Chicago Cubs: Could Ben Zobrist be the new David Ross?

(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /

The Chicago Cubs projected Opening Day starting lineup is most likely already set in manager Joe Maddon’s head and I think most would believe Ben Zobrist is one of the odd men out.

Heading into the 2018 regular season, Chicago Cubs utilityman Ben Zobrist is the oldest player on the roster, and after a dismal 2017 campaign, he looks to show he still has some game left in the tank, says The Athletic’s Sahadev Sharma. 

In Sharma’s latest piece in his “10 Crucial Questions the Cubs Have to Answer this Season” series for The Athletic, he breaks down what Zobrist’s role could be in 2018.

Last season was Zobrist’s worst year in some time, putting together a .693 OPS, his lowest since 2010 (.699).

The Cubs veteran put together a much better 2011 campaign, slashing .269/.353/.469 giving him a .822 OPS. In 2010, he hit 10 home runs but in his rebound season, he smashed 20, the second-highest of his career.

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Fortunately for Zobrist, he doesn’t need to hit that many home runs or even try to have a breakout season for this deep Cubs team because he likely won’t be playing in as many games.

He knows that his role has changed and knows he needs to perform to stay on the field, wherever that may be.

"“At this point in my career, I’m not going to play 158 games or whatever,” Zobrist said. “I’m going to have to manage and figure out how to play great for 130. I think that would be a good thing to shoot for if I’m healthy. Playing 130 games of nine innings would be great. And then you’re talking about the postseason too. If you’re playing well and you need to play for the team in the postseason, you gotta be ready for that.”"

A crowded outfield and young infield

As we know, the Cubs are loaded in the outfield. Kyle Schwarber will get his chance to rebound from last season and with a suddenly changed body, he will have a long leash. Jason Heyward is still the Cubs’ best defensive outfielder and unfortunately the Cubs highest-paid player, meaning he will likely play right field more often than not.

Albert Almora and Ian Happ will likely share time in center field based on matchups. Heyward also could see some time there. Finally, Happ will share time at second base with Javier Baez.

That leaves Zobrist wondering where his time comes in. We know Maddon will always play the matchups. For example, if the starter is a lefty, you’ll likely see Heyward or Schwarber getting an off day, which opens the door for Zobrist. However, Zobrist, a switch-hitter, performed very poorly from the right side of the plate in 2017. He will tell you it’s because of his nagging wrist injury he endured.

Heyward could get an off-day but Maddon could play Happ in right field as well. There are no automatic decisions for Zobrist.

An embraced role for Zobrist in 2018

In the piece, Zobrist discusses possibly playing different positions. I think first base could be that option. As Anthony Rizzo enters his prime years, there’s nothing wrong with giving him a few extra off-days. Third base may also be an option given Kris Bryant has seen time in the outfield during his career. I don’t see these situations happening often, but once again it’s a possibility because Maddon is unpredictable.

One hole the Cubs haven’t worried much about is the leadoff role in the lineup. Zobrist, who has a career .355 OBP and 12.3 percent walk rate could be an option. However, his career shows he’s not great in that role. He only has a .330 OBP in 887 appearances the leadoff position.

If he plays well, it could force Maddon to play him more than fans would anticipate. I wouldn’t bank on that happening though.

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All that said, Zobrist still is a veteran leader in the clubhouse and could potentially fill that old David Ross-like role. His experience goes a long way, and as Cubs fans know, he always seems to be in the middle of things in October.