Chicago Cubs: Three players to watch at Spring Training
The Chicago Cubs’ offseason was an invigorating one to say the least.
All the prognostications, speculation and projections are soon to come to fruition as Spring Training is now in full swing. With the Grapefruit and Cactus Leagues underway this week, there are a several intriguing players at Cubs’ Spring Training that are worth monitoring – either battling to stay in the majors, looking to make a name for themselves or trying to live up to their own expectations.
Former Boston Red Sox reliever Daniel Bard is a non-roster invitee to Cubs camp this spring. The right-hander who was an impressive minor leaguer coming up, before breaking out with the Red Sox in 2010 as their primary set-up man in the bullpen.
He appeared in 73 games that year, and posted a minuscule 1.93 ERA and 1.00 WHIP on the season with 76 strikeouts. He seemingly repeated his dominance in 2011, setting the club record with 25 consecutive scoreless appearances. Then, for whatever reason, the wheels fell off for the Red Sox in September of that season, and the big righty was one of the main culprits, finishing the month 0–4 with a 10.64 ERA, issuing more walks (nine) than he had in the previous three months combined (eight) – and he hasn’t been the same since.
The former first-round pick is only 29 years old and is still in his prime; his issues over the past few seasons have been deemed as mechanical flaws, meaning if he can regain any semblance of his former self, it could end up being the ultimate low-risk, high-reward pay off.
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Another player of interest to look out for this spring is Tommy La Stella. The second baseman was traded to the North Side by the Atlanta Braves this offseason for hard-throwing righty Arodys Vizcaino and three international signing bonus slots.
La Stella was stellar in his time in the Braves organization, mostly dominating every level of the minors – producing a notable slash line of .322/.407/.474 in 288 games. The 2006 eighth-rounder is currently competing against Mike Olt for the starting third baseman’s job out of camp – a position that could very well end up being a platoon.
La Stella’s outstanding minor league career on-base percentage of .407 combined with the Cubs’ apparent emphasis of getting on base might give the former Brave the inside track at landing the third base gig on Opening Night – although time will tell.
Last, but certainly not least, for my players to watch this spring is starting pitcher Carl Fleming Edwards – better known as C.J. Edwards. The lanky right-hander made his way to Chicago via the Matt Garza trade with the Texas Rangers in 2013, and since has emerged as the best prospect acquired in that particular deal.
Edwards is a consensus top-100 prospect and is widely regarded as the Cubs’ top pitching talent. At six feet tall, but just 155 pounds, his slender frame has raised durability questions from some – given he’s already dealt with some shoulder issues.
Nonetheless, Edwards has dazzled at various levels of the Chicago farm system, firing a fastball in the mid-90s, complimented by what many scouts proclaim as the best breaking ball seen in the minors in 2014.
At 78 to 80 MPH, he throws an 11-to-5 curve with late, horizontal break that has tremendous depth. It’s become his go-to pitch, often used as a knockout pitch to put away hitters. The right-hander has composed splendid statistics in the minors thus far, starting 49 games with a 1.86 earned run average and 294 strikeouts in 237 innings pitched – good for a remarkable 11.2 K per nine rate.
Though Edwards still has yet to pitch in Triple-A and needs some additional polishing, he’s well worth watching not only in Spring Training but all season long, as the back end of the Cubs’ rotation remains in flux.