Jason Heyward's "Slow" Start, Matt Szczur's Role, and Other Bullets

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Jason Heyward’s “Slow” Start, Matt Szczur’s Role, and Other Bullets

Chicago Cubs

jason heyward cubs roadThe weather is apparently not looking so good today in Chicago, so we’ll see what happens with the game. You are advised in advance that I’m doing various wedding-related activities today, which could impact the normal schedule for postings you’d see on a Saturday game day. Hopefully I won’t miss any beats, but if I do, now you know why.

  • Something so incredible about the depth on this Cubs team is how into their roles each player has become, even if it’s not as a starter. Consider Matt Szczur, who hit a grand slam off the bench yesterday when he was coming into the game for defense, and who says right now he’s just into making himself the best player off the bench possible (Cubs.com). I’d imagine that different preparations go into becoming excellent at being used erratically, inconsistently, and late in games, and it probably requires a certain mindset to get there. Szczur, unsurprisingly, is completely committed to it. He may yet get his chance to become a regular in the big leagues at some point, but right now, this is what the Cubs need him to be. And he’s been fantastic.
  • Jason Heyward is hitting just .224/.333/.271, and, barring an explosion today, he’s going to end April with an ugly-looking line (as he sometimes does in April). But, here’s the thing about sample sizes: if you give him just five more hits – remember how many more than that he crushed in the Cardinals series, alone, which, on another day could have fallen in – the batting average shoots up to .282 and the OBP approaches .400. To say that he’s been bad this month would be incorrect. He’s had some bad results, and the power hasn’t been there. But everything else has been exactly who he’s always been. And a lot of guys in baseball don’t have their power in April. Plus, he does things like this and this. I am not worried in the least.
  • Folks are still dealing with the fallout from another star (Dee Gordon) testing positive for PEDs, while Gordon maintains he didn’t knowingly take any banned substance (to which my response is always: even if that’s true, knowing the consequences, how could you possibly let that happen?). Joe Maddon, Jason Heyward, and Ben Zobrist offer some reactions here at Cubs.com, and you’re reminded that it’s not like players don’t know how much they have on the line with everything they put into their body. So Zobrist, for his part, is in favor of even harsher penalties than those currently in place (80 game suspension for a first offense, full season for a second offense, ban for third offense).
  • I was very excited to see that Duane Underwood made his AA season debut last night, after staying in extended Spring Training thanks to elbow stiffness. Although two straight years of elbow/forearm issues should be enough to give you long-term concerns – that’s just the reality of what we know about pitcher injuries – Underwood remains one of the Cubs’ best pitching prospects, and one of the best bets to be an impact arm for the team in the coming years. He’s also eligible for the Rule 5 Draft after this season, which means the Cubs are going to have to put him on the 40-man roster at some point. As we saw last year in that situation with Carl Edwards, Jr., that meant a September cup of coffee out of the bullpen. Could the same come for Underwood late in the year? That would be fun, though he’s probably not quite as big league ready at this point as Edwards was. With Underwood, it’s almost entirely about the incredible stuff and projection, though it’s not yet necessarily come all together in dominating minor league hitters.
  • Also on the minor league front, you may have heard/seen that Albert Almora left last night’s Iowa Cubs game early, but you needn’t be concerned about a serious injury. He apparently was dealing with a stomach issue. He’s currently hitting .366/.405/.549 through 80 plate appearances with a 7.7% walk rate (solid) and a 10.3% strikeout rate (incredible). It’s so early that I’m not going to say it’s happening, but those of us who’ve been hearty Almora endorsers for years have felt like an offensive breakout would come eventually, and it could be happening right now (as a Gold Glove-caliber defender, who just turned 22 and is at AAA for the first time – giggity).
  • A fantastic read on all things Arrieta, performance, and PEDs in the New York Times.
  • It may have gotten lost in the shuffle of an early game and Kris Bryant news for you yesterday, but there was a Lukewarm Stove with some interesting Cubs-related early rumor stuff that you’ll want to check out.
  • Speaking of Bryant, although he didn’t play yesterday, he did at one point come out into the batter’s box to pinch hit in a runner’s on situation; when that became a no-runner’s-on situation, however, Maddon went with Tommy La Stella. That suggests the Cubs are comfortable with Bryant hitting right now, and running a little bit, but not necessarily hitting and being a lead baserunner in an inning. My guess, though, is he’s still on the bench today and tomorrow.
  • Earlier: that Warren G Seventh Inning Stretch wasn’t that bad, was it?
  • The Cubs’ annual Bricks and Ivy Ball raised $1.65 million for Cubs Charities.
  • Michael found a funny GIF and I watch it a lot and it makes me smile:

  • Two jaw-dropping tweets:

Author: Brett Taylor

Brett Taylor is the Editor and Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and @Brett_A_Taylor.