Word was out last week that nineteen Cubs not currently on the 40-man roster have been invited to spring training with the major-league team.
Infielders: Barney, Camp, Castro, LaHair, Lalli, Scales, Vitters
Outfielders: Jackson, Snyder
Catchers: Chirinos, Clevenger, Robinson
Pitchers: Cashner, Coleman, Diamond, Kennard, Mathes, Perkins, Russell
Say hello to your 2010 Iowa Cubs!–with the exceptions of under-22 prospects Vitters, Jackson and Castro, a couple of whom may never see Iowa.
Snyder, Chirinos, Camp and Diamond are coming off excellent winter-league showings. Chirinos, in particular, will not hear this question when he comes to camp in Mesa: what have you done for us lately? To punctuate his gaudy regular season WL numbers in Venezuela, he has had a torrid postseason: .333/.365/.633/.998, with 5 HRs and 14 RBI in 14 games. He has been catching and batting second for Magallanes, currently in first place in the round robin. There’s a decent chance Chirinos will come to Mesa in Febrary having recently been named VWL MVP.
Chirinos will likely start the season in Iowa, however, where at least he can be first string (although Sandberg liked Castillo well enough at Tennessee last year). Chirinos doesn’t have the profile of a third-string catcher, since he plays strong defense and hits for average and power. Whether he can challenge Geovany Soto at some not-too-distant point remains to be seen.
Meanwhile, the Cubs do need a third-string catcher, and I’ll explain why. Most teams do not feel a need for three catchers; but most teams do not have a second-string catcher who usually enters the game when the closer comes in, if he isn’t in already. Lou prefers to have Koyie Hill behind the plate when Marmol is pitching. This was certainly true in September ’09, when Marmol appeared in thirteen games, and Hill caught him in eleven of those games. In three of them, Hill came in as a defensive replacement for Soto in the final inning, i.e., Marmol’s inning. In the other eight games, Hill had started.
Without a third-string catcher, you tend to keep the backup on the bench, because you have a real problem if the backup comes in and gets dinged. Last September, Jake Fox was available to catch in an emergency.
So perhaps Lalli or Clevenger is the most likely nonrostered invitee to stick with the Cubs. Clevenger caught last year and played a little first. Lalli played first and caught a bit. Clevenger is probably the stronger catcher, while Lalli has more pop and could fill Hoffpauir’s shoes. It makes sense to me to say that Lalli may be in, Hoffpauir out.
When the last couple of roster spots are involved, versatile fill-ins have an advantage over starter types. Teams don’t like to have potential starters reduced to pinch-hitting duties. Chirinos at some point could replace Soto; so he’ll get a full season of games at Iowa. I continue to think that Hoffpauir would put up surprising numbers if he started at first base for the Cubs; but a rejuvenated Lee is likely to push Hoffpauir off the team completely. He’s an over-eager pinch hitter with no defensive versatility. That’s life in the big leagues: if there is ever an opening for a slugging first baseman, the line goes out the door and down the block.
By the same reasoning–niche players preferred to potential everyday players for roster spots 23-25–Snyder will likely get a chance to put up numbers at Iowa, pending an injury or a Fukudome trade, while Fuld handles the bench assignment for Chicago.