Before Spring Training began, it seemed like Chicago Cubs‘ catcher Steve Clevenger would start the regular season at Triple-A Iowa. However, new things have developed, including the injury of third baseman Ian Stewart, and Clevenger now finds himself in a situation where he can earn a spot on the Cubs’ opening day roster.
With regular first baseman Anthony Rizzo leaving spring training to play for Team Italy in the World Baseball Classic, Clevenger will get more opportunities to impress the coaching staff by replacing Rizzo at the position, thus getting more at bats. If the Cubs decide to cut Stewart because of his recent quadriceps injury, another spot on the roster will open, and apparently Clevenger has the ability to play multiple infield positions as well as behind the plate. Cubs manager Dale Sveum has said that he values Clevenger’s left-handed bat, which the Cubs’ bench may need if Stewart is a goner, and he will give Clevenger every chance to play a super utility role on his 2013 team.
Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune quoted the Cubs’ manager in regards to the possible open roster spot for Clevenger.
“You’re going to see him playing a lot more first,” Sveum said. “With (Anthony) Rizzo gone (on Monday to play with Team Italy), we’ll get him at first, and put him at second in a split squad, because we might lack that left-handed bat. And if you can have that third catcher to where you can pinch-run and not worry about the other catcher getting hurt, that comes into the mix.”
When Clevenger made the opening day roster in 2012, he quickly impressed with his bat. The 26-year-old (turns 27 April 5th) hit .500 for the first month of the year, but his numbers took a drastic turn for the worst in every other month thereafter and he finished with just a .201 average. He didn’t hit his first and only home run until June. Clevenger’s splits at home were a little more comforting however, as he hit .297 with a .354 on-base percentage in 36 games at Wrigley Field.
Much of Clevenger’s hitting woes can be attributed to the mental side of the game. Besides five plate appearances in 2011, last year was Clevenger’s first at the big league level, and dealing with the transition from a very hot start at the plate to struggling the way he did after the All Star break may have produced havoc on his confidence. Perhaps a fresh start to a new season, in a less-defined role, can propel Clevenger back to his early season form of 2012. Wellington Castillo will start behind the plate and Dioner Navarro will be next on the depth chart, so Clevenger would have to worry less about calling games and more about hitting when he’s needed.
Utility player Brent Lillibridge may be the favorite to land the final spot right now, but Clevenger may be able to take it from him with a great spring. Clevenger has two hits in five at bats so far, while Lillibridge is three for ten. The fact that Clevenger hits from the left side gives him a huge advantage because it brings value to pinch hitting situations where Sveum can utilize his different lefty-righty matchups.
However it shakes up, it should be fun to watch Clevenger and Lillibridge battle for a job.