Top 5 Things Chicago Cubs Fans Want to See This Spring Training
Spring training is like a great awakening across Arizona and Florida as teams build hope and expectations for the year to come. Luckily, the Cubs aren't trying to fool anyone into thinking they'll contend this year.
However, for Cubs fans, there are still several things to look forward to this spring training. This is such a vital development time for young and talented players, something the Cubs have a lot of, and to see that development firsthand is pretty exciting.
Everyone has their own opinion of what they are most looking forward to in spring training whether it be position battles, talented players or just players signing autographs. For the smart and attentive Cubs fan, though, there are several interesting things to look for this spring. Here are five of them.
5. An Active Rick Renteria
Too many times during his short tenure as Cubs manager, Dale Sveum was seen or heard acting smug and seemed dull at times. Now, does that necessarily impact how effective of a manager he was? No, but perception means a lot in a big league clubhouse, and having rookie manager Rick Renteria at the helm should bring a difference.
Some Cubs fans may remember back when Lou Piniella was the manager of the team and he got kicked out of his first game in a Cubby uniform. It was June 2, 2007, and the Cubs were 22-31 following that game. That tirade seemed to spark something in the Cubs, though, that they would hold onto for the rest of the season.
Following Piniella's inaugural ejection as a Cub, the team finished the season winning 63 of their final 109 games. That was good enough to propel the Cubs into the playoffs.
This isn't to say Renteria has to provide that same over-the-top fire Piniella did, but he should be far more vocal than the past few Cubs managers. If he can establish that now, even during spring training, he could go a long way toward gaining his players' respect when the team should be competing for playoff spots.
4. A Healthy Welington Castillo
It's gone relatively unmentioned this offseason, but Cubs starting catcher Welington Castillo underwent surgery to repair a partially torn meniscus in his right knee at the end of last season. While the timetable for return was just 4-6 weeks, knee injuries tend to linger, so Cubs fans need to be hoping for Castillo's health to hold up this spring training in his first action since the injury.
Castillo will turn 27 in April and seems set to enter his prime after producing at a high level a season ago. He got on base consistently, posting a .349 on-base percentage, and he showed some gaps power as he recorded a .746 OPS.
For this production to continue to improve, Castillo obviously needs to stay healthy, and his first test comes in spring training. Without much of a backup plan, the Cubs really need Castillo to be healthy this season and in the years ahead.
3. Arodys Vizcaino Throwing Gas
The Cubs knew it would be a while before former Braves prospect Arodys Vizcaino pitched for them, but they didn't think it would take this long. When they traded for him, the Cubs expected the flamethrower to be recovered from Tommy John surgery by mid-2013, but after suffering a setback, his timetable was moved back to this season.
Luckily, he seems to be fully healthy now and ready to go for spring training. Even though he's missed the last couple of seasons due to injury, Vizcaino is just 23 years old. That bodes well for the Cubs as they move forward.
Because he already has an injury history this early in his career, the Cubs figure to try to keep Vizcaino in the bullpen, where they hope they can develop him into a setup man or closer. With a fastball that averages 96 miles per hour and has touched triple digits, there's a good chance he will be successful.
Fans should watch for his heater, which is extremely impressive and part of the reason he was the No. 2 prospect in the Braves' organization before being sent to Chicago a year-and-a-half ago.
2. Mike Olt Winning the Third Base Job
Cubs fans know what they have in third base platoon members Luis Valbuena and Donnie Murphy. They are two hardworking players who probably play above their talent level due to their effort. However, neither of them are superstars, and neither of them ever will be.
What Cubs fans don't know is what they have in third base prospect Mike Olt. Acquired in the Matt Garza trade last summer, Olt struggled with vision issues all last season. He seems to have put those behind him now, and the power hitter is ready to battle for the third base spot in spring training.
Given the fact that the Cubs have to know what they have in their infield prospects soon, expect Olt to get the starting job unless he really disappoints this spring. If Olt plays well, then the team will have to move either him or Kris Bryant to the outfield, and it could have a domino effect on the rest of the infield prospects the team has.
Having Olt start at third base on Opening Day for the Cubs would be exciting for fans because he would be the first member of the new wave of prospects making their way to Chicago. Perhaps he could bridge the gap between the current Cubs and the Cubs of the future.
1. Kris Bryant and Javier Baez Playing in Cubs Uniforms
Kris Bryant and Javier Baez are by far the most exciting prospects that the Cubs have coming up through the minor leagues. This spring, fans will have the chance to see them playing in Cubs uniforms alongside current Cubs. Having them with the current Cubs is exciting because it gives fans a little taste of the future.
We can dream, but these two almost surely won't make the 25-man roster out of spring training. However, if Baez hits well in Triple-A, he could be up as early as June and Bryant could be up at some point during the year if he continues to dominate minor league pitching the way he did last season.
Fans should pay attention to these two during spring; if fans have a chance to see them play in person they should. How cool would it be to see them play before either begins their major league careers? If either one lives up to their potential, that would be a story to tell the grandkids.
While there are plenty of things to watch this spring, Bryant and Baez are the main attractions. Forget about the current Cubs for a while, soak up the sun in Arizona and look forward to the future. With Bryant and Baez at the forefront, it looks pretty bright.