6 Potential Candidates Will Battle For Chicago Cubs’ Fifth Outfielder Position
Chicago Cubs' Fifth Outfielder Battle
The Chicago Cubs' fifth outfielder coming out of spring training will likely come from a group of non-roster invitees who will all by vying for one spot on the Major League roster. This list includes Chris Coghlan, Aaron Cunningham, Mitch Maier, Ryan Kalish, Casper Wells, Ryan Roberts, Darnell McDonald and former first-round pick Albert Almora.
Almora will be sent down to minor league camp before the end of the spring, but it will be nice for him to get a taste of big league baseball. Darnell McDonald is also a long-shot to win the job out of spring training and will most likely head to Triple-A as an emergency outfielder. As for the remaining six, each has a real shot of making the team.
The Cubs’ front office is familiar with Aaron Cunningham from Jed Hoyer’s days in San Diego as well as with Ryan Kalish from his time with the Boston Red Sox. Maier, Kalish and Coghlan all have the patience at the plate that this front office prefers while Casper Wells and Ryan Roberts have MLB experience and offer unique skill-sets.
With a limited amount of time during spring training to separate from the pack, this group of players will be hungry for a job. Those who stay with the team and are sent down to Triple-A Iowa will still have a good chance to impress the organization enough to get a mid-season call-up. An argument can be made for each of these players to win the fifth outfielder’s job, but only one of them will make the Cubs’ 25-man-roster.
6. Chris Coghlan
Chris Coghlan has the best pedigree of this bunch after winning the Rookie of the Year award in 2009. That year Coghlan hit .321/.390/.460 with nine HR and 8 SB in 565 plate appearances and amassed 2.6 Wins Above Replacement. The following season he went backwards with more strikeouts, less walks and less power. Coghlan has been shuttled in and out of the minors ever since and has consistently failed to impress at the Major League level. He is a below average defender and his performance at the plate in 2009 looks to be a mirage. Despite strong on-base skills, I’m skeptical of his chances to make the Cubs' 25-man-roster.
5. Aaron Cunningham
Aaron Cunningham has bounced around baseball after a few promising minor league seasons, beginning with the Chicago White Sox in 2006 and 2007. His initial debut at Low-A saw him hit .305/.386/.496 with 11 HR and 19 SB in 95 games, and Cunningham followed that performance up with a line of .294/.376/.476 with eight HR and 22 SB in 67 games played at Advanced-A. Cunningham was then traded to four different teams in the next four years, playing for the Diamondbacks, A’s, Padres, and Indians before signing a minor league deal with the Rangers in November of 2012. After excelling at each level of the minor leagues, Cunningham has alternated good and bad seasons at Triple-A and has a combined line of .219/.280/.347 in 501 Major League plate appearances. He has shown strong potential in the minor leagues but may end up being a Quad-A player who just cannot make it in the big leagues.
4. Casper Wells
Casper Wells is a big man at 6-foot-2 220-pounds, and the 29-year-old has put up three productive big league seasons. Wells compiled 3.9 WAR from 2010-2012 for the Tigers and Mariners but fell off a cliff offensively in 2013, hitting .126/.186/.147 in 102 plate appearances. If you can forget about his miserable 2013 season, the skill Casper Wells has shown in the past is above average power. Wells hit 21 home runs in 430 plate appearances at Triple-A in 2010 and has 25 home runs in 277 total big league games with an above average .166 ISO. Wells has the power potential to be a decent option off the bench but does not show as many skills as the other players on this list.
3. Ryan Kalish
The Cubs' front office knows Ryan Kalish well from his days in the Boston Red Sox minor league system. Kalish has shown incredible patience in the minor leagues, walking more than he struck out at three different levels. However, his power potential never fully revealed itself, and he has taken awhile to adjust to each new level of competition. He may provide a little pop with some speed, and if he combines those skills with his incredible batting eye he could be a valuable player off the bench.
2. Mitch Maier
Mitch Maier was a first-round draft pick of the Kansas City Royals (30th overall) in 2003 and hit .253/.332/.346 in 1043 total plate appearances for Kansas City from 2006-2011. Maier spent 2012 with the Texas Rangers' Triple-A team and hit .288/.385/.424 in 38 games before moving to the Boston Red Sox organization in 2013 where he hit .310/.431/.451 in 31 games. Maier has shown incredible patience at the plate the past three seasons with walk rates of 17.5 percent in 2013 and 13.5 percent in 2012 after walking at a rate of 14.2 percent for the Royals in 2011. This is the type of player the Cubs' front office loves, so he may have a decent shot at impressing the team this spring.
1. Ryan Roberts
When all is said and done, the Cubs' fifth outfielder may actually end up being an infielder. Super utility man Ryan Roberts was signed to a minor league deal in December, and his ability to play second base, third base and left field may give him an advantage when final cuts come around. Roberts, who has played primarily at third base in his career, has a severe platoon split with a .785 OPS against left-handed pitchers compared to .672 against right-handed pitchers. If Junior Lake is the everyday center fielder, Roberts could potentially platoon with Ryan Sweeney in left field. Sweeney has a similarly severe platoon split with a .609 OPS against left-handed pitching compared to a .750 OPS against right-handed pitchers. This potentially productive platoon combined with Roberts' ability to back up multiple infield positions may earn him the final roster spot at the end of spring training.