Globe iconLogin iconRecap iconSearch iconTickets icon
news

MLB News

Cubs enter camp with 5 options in outfield mix

Maddon to pick from Heyward, Schwarber, Zobrist, Happ, Almora
MLB.com @CarrieMuskat

MESA, Ariz. -- Cubs manager Joe Maddon likes to mix and match, and he has five outfielders to fit into three spots each game. This spring, it will be interesting to see who gets at-bats where.

Five-time Gold Glove Award winner Jason Heyward is the most regular of the quintet and will patrol right field. He was limited to 126 games last season because of injuries to both hands.

MESA, Ariz. -- Cubs manager Joe Maddon likes to mix and match, and he has five outfielders to fit into three spots each game. This spring, it will be interesting to see who gets at-bats where.

Five-time Gold Glove Award winner Jason Heyward is the most regular of the quintet and will patrol right field. He was limited to 126 games last season because of injuries to both hands.

"I know myself as a player, and games played is a big thing for me," Heyward said. "When I get my repetitions, I can do a lot of good things. I did a lot of good things to help us win on both sides of the ball, but there's more in there because there's more games to be played."

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

After batting .230 in his first season with the Cubs in 2016, Heyward hit .259 last year. He started work with new hitting coach Chili Davis in November at the team's complex and said the transition has been good.

Cubs Spring Training info | Tickets

What about left? Kyle Schwarber made the most starts there last season (101), but the Cubs are hoping the first half was an aberration. Schwarber was batting .171 on June 21 when he was sent to Triple-A Iowa, and he posted a .255 average in 65 games upon his return. He spent the offseason slimming down and working on his agility.

"It's something I can control," Schwarber said of his diet. "I want to be the best baseball player I can be and help the Cubs get to the World Series again, and this is something I can control."

Video: Kyle Schwarber's focus and routine in the offseason

Judging by early batting-practice sessions at the Cubs' complex, Schwarber hasn't lost any power.

"When someone is throwing 95 [mph] and you hit it on the barrel, there's a good chance you'll hit it out," Schwarber said. "That won't be a problem at all. I'm trying to get quicker, more explosive, and that's going to help, too."

Schwarber batted .211 for the season, and .171 against left-handers. He wasn't the only one who scuffled last season.

Ben Zobrist, who played in left and right field, is coming off one of his worst years, batting .232. He had to deal with injuries, too, and in January, said he was in the best shape he's been in the past few years.

"My body is way better than it has been over the last few years," Zobrist said. "I'm motivated and excited to get out there and just play hard and enjoy it and keep growing as a player. I'm 36 and one of the older guys on the team but I look forward to growing in whatever capacity I'm given."

Maddon has been moving Zobrist around since their days together with Tampa Bay.

Ian Happ's versatility was tested last year in his rookie season. Happ played 82 games in the outfield (including 41 starts in center) and 44 games at second base. In 22 games, he played both in the infield and outfield -- obviously not at the same time. He surprised the Cubs with his power (24 home runs).

A switch-hitter, Happ fared better against left-handed pitchers (.276) compared to right-handers (.243) by average, though the opposite was true for on-base percentage plus slugging (.749 against lefties, vs. .863 against righties).

Video: Almora wows with four-star grab

The Cubs' fifth outfielder -- and the one whose playing time may increase the most -- is Albert Almora Jr. He made the decision to move to the Phoenix area this offseason to train full time at the Cubs' facility and had a chance to work with Heyward. That could pay off in more at-bats. Almora started 65 games in center last season, and batted .298 for the year, including a .342 batting average against left-handers.

Could Almora get more starts against right-handers? That will probably be the case this spring. Almora is solid defensively and could possibly fill the vacant leadoff spot.

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat.

Chicago Cubs, Ian Happ, Jason Heyward, Albert Almora Jr., Kyle Schwarber, Ben Zobrist