With Ian Stewart beginning the season on the disabled list (and potentially not back until May), there’s been an “extra” 25th man job available on the Chicago Cubs’ roster this Spring. As the team whittled things down, catcher Steve Clevenger emerged as a legitimate candidate to break camp with the team, despite the heathy presence of starting catcher Welington Castillo and back-up catcher Dioner Navarro.
Clevenger has been helped by his positional versatility – he can play first base, as well as third, second and the corner outfield spots in an extreme pinch – and his left-handed bat. Of course, you’d have to think his .201/.260/.276 line over 215 plate appearances last year would be working against him.
Still, Dale Sveum says Clevenger is going to be the guy, absent a waiver pick-up (which is either a nudge to Theo and Jed, or a mere caveat, acknowledging the fact that Theo and Jed are busy waiver beavers).
“He had a rough time the last three months of last season, and struggled at a little bit of everything, and came into Spring Training in the best shape he’s ever been in and worked extremely hard at the infield,” Sveum said of Clevenger, per Carrie Muskat.
“You can’t take away that the guy has swung the bat better than anybody in camp. The guy’s always hit. [On Sunday], he took a [96 mph fastball] and hit it off the center field wall. The other day, he gets 0-2, and lines a ball through the six hole. The guy’s a big league hitter.”
That’s as high as Spring praise gets.
I’ll defer to Sveum, given that he’s a big-time hitting coach in addition to being the manager, and given that he sees Clevenger in person every day, but I remain skeptical about Clevenger’s hitting ability in the bigs after what we saw last year. (Yes, yes, oblique injury.) When Clevenger started the season hot, Sveum said that he had a “slump-proof bat.” And then he slumped for months.
I’m certainly hopeful that Clevenger emerges as a nice utility piece and lefty bat off the bench – each of which are hugely valuable – but I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Cubs pick someone up this week as rosters across baseball turnover.
Long-term, I do like the idea of a Clevenger-type player on the roster (utility, plus the ability to catch, and hits lefty), especially when the Cubs are actually competitive. This year, though, I wonder if it’s better to have him catching, and batting, regularly at Iowa.
Ultimately, the 25th man isn’t going to make or break the 2013 Cubs, and being on the bench in the bigs versus catching in the minors isn’t going to make or break Clevenger’s career. So, yeah, if no better waiver option presents itself, Clevenger as the 25th man is just fine.