As Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune reported earlier today, the Chicago Cubs have come to a minor league agreement with the versatile Emilio Bonifacio. While it’s only a minor league deal, it does heat up the battle for the final couple bench spots available.
Should the Cubs have four bench-hitting spots available, the final few spots will feature great races. Catcher George Kottaras is a sure bet to make the team as long as he stays healthy since he’s the main backup catching option. By that same coin, Justin Ruggiano is sure to claim a bench spot and even platoon against left-handed pitchers.
That leaves two spots to be battled for by a number of different players. Among Bonifacio’s competitors for the last couple spots on the roster are Donnie Murphy, Arismendy Alcantara, Mike Olt, Luis Valbuena, Ryan Roberts and Logan Watkins.
Last season, Murphy was a pleasant surprise for the Cubs as he produced 11 home runs in just 149 at-bats. That kind of power is always welcome on a major league bench as good pinch hitters don’t come around every day. However, it’s unclear whether or not last season was indicative of Murphy’s future performance or not.
Second base prospect Alcantara is more of a long shot to make the team. If he dominates in Spring Training, he has a slight chance to win the starting second base job, which would relegate the incumbent Darwin Barney to the bench.
The starting third base job is Olt’s to lose in 2014. After vision issues a season ago, Olt’s time to prove himself has come. Everyone in the Cubs’ front office needs to know what they have in Olt so that they can develop other young infield talent accordingly.
Olt winning the third base job wouldn’t be good for other prospective bench players because that would move Valbuena to the bench. The staff will feel more comfortable with Valbuena because he’s been there before and has produced at the big league level. However, Olt is only likely to make the team as a starter so if he doesn’t win the third base battle in spring training then a potential bench spot could open up.
Roberts has experience at the major league level as a bench player, but it’s going to be an uphill climb for him to make the big league roster out of Spring Training. If he can flash some power upside then his chances of making the team as a bench player go way up.
Watkins came up for the Cubs a season ago and showed off his versatility. While his results in the box left something to be desired, the fact that he would put a lefty bat in the lineup definitely increases his chances of cracking the Opening Day roster.
Bonifacio presents a set of skills that the Cubs could use on their bench. He has speed and he can play the outfield, second or third base. Versatility is a key component when putting together a major league bench and Bonifacio would give the Cubs plenty of that. Additionally, Bonifacio’s top-end speed would give the Cubs a base-stealing option off of the bench for late game situations.
Due to his multiple skills that are ideal in a bench player, Bonifacio deserves to make the Cubs’ roster out of Spring Training regardless of the fact that he only received a minor league contract. Whether he starts his season in Chicago will be determined by the play of himself and a number of other players this spring.