The short version up front: Matt Szczur’s hamstring issue is taking him to the 15-day disabled list, Christian Villanueva (broken leg) is being transferred to the 60-day DL, and Ryan Kalish is coming up from Iowa to take Szczur’s spot on the 25-man roster and Villanueva’s spot on the 40-man roster (Rogers, Wittenmyer).
The Cubs have clearly been bitten a bit by the injury bug in 2016, having lost each of Kyle Schwarber, Miguel Montero, Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, Jason Heyward and Matt Szczur at one point or another already this season with varying degrees of severity.
But that’s why a team has depth – the Cubs as much as anyone – and today they’ll be calling on some more of that depth in the form of Kalish, who has been raking at AAA Iowa. Kalish, 28, will help cover the outfield losses at the big league level. Szczur is dealing with a “mild” hamstring strain, which will hopefully not keep him out much longer than the 15 day minimum required by his DL stint. Furthermore, Heyward is dealing with a sore wrist that has him day-to-day.
As for Kalish, you might recall that this is not his first go-around in Chicago.
The Cubs originally signed the speedy outfielder to a minor league deal back in December of 2013 and he actually broke camp with the club at the beginning of the following season (2014). But, things didn’t really work out, he spent some time at AAA Iowa that year, and became a free agent after the 2014 season.
Eventually, he signed a minor league deal with the Toronto Blue Jays, but he never really got going due to a series of injuries (a problem he’s dealt with throughout his career). In March, he signed another minor league deal with the Chicago Cubs and has been playing (extremely well) for Iowa ever since.
How well? In his 70 plate appearances this season, Kalish has slashed .368/.471/.509 with a walk rate (14.3%) greater than his strikeout rate (12.9%) – that seems to be trend with many of the Cubs hitters in AAA right now.
In addition to his offensive resurgence, Kalish has played his typical solid outfield defense and has swiped three bags, to boot. At 28, you can’t quite call Kalish a prospect, but he has long been considered a very talented player, and injuries have been the primary reason for the slow start to his career. Now, I’m not telling you to expect an immediate, impact, long-term player (there’s a reason he wasn’t yet on the 40-man roster and was working on a minor league deal), but Kalish is still fairly young and has had fairly nice pedigree throughout his career. He may be able to adequately replace Szczur’s role off the bench for the next couple weeks at a minimum.
Considering that the Cubs could have simply brought up Munenori Kawasaki (already on the 40-man) while using the Fowler-Soler-Bryant-Zobrist-Baez (and soon Heyward) crew in the outfield, the decision to bring up Kalish suggests the Cubs must have really liked what they’ve seen so far, and wanted to get him a chance in the majors. Similarly, many veterans on minor league deals have the option to leave their contract at some point in the middle of the season for other opportunities, so getting Kalish up in the majors now might go a long way to keeping him in the organization for the entire season.
It’s a bit of a bummer in the case of Szczur, of course, who, after a slow but steady rise to the majors finally seemed find some staying power on the Cubs bench. Indeed, in 34 plate appearances at the Major League level this season, Szczur has been hitting .367/.441/.600 with identical 11.8% walk/strikeout rates and has already been worth 0.5 WAR.
Hopefully, he can make a quick return and pick up right where he left off on the bench. In the meantime, Kalish will get his opportunity to show that he can live up to the talent scouts have recognized in him for years.
Brett Taylor contributed to this post.