The defending champion Chicago Cubs’ roster is stacked. There’s talent across the diamond at every position, and once again Coach Maddon will rely on the versatility of his players to get through the grind that is a 162-game season. Three of the bench spots are already set in stone: Albert Almora/Jon Jay, Miguel Montero and Javy Baez. That leaves one spot left (assuming the team carries 13 pitchers), and most assume that it will come down to either OF Matt Szczur or IF Tommy La Stella. Based on Spring Training performance, Szczur appears to have the edge.
Szczur is batting a cool 12-31 (.387) with four extra-base hits, seven runs and 7 RBIs this spring. On Monday’s game against the Rockies he had his best game thus far, going 3-4 with a home run and 2 RBIs. La Stella meanwhile has struggled, hitting a paltry .227 wth only 2 RBIs, albeit in four less games. Of course Spring Training isn’t the be-all and end-all when it comes to who makes the roster, but it’s important to note that Szczur is out of minor league options, meaning if he doesn’t make the cut he’ll have to pass through waivers in order to be sent back down to the minors. It’s highly unlikely he’d pass though, as it’s been reported that a number of teams have inquired about acquiring the OF. It’s literally now or never for the Villanova alumnus if he wants to stay with the Cubs.
Working in Szczur’s favor is not only his hot spring but his defensive prowess and clutch hitting. Since his debut in the majors, he has yet to make an error on the field. He also amassed 12 pinch hits last season, which led the team and was 5th in the majors. Being that the Cubs have a multitude of infielders who can play the OF (Kris Bryant, Wilson Contreras, Ben Zobrist and Baez), the last bench spot isn’t necessarily going to be based solely on positional needs. By that logic, La Stella would seem like the ideal candidate, as he can play 2B and 3B. However, as we’ve seen before (last year’s NLCS and World Series roster), Maddon isn’t afraid to carry only five primary infielders. In addition, Baez’ emergence in last year’s playoffs – where he started every game at 2B – should coerce Maddon into giving him more playing time across the infield, therefore dulling the need to carry an extra IF.
With relatively little questions regarding the roster going into Opening Day, the final bench spot will presumably come down to who’s playing the best at the right time. Unless Szczur gets traded, which is certainly a possibility, he looks poised to break camp and be one of the 25 guys heading into Game No.1 against the Cardinals.
*Photo via Ashley Marshall