all the way through the playoffs. His velocity is back, sitting at 93, and he appears completely back from the leg issues. Hammel was excellent in the first half of 2015 (2.89 ERA, 0.955 WHIP over 102⅔ innings in 16 starts before the injury) and if he can do that again, the Cubs might have the best fourth starter in MLB.
Hendricks, similarly, has had an excellent spring. He's thrown nine innings, given up five hits, a walk and one run and struck out 11. That's really good for someone who doesn't throw particularly hard and isn't really a strikeout pitcher. In watching Hendricks throw so far, he's been able to locate exceptionally well. This is where he's at his best, since his velocity won't get past good hitters. Hendricks had problems with stamina last year, as he went six innings or more in just 14 of his 32 starts. He'll need to go deeper into games; if he can he's an outstanding fifth starter.
Neil Ramirez's velocity is not back
Ramirez was a consistent 95-plus guy before his shoulder issues ruined most of 2015 for him. In his three appearances so far he's touched 95 just a couple of times, mostly sitting at 91 or 92. He has just one strikeout in three innings. Granted, as I said, that's a very small sample size. But it has to be troubling. Ramirez, who will pitch again today in Peoria, is out of options so management will have to make some kind of decision on him. It's possible he could start the year on the disabled list.
Munenori Kawasaki is opening some eyes
Kawasaki is 5-for-14 with five walks. Obviously, that's not much performance to go on. But he's also played plus defense, and the walks are part of his game (in his big-league career, despite a low .234 BA, he has a .314 OBP). If the Cubs decide to go with seven relievers instead of eight, Kawasaki could make the 25-man roster. He's played all four infield positions this spring, and is a plus defender.
Plus, he's hilarious. Check out this postgame interview from 2013 (if I'm not mistaken, that's former Cub Mark DeRosa also in the interview):
Jeimer Candelario is opening some eyes
Candelario, who had a power burst last year split between Myrtle Beach and Tennessee (35 doubles, 10 home runs, .435 SLG), is 8-for-24 this spring with two doubles and two home runs. When I saw him play for Kane County in 2013, he seemed like more of a utility infielder-type, but he's clearly better than that now. He hit .329 (27-for-82) in the Arizona Fall League with five home runs. Here's one of those homers:
Candelario has played only 46 games at Double-A, but could wind up starting the season at Triple-A Iowa.
What's up with Tommy La Stella?
La Stella has played in just four games. In the last game he appeared in, he played the top of the first inning in the field, did not touch the ball, and did not bat before being removed with an unspecified leg injury. I haven't heard any word about him since. La Stella is a useful bench bat; if for any reason he's unavailable at the start of the season, this could open a spot for Kawasaki or perhaps Kristopher Negron, who's also played well at several defensive positions this spring.
Perhaps there are other storylines you've noticed from spring games so far. Feel free to mention them in the comments; there are no deliberate or inadvertent omissions here, the five things noted above are simply some that I've taken particular note of.