[UPDATE: And, sure enough, Matt Szczur is being connected to the Braves via a trade rumor.]
What with the fun of David Ross’s dancing and the WBC, plus the discussion of the Cubs’ fifth starter spot, I didn’t have a chance to share the video of Matt Szczur’s homer from yesterday’s win, and discuss his spring a little bit.
The blast was not a monster shot, but it was yet another well-struck ball for a guy who seems to specialize in that during the spring, in particular. Szczur is now hitting .387/.424/.645 on the spring, a year after hitting .375/.400/.667, which was a year after hitting .354/.426/.792. If nothing else, the guy crushes it in Spring Training.
But what does his performance tell us about the season ahead? Well, we know that it probably does’t tell us much. Spring Training results are a combination of small samples, minor league pitchers, and players getting in certain kinds of work that will not present itself in the regular season.
Still, it’s nice to see Szczur’s bat still showing up, a year after he lasted the entire season on the Cubs’ bench. You’ll remember, that was no small feat, given that he was in the same spot at this time last year as he is now: a guy without any minor league options left, with no obvious spot on the roster. An injury to Javy Baez opened up a roster spot at the start of the season, and then other injury issues kept allowing the Cubs to keep Szczur on the 25-man roster, where he contributed nicely off the bench.
Will that happen again this year? Obviously injuries, by their nature, can’t be predicted, but hopefully no one goes down with a serious injury between now and April 2. The way it worked out for the Cubs last year, though, is a reminder that sometimes it’s worth just buying a little bit more time before you have to make a waiver decision on an out-of-options player. For the Cubs, if they have only four players on the bench, they may well go with Baez, Miguel Montero, Jon Jay/Albert Almora, and Tommy La Stella, who offers a high-contact lefty bat, and defensive coverage in the infield. Either way, it certainly does feel like the final bench spot right now is down to La Stella and Szczur.
Maybe, then, it’s worth doing what we discussed yesterday: carrying one fewer pitcher to open the season, allowing the Cubs to carry Szczur (as well as, for example, Tommy La Stella) out of the gate, and punt on the Szczur decision for a couple weeks, until they need to add an eighth reliever.
We’ll see what happens in the next two weeks. I’m doubtful that Szczur would clear waivers if the Cubs are forced to go that route, which may necessitate a trade if he’s not going to make the roster. And if that happens, here’s hoping he lands a real shot at a starting gig somewhere. The upside is definitely there.