Spring Training Battles

Spring Training Battles: Closer

The Cubs are a little over two weeks into spring training with about three weeks before Opening Day. It's time to check in on the yearly ritual of spring training battles. What's the fun of spring training without a little competition? The Cubs have a few spots up for grabs and today I take a look at the competition for the fabled closer role between Bob Howry, Carlos Marmol and Kerry Wood. It's the final piece in the series and I know you will all miss my Wrestlemania-inspired graphic.

The closer battle is probably the least crucial of the spring training battles this year, for two reasons. First, the closer role is generally overrated. The closer protects more three-run leads with nobody on than he does one-run leads with the go-ahead run coming up. Set-up men are often asked to wiggle out of more difficult jams than closers, who are usually brought in just to start the ninth inning with a clean slate. Second, all three candidates can do the job just fine, so Lou really can't lose on this one. Sure, you'd like to pick the best, but those outs in the seventh and eighth are just as crucial; and the two "losers" will slide into the set-up men roles. Plus, if the winner out of spring training can't hack it, the Cubs have two ready-made options ready to fill-in, possibly three if Ryan Dempster isn't cutting it as a a starter. As they say in the old country, it's a good problem to have.

Let's take a closer look after the jump....

Spring Training Battles: Starting Pitching

The Cubs are a little over two weeks into spring training with about three weeks before Opening Day. It's time to check in on the yearly ritual of spring training battles. What's the fun of spring training without a little competition? The Cubs have a few spots up for grabs and today I'll look at the starting rotation battle between Jon Lieber, Ryan Dempster, Jason Marquis and Sean Marshall. I won't pretend that Sean Gallagher has a legitimate chance, although I guess I am pretending that Sean Marshall does.

Unable or unwilling to trade for some of the top notch talent that was moved over the offseason, such as Johan Santana, Erik Bedard or Dan Haren; the Cubs head into 2008 with much of the same talent that was good for the second best ERA among NL starting staffs last year. Carlos Zambrano, Ted Lilly and Rich Hill
will anchor the staff, and if Marquis and Marshall win the jobs, you'll have the same starting five that took the mound for the bulk of last season.

That though, appears to be the least likely scenario, as Ryan Dempster is getting his wish to compete for a starting spot and the Cubs signed Lieber on a one year deal. It appears to be a bit of a logjam at the moment, but the bullpen or the trade market can alleviate that "problem" at the end of spring training.

Let's take a look at the strengths and weaknesses of each candidate after the jump...

Spring Training Battles: Center Field

The Cubs are a little over two weeks into spring training with about three weeks before Opening Day. It's time to check in on the yearly ritual of spring training battles. What's the fun of spring training without a little competition? The Cubs have a few spots up for grabs and today I'll take a look at the center field spot between Felix Pie and Sam Fuld.

The Cubs had the opportunity this offseason to shore up center field with a more reliable veteran, as a few stars hit the market including Torii Hunter and Andruw Jones
. The Cubs were obviously determined to give their youngsters a shot at the job, as they didn't even bother to call Hunter, which leads to the obvious conclusion that they probably didn't call any of the available center field free agents. We'll all soon find out if that confidence will be rewarded.

Felix Pie has been one of the Cubs top prospects and usually the Cubs top prospect ever since he joined the organization as a wide-eyed 17-year old out of the Dominican Republic. Pie has often been compared to the Cubs last great center field prospect, Corey Patterson, both being left-handed hitters with five-tool talent and questionable strike zone judgement. A tenous comparison, superficial at best, and, to be honest, a lazy comparison. While Corey Patterson struggled with each promotion in the minors and was truly rushed to the majors, Pie has taken each promotion in stride, often putting up better numbers than the previous stop.

Let's compare the two after the jump....

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  • Well executed!

    I've been wracking my brain to work a "Room With a View" reference in there but I just haven't gotten it to work.

    JoePepitone 48 min 43 sec ago view
  • Bryant might be playing SS during an infield shift, no? Usually he is moved to 2B but it could happen.

    Cubster 59 min 59 sec ago view
  • I won't really be happy until I see Bryant at shortstop.

    Old and Blue 1 hour 1 min ago view
  • Yeah, Underwood impresses the internet scouts more than the opposing hitters. Blackburn and Williams have pitched well but they would be more interesting if they missed more bats.

    Myrtle Beach has a couple of guys--Trevor Clifton and Jake Stinnett--worth keeping an eye on.

    South Bend has the best record in the Midwest League but it's more about their bats than their starting pitching.

    VirginiaPhil 1 hour 52 min ago view
  • Thanks Steve, I always forget about that.

    Rob Richardson 1 hour 56 min ago view
  • Maddon spins the wheel-o-lineups and Bryant is playing 1B.

    The line-ups, by the way, appear in the Twitter box on the left and usually very soon after they are made available.

    CTSteve 1 hour 58 min ago view
  • Looks like no Heyward or Rizzo in the lineup today.

    Rob Richardson 2 hours 14 min ago view
  • HAGSAG: Kevonte Mitchell has shown some improvement in 2016. He takes a lot of walks, shows occasional power, and he's an athletic defender capable of making the big play in the OF.

    However, he strikes out way too much, he doesn't always take the most-direct-route to get to balls hit into the air, and he sometimes runs himself into outs on the bases. He is still very raw.  

    Arizona Phil 2 hours 15 min ago view
  • E-MAN: I don't think Dallas Beeler has a long-term future with the Cubs, but (when healthy) he has gotten the call over the past couple of years as the "26th man" when the Cubs needed an extra starter in a doubleheader. 

    Arizona Phil 2 hours 30 min ago view
  • PHIL: Thanks for the wrap. A 2010 early-ish round Hendry draft pick, why do you surmise the new management team just doesn't cut bait on Beeler? Not shown that much as a starter. Does he have a power arm when right? Is he another Schlitter? Or, is he rosyer filler while the org waits out the lower-level arms to surpass him?

    The E-Man 3 hours 15 min ago view
  • Ryan Kellogg is still a fringy prospect despite being very old for low-A. He's putting up very good numbers no matter who he's facihg.

    John Beasley 6 hours 33 min ago view
  • Great article on Yosh and Nobe. Thanks for including it Trans.

    Hagsag 6 hours 50 min ago view
  • Phil, it looks like Kevonte Mitchell has made some progress this Spring. Your thoughts please, thanks.

    Hagsag 6 hours 55 min ago view
  • so far ryan williams (AAA) is the only system prospect on the "could be ready soon" horizon doing well...that said, he's not very exciting and he's assumed to be an end-rotation talent at best.

    paul blackburn is getting great early returns in AA, but he's getting surprisingly low K numbers doing it. he throws lot of low/sinking stuff with good control...also assumed to be an end-rotation guy, but he's got room to be better, especially given his control as base to build on.

    crunch 12 hours 12 min ago view
  • Speaking of pitching -- another ugly outing for Underwood at AA. Through 6 starts: 5.19 ERA, WHIP 1.69. Yikes!

    Man, do we need starting pitching depth. Our best hopes are still hanging with AZ Phil in Arizona. Very scary.

    billybucks 13 hours 9 min ago view
  • jeebus... that's terrible.

    Ryno 14 hours 10 min ago view