Chicago Cubs Mid-Spring Training Check-In: The Hitters
Even though they lost to the Brewers yesterday — and even though we know the game-results are wholly meaningless — the Chicago Cubs (10-6) are tied for the second most wins in Spring Training. Neat! Again, meaningless on its own, but neat!
Naturally, with that many wins, that means the Cubs are getting a whole bunch of great individual performances. And while (nearly) none of those results matter either, I still thought you’d want to know how certain players are performing if you haven’t been able to check in. So here’s a little round-up of the key hitters around the mid-point of Cactus League play. Keep the context (who these bats are facing) and sample sizes (tiny!) in mind.
We’ll just go in order of usage. You can see full stats here at Cubs.com.
Christoper Morel, UTL
- 28 ABs
- .214/.290/.464 (.754 OPS)
- SB, 2B, 2 HRs
- 3BB, 14Ks (t-most in MLB)
Heading into the spring, I think I would’ve called Morel a lock for the Opening Day roster. But his performance at the plate – particularly the 45.2% strikeout rate – is really making me think back to his development path.
I grant him plenty of slack, seeing as he’s covered DH, second base (2x), third base, shortstop (2x), right field (2x), and center field (3x) this spring. But the flip side is he’s still young (23), he skipped Triple-A last year out of necessity, he had a rough second half after the league adjustment, and he still has enough upside to prioritize development in 2023.
We will (and should!) see PLENTY of Morel this year, but maybe not right away? Not sure yet.
Nico Hoerner, 2B
- 26 ABs
- .231/.231/.346 (.577 OPS)
- 2B, 3B
- 0BB, 0Ks
Zero walks and zero strikeouts is such a Hoerner stat. Obviously, the numbers aren’t great, but I’m not sweating it. I think we generally know what Hoerner is at the plate (a league-average-ish bat with a little extra batting average upside when he’s locked in, not many walks or strikeouts, and not that much power (but still developing)). And since he’s an absolute lock for the roster – he’s the leadoff man! – his numbers don’t bother me.
Nick Madrigal, 3B(?)
- 25 ABs
- .320/.346/.360 (.706 OPS)
- 2B, 2 SB
- 1BB, 4Ks
For the first 25 at-bats of the spring, Nick Madrigal has been vintage Nick Madrigal. He’s tied for the most hits in MLB, and with that one walk, he’s got a solid OBP, too (sample size!). I think that’s pretty close to what we’re all HOPING to see out of him this year, especially after such a rough, injury-riddled 2022, even if the power leaves much to be desired. With Seiya Suzuki out and Patrick Wisdom possibly taking some starts in right field (or first base against lefties when Trey Mancini is elsewhere), Madrigal may actually get some run at third base to start the year.
Trey Mancini, 1B, DH, RF
- 24 ABs
- .500/.538/.750 (1.288 OPS)
- 2BB, 11Ks
If the Cubs are going to surprise to the upside this year, Trey Mancini is one of the guys who will necessarily have to be good. And this spring, he has been! You don’t love the strikeouts, but he’s obviously hitting the ball well so far (t-4th most hits in MLB) and has played 1B, DH, and right field. Good start.
Ian Happ, LF
- 22 ABs
- .364/.462/.545 (1.007 OPS)
- 2B, HR, SB
- 3BB, 6Ks
Another guy the Cubs will need to be good right out of the gate, Ian Happ is having probably the most well-rounded spring of anyone on the team. He’s hitting for average, he’s getting on base, the strikeouts are under control(ish) for now, he stole a base, and he’s got a couple of extra-base hits. Now where’s his extension?
Mike Tauchman, RF
- 22 ABs
- .318/.423/.545 (.968 OPS)
- 2 2Bs, HR, 3 SB
- 4BB, 6Ks
Tauchman was an extreme roster bubble guy at the outset of the spring, but his performance on both sides of the ball and on the bases, combined with Seiya Suzuki’s oblique injury, has thrust Tauchman right into the spotlight. The stats don’t “matter,” except maybe when you’re trying to win a job, and Tauchman is doing his best to earn right field starts in Suzuki’s absence. Great spring for the Chicago area local.
Eric Hosmer, 1B
- 21 ABs
- .286/.286/.333 (.619 OPS)
- 0BB, 4Ks
As a veteran offseason addition, Eric Hosmer is generally expected to break camp with the Cubs. By which I mean … okay, fine. Maybe the numbers don’t matter because he’s just ramping up or working on something or the sample is small or whatever. But boy is he not doing anything to make us feel better about what’s almost certainly going to be more runway than he deserves to start the year.
