Joe Mather and the 10 Chicago Cubs Spring Training Heroes Since 2000
Every spring there seems to be a player who seemingly comes out of nowhere to grab the attention of enthusiastic Cubs fans longing for a hero. This spring that player may be outfielder Joe Mather, who has made the 25-man roster.
I'm not saying that outfielder Mather can't have a long and productive major league career. I'm just suggesting that it may not be advisable to make a huge emotional investment in him, at least based on the relative value (or lack thereof) of spring training statistics.
Mather is a feel-good story. It was not only Mather’s versatility that won him a job (he can play first base, third and all three outfield spots) he also has batted .418 in Cactus League action and led the club in hits at the start of play Friday with 23.
Yet Mather turns 30 in July, so he's hardly a prospect. And, for his major league career, Mather is a .228 hitter with a dismal .283 OBP.
But then again, that shouldn't surprise anyone who has watched spring training over the years. Many Cubs players have had great springs only to find reality set in once the real season started.
It is with that thought in mind that we go back to 2000 and list 10 players who, like Mather, had terrific springs, only to come up empty at the major league level.
In 2004, former Cubs third base prospect Scott MClain had the spring of his life: 16-for-48 with five doubles, six home runs and 16 RBI. For that, he got released at the end of camp and didn't play at all during the 2004 season.
The Cubs brought him back to spring camp in 2005; he played that year at Iowa, hitting .291/.358/.577 with 30 HR and 93 RBI. For that, he got a September call-up in which he went 2-for-14.
Castillo is a better prospect than some of the other guys on this list, and I'm quite certain he will stick on a major league team eventually. Whether that's the Cubs or not is unknown, but at some point he will be a backup in the major leagues.
But not in 2012, at least for now. All you need to know about Castillo is that Jed Hoyer and the Cubs brain trust picked Steve Clevenger over Castillo to backup Geo Soto.
However, in 2011, Castillo was the talk of Cubs camp. In fact, some fans were even clamoring for him to start over Soto. In just 17 spring training at-bats, Castillo had 12 knocks, a homer and six RBI. He also had a double and three runs scored.
Remember when Jake Fox was going to be the next power hitting phenom, if only they could find a position for him to play on an every day basis? Well, his career hasn't exactly been overwhelming to date.
He is currently in Pirates camp, hitting .259 with a couple of homers. But back in 2009, Fox was hitting everything in sight during the spring.
Fox hit four dingers, with 16 RBI and a robust .350 average. Additionally, he could catch and play first base. None of them well, mind you, but he was versatile.
Ah, "The Hoff". What a ruckus this guy caused with delusional Cubs fans who thought he was a prospect. They ignored the fact that he was older and thus was repeating levels in the minors, and was no more than a 4-A player. Nevertheless, he was a spring monster back in 2008.
That spring, Hoff hit four homers, 10 RBI and a .419 batting average. He also clubbed six doubles and even had a triple thrown in for good measure. He slugged .742 that spring.
Matt Murton was a phenom in his own right. In the minds of many Cubs fans, yours truly included, Murton was a decent outfielder with a good bat and developing power, who would play for the Cubs a long time. That didn't quite work out so well, of course, and Murton was last seen playing in Japan.
But in the spring of 2006, he hit .400 in 55 ABs. The next year, he hit .303 with three homers and eight doubles in 76 ABs.
And, in parts of four springs with the Cubs and Rockies, Murton hit .336 in 98 games, to go along with a .400 OBP and .490 slugging.
His regular season stats weren't too shabby either. In 346 career games, Murton had a .286/.352/.436/.788 slash. In 2006, his only semi-regular season with the cubs, Murton hit .297 with 13 homers.
Murton, 30, is one of the best hitters in Japan and was the subject of rumors earlier this spring about a possible comeback to MLB. But it didn't materialize.
Murton was a slow, slightly below average outfielder with little power in the majors but at one time, was a "can't miss" kid.
Back in 2002, a kid named Roosevelt Brown hit .361 with three homers and 13 RBI for the Cubs in the spring. A lefty hitting outfielder, Brown went on to hit .251 with 11 home runs and 69 RBI in his major league career.
After leaving the Cubs, Brown played for the Orix Blue Wave in Japan in 2003-2004. He is currently the hitting coach for the Mississippi Braves.
Pignatiello was a left-handed pitcher who really opened some eyes in spring training of 2008. He threw 10,1 innings, giving up just five hits, striking out nine while walking nobody. Batters hit .147 against him.
In fact, in three camps, Pignatiello had an ERA of 1.45 while appearing in 20 games.
However, in the majors he pitched just 2.2 innings, giving up five hits and two earned runs for a 6.75 ERA.
Right-hander Rocky Cherry rocked spring training in 2007. In fact, he was a regular spring star, pitching to a 1.37 ERA in 24 games over three seasons while striking out more batters than innings pitched.
And in 2007 he pitched 12.1 innings with a 1-1 record and a 1.46 ERA. But the real eye opener was the 19 strikeouts in those 12.1 innings.
Cherry was a big guy, at 6'5" and weighing 240 pounds. But his major league career was lame. Cherry went 1-4 with a 5.77 ERA in 40 games. Perhaps the fact that he walked 35 batters in 48.1 career innings was not such a good thing.
Like Castillo, Caridad still has a chance to make something of his career.Still, he is another example of a pitcher whose best results have been in the spring.
In 2010, Caridad had a spring for the ages. In 14 innings pitched, he allowed no runs and struck out 12 while walking only one batter.
But he got hurt. This spring, Caridad pitched only four innings, striking out six. There is still hope for the 28-year-old. But time is running out. A forearm strain has him down once again.
Dopirak was a second round draft pick for the Cubs in 2002, and he is currently in camp with the Houston Astros. But back in 2006 he was a spring training star, hitting .355 with two homers and two doubles for a .613 slugging percentage.
But perhaps one hint that he wouldn't become a great player in the majors is the fact that he has walked just twice in 114 career spring at-bats.
In 2004, however, he was a rising star in the Cubs system. Dopirak hit 39 homers and 120 RBIs with Lansing to go along with a .307 batting average.
But after that season, he experienced injury problems. He hit below .300 and compiled only 35 home runs from 2005 to 2007. The Cubs designated Dopirak for assignment, culminating in his release following the 2007 season.