Chicago Cubs: Another day in an overpacked outfield

(Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images) /

The Chicago Cubs will enter this season with five outfielders on the roster. Some can play elsewhere, but this is where they’ll find many of their at-bats. So how will Joe Maddon make it all work? Like he always does.

When you look at the Chicago Cubs‘ outfield, most of them are aware that they have work to do. Jason Heyward has already been at it with Cubs’ new hitting coach, Chili Davis. Ben Zobrist realized that last year was one of his worst statistically and took just 10 days off before getting back to work. And Kyle Schwarber is getting fit and trim. But he also knows that it’s not going to help him hit any better.

And this doesn’t include Ian Happ and Albert Almora Jr who have undoubtedly gone to work themselves. See, you can’t be left in the dust when getting ready for the 2018 season. Last year it was all fun and games as the Cubs celebrated their World Series win. Now they are all hungry to get back as the three NLCS appearances aren’t good enough for them. For the Cubs, it’s World Series or bust.

Everone is on a mission

If you’ve been paying attention, you’ve noticed that Schwarber has been on a mission to lose weight this offseason. The hope is it will make him faster out of the box and to the ball in the field. One thing that isn’t guaranteed from it is that he’ll hit better because of it.

"“It’s not going to help me hit .500,” he said. “You just have to control things you can control, and this is one thing I can control. People are making it out to be a big deal, but it’s part of the job for me.” h/t Paul Sullivan, Chicago Tribune"

Last year, Heyward went to work as soon as the season was over tweaking his swing. The results were nominal at best, but it was an improvement from the 2016 season. This year, Davis wants to work on his approach and his philosophy more so that the mechanics of his swing.

"“It’s the way he talks hitting, the philosophy, the mindset, hitting with a purpose, a team approach,” Heyward said. “It just really reminds me of how I was taught the game growing up and some of the veterans I had on my team in Atlanta.”"

Something to prove

In those three, the Cubs have three guys who have something to prove this year. With Happ and Almora, the Cubs will be looking to see if these two can take off from the strides they made last year. Almora hit right-handed pitching well (.342), and even as bad as he was knocked for it hit lefties well, too (.271).

Joe Maddon has been a mad scientist at times, putting players in positions they likely have no business being in. But he did it with Happ last season. And while it wasn’t always pretty, he was a better than average fielder. He did it in 2015 and 2016 with Kris Bryant and Willson Contreras in the outfield, as well. Now, Happ figures to get his time in center next to Almora–a much better defender. But after slugging 24 home runs in just 364 at-bats, Happ will have a place to play at times.

The webwork of Maddon

It’s a tricky web that Maddon will need to weave. Schwarber is a terrible outfielder (not really, but I’ll humor you), but might be much improved this season. Almora is the heir apparent in centerfield, but Happ’s bat will keep him in the mix.

And Heyward is a Gold Glove defender but needs to find a way to stay in the game at the plate. And then you have Zobrist, who was a Gold Glove finalist at second base–and might not see much time there because of Javier Baez.

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So on that note, let’s hurry up and get to spring training to see how this all plays out. I could spin myself in circles trying to piece this plan together. And from the mind of Maddon? No, no, sir.