So far this spring, the 5-4 Chicago Cubs have witnessed injuries to their starting third baseman, starting shortstop, and number two starting pitcher, but let’s focus on some of the highlights of their first week of Cactus League action.
The team’s top organizational prospect, shortstop Javier Baez, knocked his first home run in a Cubs uniform today in a split-squad matchup with the Milwaukee Brewers. Baez has really impressed the Cubs’ coaching staff with how hard he hits the ball, and his swing drew comparisons to a young Gary Sheffield when he belted a line drive that about took off the shortstop’s head against the Los Angeles Dodgers earlier in the week. Coming into today’s action, Baez was batting .333 in five games, and though manager Dale Sveum says his defense still needs a lot of development, it’s great to see him seeing the ball so well at the plate against some big league pitching.
Another promising Cubs prospect, infielder Junior Lake, has been raking as well in his six games with a .308 batting average, a home run and a double. With Ian Stewart out with an injury already, Lake will aim to prove that he can provide the power numbers usually required for players at the hot corner. More than likely, however, Lake will begin the year at Triple-A Iowa, but the time is now for him to start making a case for a midseason call up. Right now it looks like Luis Valbuena is the front runner to play third base if Stewart continues to be sidelined due to injuries. Valbuena is making a pretty good case for himself too with a .571 batting average and a homer in four games.
Center fielder Brett Jackson, who was the Cubs’ top prospect in 2012 but has fallen on that list due to a less-than-impressive MLB debut last season, made huge strides to improve his swing during the winter, and the hard work looks like it may be paying off. In six games, not counting today, Jackson is hitting .375 with a double and two triples. For the 24-year-old, the number one goal this spring will be to solidify himself as the first outfielder on the Minor League depth chart, so that if and when the Cubs part ways with either Alfonso Soriano or David DeJesus, Jackson will be first in line to get his second crack at the MLB level.
As far as pitching arms go, starter Jeff Samardzija has been fairly effective in his first two appearances of the season. In his first outing, the 28-year-old worked 2.0 innings of one-run baseball with three hits, two strikeouts, and zero walks. In the second outing, Samardzija tossed 3.0 innings, giving up a run on one hit and three walks. After the announcement that starter Matt Garza will likely miss the first month of the regular season, Sveum named Samardzija as his guy on opening day.
Japanese rookie Kyuji Fujikawa has not allowed a run in his 2.0 innings of work this spring, and the same goes for young prospect Hector Rondon, who could earn a spot in the Cubs’ bullpen to start the year if he continues to pitch effectively.