SCOTTSDALE, Arizona -- While the Cubs enjoy a well-deserved off day Monday (with the exception of John Lackey, who'll throw a few innings in a minor-league game), I thought I'd look at the few undecided things yet to come for the ballclub as they prepare for the season opener at Anaheim April 4.
I've had a tendency, I know, to perhaps focus too much on individual good or bad performances during spring games. I'm well aware that these things, on a single-game basis in spring, don't mean all that much in the long run. Players are working on things. They're not playing "all out." Winning and losing these games means nothing, as they are not played the same way as regular-season games are.
Mostly, the 25-man roster is set. There are only two, perhaps three, positions on the Opening Day roster that are even close to unsettled. This is a rare thing in recent Cubs history. If this were 2012 or 2013, we'd be wondering about whether bullpen spots would be going to guys like Spencer Patton or Manny Parra. But those men will be toiling in Triple-A, if they even remain in the organization. This is a good thing, because it means the Cubs have much better players instead of having to use waiver-wire guys like that.
There are some choices yet to be made, summed up in this Mark Gonzales article in the Tribune.
Let's look at those choices.
Gonzales notes that Neil Ramirez and Matt Szczur are out of options, and that "plenty of second-division teams are keeping a close watch on them in case they're placed on waivers." Undoubtedly true. Szczur has yet to play in a spring game, though he's expected to do so tomorrow. Ramirez has been up and down. Some of his outings have been good, some not, as Saturday's wasn't, though that was somewhat excusable. Saturday he was victimized by some dribblers that didn't get out of the infield and a questionable fielding decision by Munenori Kawasaki. What is worrisome about Ramirez is this:
Ramirez has yet to regain the 96-mph velocity he possessed in 2014 before suffering a shoulder injury. One scout clocked his fastest pitch at 93 mph twice Saturday against the Indians, and most of his fastballs were clocked in the 91-92 mph range.
That velocity is decent, but not what you'd want from a middle reliever performing the role that Ramirez could be slotted for. It will be a tough decision.
If Ramirez doesn't begin April with the ballclub (for whatever reason) and the Cubs go with seven relievers, Kawasaki, who has played well this spring, could get a spot on the 25-man roster, especially since, as Gonzales writes:
Left-handed hitter Tommy La Stella hasn't lost his stroke despite a sore calf, but he must show he can play the infield without limitations.
As I noted Saturday, La Stella played in a minor-league game, but didn't run nor play the field. That likely means his return will continue to be delayed. Kawasaki could be the beneficiary, and become 2016's Jonathan Herrera (both for his on-the-field play, and being the "wacky" clubhouse guy).
Beyond that, the regular players continue to tune up their games for the regular season. All of the starters have thrown five innings, and by the time camp is done they should all have gone seven, which will prepare them for the start of the season. I'd expect more of the regulars to play longer into games over the final 12 exhibition games (including the April 3 game at Anaheim against the Angels, a preview of the season-opening series).
Spring training is fun, a way to enjoy baseball without regard to wins and losses. But with just two weeks to go, I'm pretty much ready for real baseball to start. You?