Who Will Take Chicago Cubs' Final Outfield Spot?

By Joe Ault
Rob Grabowski-USA Today

It looks like the Chicago Cubs front office has come to a stopping point as far as offseason transactions go, and all that is left to be decided is who will make the opening day roster. Though Spring Training performances will have their say in the matter, it doesn’t necessarily mean we shouldn’t speculate, because it’s just too fun. The biggest question for me is who will round out the final outfield spaces on the roster? The signing of Scott Hairston, who brings some power and a dangerous bat against lefties, will bump both Tony Campana and Dave Sappelt down the depth chart, and one of the two could find themselves in Iowa come opening day.

Although Campana is the fan favorite to win the fifth outfielder spot, one could make a legitimate case for Sappelt to win the job. We all know the speed that Campana brings to the table, but if he has a hard time getting on base, then his base-running ability isn’t much of a factor. Last year, the 26-year old speedster finished his season with 30 stolen bases, but a mere .308 OBP could leave some fans questioning his real worth to the club. He has shown signs of excitement in the outfield in his first two MLB seasons, but you would have a hard time arguing to me that he’s a better-than-average defender who merely makes tough plays look even tougher by getting a bad jump, but using his speed to make up the difference.

Sappelt, who is almost a full year younger than Campana, is without a doubt a higher-upside player, but that makes me wonder whether or not getting to play once a week with the big-league club will really benefit him. Before the Hairston signing, I would have said that Sappelt is the better option for an outfield spot because he can platoon with Nate Schierholz in right field when there is a lefty on the mound, but it looks as though Hairston has taken that job right from under him. What Sappelt did at the end of 2012 when he got a chance to play was pretty encouraging as he hit .275 with a .351 OBP in 26 games, but his value takes a plummet if he rides the bench.

For me, in order to make the most well-informed decision, we need to look at what the Cubs are trying to accomplish in 2013, and what it is going to take to get that done. Though I see many fans becoming overly optimistic, we must remember that the front office is preparing to be competitive in 2014 and beyond, not this year.

That is not to say that the moves that have been made this winter aren’t going to make us more competitive than 2012 (I predict a win total in the 70-75 neighborhood), but the front office and management are not going to just throw all of their cards onto the table and hope for a winning season. I bring this point up because of course Sappelt is the better player than Campana, but allowing Sappelt to play every day in Iowa is much more beneficial to him and the Cubs’ future plans. Campana is what he is, and has proved what he can do for the team, and his value is as high as it will ever be.

So for me, the better choice is Campana, but only because we know what he brings to the ball club. He is basically nothing more than a fantastic pinch runner or defensive replacement for the old man in left field, and he is beloved by the Cubs faithful.

I cannot lie. I like him too, and I wish more players emulated his passion on the field, but his tools will become more beneficial for teams in contention come July, so he could be traded, or thrown into a bigger deal.

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