Final Prediction for Chicago Cubs' Key Spring Position Battles
While the Cubs don't have a whole lot of decisions to make this spring, there are still a couple of spring position battles that have played out over the course of the last month. Even though there's a small sample size for most players, the numbers for each player speak for themselves. How well they've passed the "eye test" and how their numbers stack up against each other is how each player will be judged.
While most spots on the roster were decided before this spring, there were a few positions and roles that were open for competition. Among them were the starting second and third base jobs as well as the final spot in the bullpen. Unfortunately, the Cubs don't want to call up top prospect Javier Baez quite yet because that would make him arbitration eligible one year sooner.
In each case, one player made a case for themselves that separated them from the other candidate(s). There's no guarantee that manager Rick Renteria and his staff will see things the same way. But based on their performances this spring and where the team appears to be headed in the future, this is how the team's key position battles figure to shake out.
Final Bullpen Spot: Justin Grimm vs. Arodys Vizcaino
The Winner: Arodys Vizcaino
Neither pitcher has seen a whole lot of time this spring, but Vizcaino has been much more impressive in his limited time. Grimm, who the Cubs acquired from the Rangers in the Matt Garza deal last season, has appeared in five games, pitching five innings while giving up 10 hits and four earned runs. Vizcaino has appeared in four games and pitched four innings, allowing zero runs on just two hits.
Given that Vizcaino is viewed as an option for the Cubs setup or closer role in the future, it would make sense that the Cubs would want to get him experience now. Grimm still has a future with the team, but getting him more experience in the minor leagues and possibly stretching him out as a starter is the smarter course of action right now. Should an injury hit the bullpen early, there's a good chance Grimm would get the call up.
Starting Second Base Job: Darwin Barney vs. Emilio Bonifacio
The Winner: Darwin Barney
Barney and Bonifacio have similar stat lines this spring. However, the fact that Barney has been contributing to the Cubs for years now and is an excellent defender makes him the team's starter at second base out of spring training. There have been reports linking Barney to the Tigers as a possible trade destination after shortstop Jose Iglesias' season-ending injury earlier this week.
If Barney is not traded before the season, it's possible he could be traded at the deadline or earlier. At that point, it would be possible for Bonifacio to claim the starting second base job, but for now it's Barney's. Given his ability to play both the infield and outfield, Bonifacio figures to get plenty of playing time as a utility man. His speed and ability to put the bat on the ball make him a great bench option as a pinch runner or hitter late in games.
Starting Third Base Job: Mike Olt vs. Luis Valbuena/Donnie Murphy
Going into spring training, the third base job was essentially either Mike Olt's or a combination of Luis Valbuena and Donnie Murphy's. Given that Olt has showed off his power this spring and that the Cubs need to know what they have in their third base prospect, the former Ranger should be the team's starting third baseman on Opening Day.
Olt has four home runs this spring training and he would fit nicely into the team's cleanup role in the lineup. He also could bat in the No. 5 slot, but serving as the right-handed power hitter between lefties Anthony Rizzo and Nate Schierholtz would make more sense. Since he's major league ready now, the Cubs need to know what they have in Olt so they can shift their other infield prospects around accordingly. If Olt is successful, Kris Bryant may be moved to the outfield. If Olt struggles, Bryant will likely slide in at third. Whatever the case, Olt has shown enough to warrant the starting third base job this season.