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Chicago Cubs: Matt Szczur’s rise from obscurity to part-time star

Aug 12, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Cubs left fielder Chris Coghlan (8) celebrates with left fielder Matt Szczur (20) after they scored against the St. Louis Cardinals during the seventh inning at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 12, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Cubs left fielder Chris Coghlan (8) celebrates with left fielder Matt Szczur (20) after they scored against the St. Louis Cardinals during the seventh inning at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports /
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It may seem strange to call the Chicago Cubs reserve outfielder a star, but he’s earning the accolades with his 2016 season. Once the player shuffled between Chicago and the minors, Matt Szczur has claimed his place.

With so many young Chicago Cubs ready to assert themselves for the foreseeable future–Kyle Schwarber, Willson Contreras and Albert Almora–the future of Matt Szczur seems less concrete. With no options left, it would be a DFA for him, essentially ending his time in Chicago. I say that because there is no way a player like Szczur would make it through waivers. The good news is that’s not an issue right now.

That’s because Szczur is staking his claim to whatever position or role Joe Maddon needs him to fill. An occasional start, pinch-hitting duties, or a late defensive replacement–Szczur is doing it all, and very well at that. And today he had himself a day at Wrigley Field.

With the Cubs hitting five home runs in a 13-2 rout of the Cardinals, Szczur went deep twice while adding a double to finish 3-for-4 with three RBI on the afternoon. The afternoon did indeed puff up his home run totals, but he’s been impressing the Cubs like this all season.

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Coming through in “a pinch”

In 126 plate appearances, Szczur is slugging .508. That’s third on the team behind Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant. If you told me you saw that coming, I call BS. He’s batting .314 for the year with five home runs and 22 RBIs to date. But it may be his ability to stay ready off the bench that’s making him even more valuable.

He’s been the most used hitter off the bench for Maddon as well as the most successful. With a .324 AVG (12-for-37), and carries a .276 (8-for-29) with 15 RBIs with runners in scoring position. Not bad for a fifth-round pick who was pegged as a “groundball hitter” just a few years ago.

After a retooling of his swing to get the ball in the air more, Szczur has seen his stock rise from a near expendable player to a solid fourth option in the outfield. After injuries to several outfielders this year, he’s gotten his chance to fill in and made the best of it.

"“I knew he’d be ready to play, that was a big part of wanting to do that today–and not that anybody else wouldn’t be but give this guy opportunity and he’ll do whatever he can to take advantage of it.” Joe Maddon on Sczcur, h/t (Chris Kuc/Chicago Tribune)"

Next: Young talent key to Cubs success

With the future of

Tommy La Stella

in limbo, Szczur has become the team’s best-pinch-hit option as well as a solid defensive replacement late in games. Szczur didn’t seem to have a place when the year started, but he’s carved himself out a pretty good niche with Maddon and this Cubs’ team.

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