Chicago Cubs: Zobrist decline paves way for young Cubs players
By Brian Thomas
Ben Zobrist is heading for a decline in 2018. As he takes more of a backseat, younger Cubs such as Javier Baez, Ian Happ and Albert Almora are ready for more everyday roles.
The last two seasons have been night and day for the Chicago Cubs’ super-utility man Ben Zobrist.
In the 2016 World Series, Zobrist drove in the Cubs go-ahead run on a double down the left-field line in the 10th inning. The Cubs ended their 108-year drought, and the Eureka native was named World Series MVP after recording 10 hits while batting .357 in all seven games.
Despite Zobrist’s accolades in the World Series, he came back to Earth in 2017, having one of the worst seasons of his career. He was plagued by wrist and back injuries, limiting him to 435 at-bats, his fewest since 2008. To go along with that Zobrist posted a career-worst .232 batting average.
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Can’t count him out
It’s safe to say Zobrist is looking to have a bounce-back season after a frustrating 2017 campaign. But at this stage in his career, there are no guarantees.
I don’t want to say the writing is on the wall. Zobrist will be 37 in May, and he is dealing with recurring injuries.
Zobrist’s back injuries have continued early this spring and limited his ability to get on the field. He has yet to appear in a spring training game yet and is not likely to for the next week or so.
What will his role be?
If Zobrist doesn’t return to the player he was in 2016 the Cubs will have a decision to make about how big of a role he will play this season.
Fortunately for them, the Cubs have a plethora of young talent waiting to take the next step and contribute on a regular basis. If Javier Baez, Ian Happ and Albert Almora all perform well to start the season, it will be hard to keep them on the bench.
Baez, a platoon player for his first few seasons, is hoping to get a chance as the everyday second baseman. As the primary second baseman, Baez would take opportunities away from Zobrist.
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Happ has set the world on fire early in spring training with three home runs in his first 10 at-bats. He looks like the Cubs new super-utility man as he can play all three outfield spots and second base. Almora and Happ will likely split time in center field as a platoon unless one of them were to win the job outright in spring training.
Ultimately, I think the young guys will prove they belong on the field and Zobrist’s super-utility role will be diminished. He will still be a valuable utility man for the Cubs just not on an everyday basis.