I think we’ll just have to hope that Matt Mervis looks exactly as good as he did last year right out of the gate. Because, again, without Mancini playing more DH and right field in the absence of Suzuki, we’ll probably see more Hosmer than we’d hope to start the year. (Well, let me get back to that when we get to Edwin Rios …. )
Zach McKinstry, UTL
- 21 ABs
- 4 BBs, 5Ks
Zach McKinstry does not have any minor league options remaining, which, when there are a number of other guys performing well this spring, makes for a difficult decision. Given the possibility of losing him and his positional versatility, McKinstry certainly seems like a guy with whom the Cubs would love to break camp, but the performance has been rough. And since the Cubs have Dansby Swanson and Nico Hoerner more than capable of playing shortstop, and many options capable of covering second if Hoerner had to move over, McKinstry isn’t quite as necessary as he maybe once seemed. Still probably a good bet for the Opening Day roster, but you’d like to see a few more hits fall in.
Edwin Rios, 3B, DH, 1B(?)
- 21 ABs
- .190/.320/.571 (.891 OPS)
- 3B, 3HRs
- 3BB, 8Ks
Another quintessential performance relative to expectations. Edwin Rios is hitting for a ton of power and is taking some walks, but he’s striking out a lot and not hitting for average. With a big booming lefty bat on a team absolutely lacking in left-handed power, Rios has a shot to make the roster, but this is basically what you’re going to get. Maybe some more average and less power when it all evens out.
If the Cubs are liking their options at third base and DH, you wonder at what point they might consider giving Rios a look or two at first base, depending on how things are going with Hosmer. Rios doesn’t have a ton of experience at first, but he has some.
Cody Bellinger, CF
- 20 ABs
- .200/.273/.250 (.523 OPS)
- BB, 4Ks
Until Matt Mervis comes up, Cody Bellinger is the guy I’ll be watching most closely to start the year. And although he definitely falls into the “don’t sweat the numbers” camp because his job is locked in, it’s not like the results have been great. He has, however, looked comfortable at the plate with his “old,” more upright batting stance.
Oh, and if you included his results from the game against Team Canada – which was as much a “real” game as any Cactus League game – his numbers would actually look fine. Sample sizes and such.
David Bote, 3B/UTL
- 20 ABs
- .450/.577/.800 (1.377 OPS)
- 2 2Bs, 3B, HRs
- 4BB, 5Ks
David Bote is absolutely BEGGING the Cubs to put him back on the 40-man and Opening Day roster with this performance. But he’s also exactly the sort of player who makes you distrust the spring numbers in the opposite direction, especially given his frequent appearances late in games when facing youngsters and fringe-roster guys. The Cubs would be wise not to read too much into his monster performance.
A wait-and-see approach right up until Opening Day is fine with me, though. If Bote keeps on hitting, there is a conceivable path to making the team. He just has some competition.
Also: It’s entirely possible that Bote does make an Opening Day roster this year … just not the Cubs.
Dansby Swanson, SS
- 17 ABs
- .059/.273/.059 (.332 OPS)
- 5BB, 6Ks
About as bad as 17 at-bats can go! Panic! The season is over!
He’ll probably be just fine. 🙂
Patrick Wisdom, 3B, RF, DH
- 13 ABs
- .308/.438/.538 (.976 OPS)
- 3BB, 5Ks
With all the new faces in camp this year, it’s a little too easy to sleep on Patrick Wisdom. But he has had a nice spring and has been a pretty valuable player for the Cubs these last two seasons, especially after dropping his strikeout rate to the low-30s last year. I think he’ll play a bigger role on the Cubs early on than a lot of us have led ourselves to believe. Once again, you are reminded that Suzuki is out for a while, which is going to impact right-handed bat usage AND playing time at third base and in right field (because of the way guys will be coordinated).
Barnhart (16 ABs): .063/.059/.063; 0BB, 4Ks
Gomes (20 ABs): .200/.182/.450; 0BB, 5Ks
I’m lumping these guys together to continue driving home just how unimportant their offensive performance is this spring … and probably will be this year. The Cubs are *clearly* prioritizing an entirely different skillset out of the catchers position. So anything they do offensively is just gravy.
Crow-Armstrong: .125/.300/.125; 4 SBs
Mervis: .118/.318/.176; 5BB, 8Ks
Davis: .231/.375/.385; 3BB, 3Ks
Velázquez: .154/.267/.385; 2BB, 8Ks
K. Alcantara: .364/.364/.455; 2B, 3Ks
Perlaza: .286/.333/.429; 2 2Bs, BB, 3Ks
There are other prospects I could’ve included more here, but most of these guys have already been sent out of big league camp and know what the plan is for the season: Go to the minors and hit your way onto the Chicago Cubs.
In all likelihood, we’ll be seeing at least Matt Mervis, Brennen Davis, and Nelson Velázquez at some point this season.
Brett Taylor contributed to this post.