With opening day a little over two weeks away, players are starting to sweat out the final cuts as crunch time approaches. The Cubs starting lineup is pretty much set, with C Geovany Soto, 1B Bryan LaHair, 2B Darwin Barney, SS Starlin Castro, 3B Ian Stewart, LF Alfonso Soriano, CF Marlon Byrd and RF David DeJesus.
However, there are still battles to be won or lost for the final bench spots. It appears that Joe Mather has beaten out Tony Campana for the 5th outfield spot (with Reed Johnson being the 4th outfielder) and Jeff Baker will man one of the UT spots. That leaves one backup infielder and the backup catcher to be decided.
Utility Infield Spot
As of right now, Blake DeWitt appears to have the edge in this battle over Alfredo Amezaga and Adrian Cardenas. DeWitt has hit .333/.419/.519 this spring albeit in just 27 at bats, but is also a career .260 hitter in the majors. He primarily plays second and third, which would be OK as Baker can backup at first and Barney can backup at short.
The problem with DeWitt is that he is no longer on the Cubs' 40 man roster, as he was designated for assignment when the Cubs claimed Cardenas over the winter. This may be why rumors are floating around that the Cubs are looking to trade DeWitt.
If DeWitt is traded, then the choice comes down to Amezaga and Cardenas. Amezaga has major league experience, hitting .247/.307/.333 in 9 seasons (1408 at bats). He is capable of playing short and might make more sense than using Barney as a backup to Castro.
Cardenas, on the other hand, has no major league experience, but has hit .303/.368/.413 in the minors and is also capable of playing short.
It may come down to who hits better this spring, in which case Amezaga is the clear favorite, as he has hit .417/.481/.500 versus Cardenas' .231/.310/.538.
Prediction: DeWitt is traded to the Phillies and Amezaga wins the utility spot, with Cardenas beginning the year at AAA.
This is basically a two horse race between Steve Clevenger and Welington Castillo. Clevenger is a career .308/.369/.421 hitter in the minors and is hitting .320/.345/.640 so far this spring. His defense is a bit suspect as he has only thrown out runners at a 28% rate in his minor league career. However, he does have one other thing going for him in that he hits lefthanded, while Soto and Castillo are righties.
Castillo is a career .265/.323/.430 hitter in the minors, but is considered better defensively and throws out runners at a 37% clip. He is hitting .346/.393/.538 this spring.
My thinking here is that the Cubs could eventually trade Soto and therefore need to develop Castillo as his potential replacement. Thus, they are more likely to send him down to AAA where he can get regular playing time. That, combined with Clevenger's stronger minor league hitting record and his left handedness, makes Clevenger the likely choice as the backup.
Prediction: Steve Clevenger will backup Soto to start the season. However, Soto will be traded in July and Castillo will take over the starting role at that time.
Thus, the bench will consist of Jeff Baker, Alfredo Amezaga, Reed Johnson, Joe Mather and Steve Clevenger. Next up, I will take a look at the Cubs bullpen battle.