With the Cubs Convention in the rearview, it’s likely you’ll see some Cubs players heading to Arizona to begin their pre-Spring Training work (or heading back to Arizona, in many cases). I love that we are not even a full month away from Spring Training beginning, and the hopes for a competitive season can spike juuuuuust enough to leave me feeling mad as hell if the Cubs don’t win on Opening Day. I can’t help but treat every game like the Super Bowl. Such is fandom.
- What a pull by Patrick Mooney, getting this quote from Jameson Taillon about Hayden Wesneski: “Within the Yankees, even guys in the big leagues were always talking about Wesneski’s slider, so it’s no secret that it’s kind of an outlier pitch and a special pitch. When you have a pitch like that, you can play in the big leagues for a long time.” Taillon, one of the big league starters on the Yankees last year, says that the other big leaguers were talking about Wesneski’s slider. To be sure, once we got a look at it last year, I can understand why they were talking about it. But dang if that isn’t music to my ears to hear that even Yankees big leaguers knew before the trade to the Cubs that the pitch was special.
- Don’t forget that, even if Wesneski doesn’t break camp in the big league rotation, he’s going to make plenty of big league starts this year if healthy. Beginning the season at Triple-A Iowa would allow the Cubs to better manage his early-season innings, and incorporate him in the rotation when – inevitably – the need arises. (Of course, if he comes to Spring Training looking so ridiculous that the Cubs simply can’t help but let him start week one, well, then, you can accept that outcome, too!)
- I don’t think it’s shocking given his breakout 2022 season, but given that he hasn’t yet played at Double-A, I still think it’s noteworthy: outfield prospect Pete Crow-Armstrong will be invited to big league Spring Training this year. To be sure, PCA will not be making the big league team out of Spring Training, but opening camp with the big league club and coaching staff will get him a different kind of experience, preparing him for the days ahead when he DOES play on the big league team. It also means we might get to see him in more big league Spring Training games, which is nice.
- When it comes to the question on Sammy Sosa’s return into the Cubs’ good graces, Ryne Sandberg didn’t quite say it shouldn’t happen, but he seemed to echo the message Tom Ricketts has shared again and again on the topic. “For me, playing the game the right way, with respect, was always what I was taught in the minor leagues,” Sandberg told ESPN. “That was my Hall of Fame speech. I think I said it 28 times. And there was a little problem with the way that Sammy played the game. If that’s a roadblock, that’s a roadblock.” In other words, the strong PEDs suspicions are a problem, and Ricketts has before suggested that players from that era should speak openly and honestly before they can be welcomed back. (And my gut continues to tell me that isn’t just something Ricketts came up with on his own – I expect it came from some folks who are considered very important to the Cubs’ organization.)
- I feel like I talk about Christopher Morel less than I intend to, given his youth and upside, and his successful big league debut in 2022. The limited discussion, I think, is less about a limited interest – I think he’s a long-term big league contributor – and is more about the fact that I don’t think he’s going to have a “set” position on the Cubs in 2023. I think he’ll either be a super utility guy on the big league roster, or he’ll open the season at Triple-A Iowa (with Patrick Wisdom getting a crack at winning a full-time job, occasionally ceding starts to Zach McKinstry or Miles Mastrobuoni).
- I thought Patrick Mooney summed up the situation with Morel well in an Athletic mailbag:
Morel shouldn’t be handed a job, but he shouldn’t be dismissed as just a bench player, either, because he’s only 23 and what he could bring on a daily basis would be unique. For perspective, let’s use Ben Zobrist as the prototype for a super-utility guy. Morel made his major-league debut at a younger age (22 years, 327 days old) than when Zobrist got drafted out of Dallas Baptist University. Back in 2004, Zobrist was 23 years old and playing for the Tri-City ValleyCats in the New York-Penn League. Of course, Zobrist was an exceptionally talented and intelligent player, a switch-hitter who became the 2016 World Series MVP. The comparison is inexact and not totally fair to either player. But the point is Zobrist needed time and opportunities to develop into the super-utility guy who fit perfectly within Tampa Bay’s system.
Players with 99th percentile arm strength, 88th percentile sprint speed and good exit velocity numbers — such as Morel — are hard to find. The Cubs could have Morel focus on working at third base in spring training, and then move him around as needed during the season when injuries happen and for matchup purposes. Even just maintaining the same offensive level (.741 OPS, 16 home runs in 425 plate appearances) would be extremely valuable considering his pre-arbitration salary and ability to play center field and back up at shortstop or shift to second base. It is also refreshing to see the energy Morel consistently brings to the ballpark, the way he signs autographs, poses for photos and flips bats.
- The upside for Morel, even if he never locks down a particular spot, is considerable. Even if he does start the year back at Triple-A – where he’s barely played, mind you – that’s hardly a knock on his potential. It can take time, especially if you are working at multiple positions.
- Kris Bryant managed just 42 games in his debut season with the Rockies due to a variety of injury issues, including a bad case of plantar fasciitis that may have been caused by an early-season back injury, and the nature compensation that happens. For now, though, Bryant says he’s fully healthy and ready to go for 2023 (Denver Post). I’m not sure even a fully-healthy, and fully-productive Kris Bryant will be the difference for the Rockies in 2023, especially in that division, but you can wish him a lot better than what he was able to show the first year.
- This made me chuckle, because the implication is that “productive outs” were slightly NEGATIVELY correlated with winning in 2022:
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