One of the swell stories of Spring Training has run its course – for now.
Outfielder Ryan Kalish, coming back from a myriad of serious shoulder and neck injuries, heads to AAA Iowa to make room for outfielder Justin Ruggiano, who returns from a hamstring injury. Kalish, 26, was a long-shot to make the Cubs at all this offseason, given that he was coming back from a spinal fusion surgery that easily could have ended his career. He does a lot of things well – speed, defense, versatility, hustle – but his line so far this year (.242/.303/.330) underwhelmed, and his usage in recent weeks dropped precipitously, despite there being only four outfielders on the roster.
At Iowa, Kalish will get a chance to start every day, and he could still factor into the Cubs’ long-term plans as a complementary piece. Indeed, depending on injuries and trades, Kalish could be back up soon enough.
As for Ruggiano, he’s returning from a hamstring strain suffered a little over a month ago, just when it looked like he was finally going to start hitting. Hopefully the time away didn’t derail that. Ruggiano, 32, is not a long-term piece, but he does provide a great deal of value against lefties, and it’s conceivable that he could work himself into being a trade piece (albeit a relatively minor one) by July 31.
The interesting thing here is that the Cubs demoted Kalish upon activating Ruggiano, rather than sending out a reliever. The Cubs are currently sporting a bullpen-busting 13-man pitching staff, with just four position players on the bench. I tentatively expected them to go back to seven relievers when Ruggiano was ready to return, especially given the stabilization we’ve seen at the back end of the pen.
For now, the outfielders on the roster are Ruggiano, Junior Lake, Nate Schierholtz, and Chris Coghlan. Emilio Bonifacio has also been playing the part of semi-regular center fielder.