Chicago Cubs Spring Training: Ranking the Top 5 Early Standouts
Ranking the Top 5 Early Standouts in Chicago Cubs Spring Training
After waiting patiently all winter long for Spring Training to arrive, it’s difficult to watch a player’s performance during spring games and not assign any importance to the raw numbers. You have to resist the urge though, because Spring Training stats are practically meaningless as far as predicting how a player will perform the rest of the season. Having raw numbers to look at is nice, and it’s fun to watch minor league prospects against major league talent, but at the end of Spring Training, what we are left with is an extremely small sample size of numbers that hold little significance.
Instead of looking at batting average and ERA, to evaluate spring stats it’s all about each individual player’s approach. A player may get called out on strikes but fought hard during the at-bat and let a borderline pitch go. A pitcher may be working on specific pitches and not working an at-bat in the same way he would in a game that counted. Spring Training is all about execution and a player’s comfort level during the game.
With that said, it’s also nice to see big numbers, despite the incredibly small sample size. If a player hits 10 home runs during the spring, it may not mean much, but it also can’t hurt that player's chances of hitting for power during the season. As we conclude the first week of March, there have not been enough games played to accrue significant numbers, even by Spring Training standards, but it can be fun to evaluate the first impressions of early spring action.
While the actual numbers may be meaningless, watching top prospects perform against big league competition can still be exciting, and humbling. Fans cannot help but get excited when watching the future of an organization meet and even exceed expectations during their first taste of action in 2014. With that said, the following are five players who have been the top performers so far for the Chicago Cubs this spring.
5. Josh Vitters
Josh Vitters has just four at-bats with two hits, but the major takeaway from the start to Vitter's spring is the fact that he has taken two walks during his limited action. Vitters, the former third overall pick of the 2007 draft, is one of many outfielders trying to win one of the last spots on the 25-man roster, and he has always been an aggressive hitter who reluctantly takes a free pass. Over the past few years though Vitters has slowly changed his approach going from a 4.5 percent walk rate in 2011, to 6.6 percent in 2012 all the way up to 11 percent last year. Instead of swinging for the fences this spring to prove he deserves a job, he has shown the patience that this front office prefers, and if he can continue to show maturity at the plate then hope is not yet lost for Josh Vitters to make it in the majors.
4. Travis Wood
Travis Wood pitched for the first time on Thursday and could not have been much more impressive, giving up one hit over three innings with three strikeouts and no walks. One of the biggest questions for the Cubs entering 2014 is how will Travis Wood follow up his stellar 2013 season? A year ago Wood pitched 200 innings with a 3.11 ERA and 1.15 WHIP and he has a tall task ahead of him to repeat those numbers. Thursday's start was a step in the right direction.
3. Anthony Rizzo
Anthony Rizzo is hitting .500 in 10 at-bats this spring with two doubles, a walk and zero strikeouts. He also singled and doubled off of left-hand pitcher Tommy Milone on Tuesday, a good sign given his struggles against lefties a year ago. Rizzo is primed for a rebound season from his disappointing 2013 and the strong start to his spring is hopefully a sign of things to come.
2. Justin Ruggiano
Justin Ruggiano has had a strong start to the spring going 4-for-6 with one home run and one double. Four of those at-bats were against right-handed pitchers, and Ruggiano fared well with two hits and two walks to one strikeout. There is always the caveat of a meaningless sample size when it comes to Spring Training stats, and six plate appearances against RHP means nothing for Ruggiano’s future role with the Cubs. With that said, he did hit .305/.354/.452 against RHP in 213 plate appearances during the 2012 season and it’s encouraging to see Ruggiano get off to a hot start at the plate.
1. Javier Baez
Javier Baez is 5-for-12 with a double and two home runs this spring. He has two strikeouts and has not taken a walk while leading the team in at bats. Baez is clearly looking to make an impression and taking walks is just not part of his game right now, especially not when he's busy trying to break car windows in the parking lot across the street.
More than just the offensive numbers are the plays Baez is making with his legs and with his glove as he's produced multiple highlights in a small window of playing time. The most impressive aspect of Javier's spring is how his baseball instincts have stood out, and when those instincts are combined with his immense natural talent, Baez is showing why he has the potential to be one of the elite players in the league.
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