Spring training is a time when young up-and-comers can get their first taste of the big leagues; when free agent minor leaguers can earn a contract with a new team; when veterans can re-establish or bring new life to their careers.
It is a time when organizations can test the development of some of their prospects; when the most developed of these prospects can rip a roster spot from the hands of a journeyman veteran; a time when free agents can begin to make their mark on their new club.
Spring training is a time of endless possibilities and the birth of hope for the new season; a time when dreams can come true and a lifetime of hard work cashes in. But it is also a time when big-league careers can end—sometimes before they’ve even started.
This spring the Cubs could see all of these scenarios play out in Mesa. Already there have been some surprises and disappointments at the mid-way point.
The following is a list highlighting some of the “winners” and “losers” thus far in spring training.
Despite not having a high batting average with Chicago last season, his ability to get on base was very impressive—.175 BA, but a .303 OBP. So his ability to locate the ball coming out of the pitcher’s hand and pitch selection proved to not have been the problem.
It was only when he decided to swing the bat that problems would occur.
In the offseason Brett Jackson met with manager Dale Sveum, hitting coach James Rowson and assistant hitting coach Rob Deer to work on his swing.
Jackson still needs to become more reflexive with his new swing. He needs to become so familiar with the new movement that it becomes natural.
Regardless of how the rest of spring training goes, he is to begin the season in Triple-A. But he has shown enough improvement at the plate this spring that if the progress continues while with Iowa, he could see himself receiving a call-up much earlier than last season’s August call-up.
The one thing Matt Garza could not afford in his contract year is an injury—and an injury coming off another injury no less. But that’s exactly what happened.
While making his way back from last season’s elbow injury, Matt Garza strained his left lat muscle. It was an injury that became a mountain out of a molehill.
The strained lat will now keep Garza out the first month of the season.
Luis Valbuena was in the same pool as Ian Stewart, Josh Vitters and Brent Lillibridge.
Valbuena, Stewart and Vitters were all competing for the starting third base job, and all three were competing with Lillibridge for the role of utility man.
Injuries have limited Ian Stewart to appearing in only one spring training game and Vitters has yet to take the field, while Valbuena has done very well this spring.
There was little doubt if Valbuena would make the team. But now it seems there is a possibility that he will be the team’s starting third baseman April 1.
After a rough start as the Cubs' everyday third baseman last season—five errors out of 47 chances from June 14 to June 30—Valbuena committed only two errors the rest of the season (out of 142 chances).
If Valbuena can continue to show his adeptness at the hot corner, then he could win the starting third base job for the season opener against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Josh Vitters’ shot at making the 25-man roster went up in smoke as soon as he injured his quad.
His chances to make the roster were already not that great. Compound his injury with the impressing spring Luis Valbuena has been having and Ian Stewart and Brent Lillibridge being the other two infielders, and Josh Vitters looks to begin the season at Iowa.
But if Vitters, who ended 2012 with Chicago, plays well in Triple-A he could receive another call-up later in the season.
Brian Bogusevic has been the club’s biggest surprise this spring.
A non-roster invitee, Bogusevic was not expected to compete for a spot on the Cubs’ 25-man roster. As a career .227 hitter with 11 HR and 46 RBI in 252 MLB games, Bogusevic’s outlook for making the Opening Day roster was bleak.
Oh, how spring training can change things.
His performance has put him in consideration to be the fifth outfielder—along with Dave Sappelt. But what also helps Bogusevic’s cause is he can play first base as well—and we all know how much the team likes versatility.
In a matter of a few weeks Bogusevic went from playing for at best a minor league contract to now being considered for the Opening Day roster.
Bogusevic has nearly three more weeks to prove his inclusion into the 25-man roster is just, and win a spot.
Ian Stewart did not have the best year in 2012 and that bad luck seems to have followed him into 2013.
Before the Cubs began Cactus League play, Stewart suffered a quad injury during an intra-squad game, which had postponed his spring debut until Thursday.
Now having missed half of spring training, Ian Stewart could lose the role of Cubs starting third baseman—a spot that was once all but guaranteed to be his.
Ian Stewart will most likely make the 25-man roster, but as far as the club’s starting third baseman, nothing is certain.
Luis Valbuena has played quite well this spring—which you've already read. Luis’ Cactus League performance thus far—along with how quickly he learned the hot corner last year and how well he played in the Venezuelan winter league—could indeed push the Cubs to name him the Opening Day starter over Ian Stewart.
The injury could not have been worse for Stewart.
Most injuries only cost players time. This injury could cost Ian Stewart his job.
There you have it: The winners and losers halfway through spring training. But no player has completely won or lost anything yet.
There is still time for the “losers” to turn their spring around, and for the “winners” to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
It will be interesting to watch how things play out from now until the end of spring training. Stay tuned.