SCOTTSDALE, Arizona — News item: Ben Zobrist hasn’t played in a game yet, and won’t for a while:
After feeling “great” after fielding several ground balls and hitting in the batting cage, Zobrist believes he could make his spring training debut early next week.
“I feel like I can get in there, but we’re just going to progress it day by day,” said Zobrist, who has been sidelined because of back stiffness..
Zobrist believes he’ll take batting practice on the field and perform other baseball work without restrictions if he continues to feel better.
Okay, “early next week” is still just the first week of March, and there will be three weeks remaining in spring training at that point, likely more than enough to prepare Zobrist for the 2018 season, even as he approached his 37th birthday (May 26).
So this is likely only an exercise, but let’s say Zobrist has to start the year on the disabled list. Who would take his roster spot in that case? Let’s look at a few candidates.
A year ago, Bote wasn’t anywhere near a major league career. An 18th-round pick in 2012, Bote had come off a good .328/.399/.492 season, but in only 91 games, seemingly an afterthought in the organization, just another “org guy.” He hit .272/.353/.438 with 14 home runs at Double-A Tennessee last year and that power increase was enough to send him to the Arizona Fall League, where he hit .333/.395/.536 (23-for-69) with four home runs.
His on-base skills have been consistent throughout his minor-league career with a .351 career OBP, and he’s played every position except center field (yes, even pitching in five games. Most of his time has been at second base and third base, with a little shortstop sprinkled in.
He’ll turn 25 April 7, and likely spend this year at Iowa with a chance at an injury callup.
Plus, if you aren’t listening carefully, his name sounds like “David Bowie” when the PA announcers call it out.
He’s 5-for-12 with a triple so far this spring.
Bourjos is seen as a base-stealer, but last year he stole only five bases in nine attempts. An injury after a good 2011 rookie season made him a part-time player. He still plays good defense and has played both left and center field in spring games. Consider him a poor man’s Jon Jay, an apt comparison as the two were teammates with the Cardinals in 2014 and 2015.
The issue with Bourjos is that he’d have to be added to the 40-man roster, and the Cubs are likely going to have to make room already on the 40-man for Chris Gimenez. Bourjos might have to go to Iowa and wait.
He’s 1-for-5 so far this spring.
Hannemann was the Cubs’ third-round pick in 2013 and the Mariners claimed him on waivers last September. He played in 11 games for them, going 3-for-20 with a home run:
Hannemann is an outfielder who can play all three positions well. As a lefthanded hitter he could provide some pinch-hitting ability from that side of the plate. Like Bourjos, Hannemann is not on the 40-man roster.
So far this spring, Hannemann is 0-for-10 with a walk and a stolen base.
Zagunis is on the 40-man roster, and will be in his second option year, as he played briefly in the majors last year (0-for-14, but with four walks, two stolen bases and an RBI). He has excellent on-base skills, with a .402 career minor-league OBP. He posted a .404 OBP at Iowa last year.
Zagunis plays left field and right field, though I wouldn’t call him more than average defensively.
Zagunis is 4-for-9 with a double in spring action so far.
With the Cubs’ versatility at many positions, if Zobrist is out Caratini could provide some depth at catcher, and he also plays first base. He hit .254/.333/.356 in some brief big-league trials last year (15-for-59 with a home run). Caratini hit .342/.393/.558 with 10 home runs in 83 games at Iowa last year. His hitting isn’t in question; it’s his catching defense that will likely have him spend at least part of this year in Triple-A. On the other hand, if he’s simply filling in a while for Zobrist, the bat plays quite well, and like Zobrist, Caratini is a switch-hitter.
Caratini is 2-for-10 in spring games thus far in 2018.
Those are, in my view, the five most likely players to fill in if Ben Zobrist has to start the year on the disabled list. Even if Zobrist is ready to go, these are the five most likely guys to get callups for injury replacement as the year goes on.