Contingency plan for Suzuki? Here are Cubs' RF options
Club evaluating Seiya's left oblique issue; return timetable undetermined
MESA, Ariz. -- Seiya Suzuki arrived at camp this spring with a more imposing build after learning how much stamina is required for a Major League season. His displays in early-spring batting practice have been jaw-dropping, making it easy for the Cubs to dream about a breakout showing this year.
That may still come to fruition, but the North Siders need to hit pause on Suzuki's preseason for the time being. The right fielder is currently dealing with a moderate left oblique strain, and the team announced Monday night that Suzuki will not participate in the World Baseball Classic.
"He looked really good," Cubs manager David Ross said. "He worked his tail off to take care of his body. Sometimes things happen."
While the Cubs await Suzuki's return -- no timetable has been announced yet -- the ballclub can at least begin to examine its contingency plans for right field.
The main candidates
One of the reasons the Cubs targeted veteran Trey Mancini in free agency this offseason was his versatility.
Under normal circumstances, Mancini would ideally split time with Eric Hosmer at first base and also get at-bats as a designated hitter. That said, Mancini has ample experience in the outfield corners in his career and could handle right field, if Suzuki is sidelined.
Last season, Mancini logged 162 innings in left field and 86 innings in right between his stops with the Orioles and Astros. He was a plus defender in terms of UZR/150 (23.1 in the outfield overall) and registered two defensive runs saved as well.
Besides Mancini, Chicago would also have the ability to move Patrick Wisdom to right field. As things stand, Wisdom is primarily a third baseman but, similar to Mancini, he could help at first or DH. Last year, Ross gave Wisdom small-dose chances in all three outfield spots.
"Those are the first guys that have come to my mind," Ross said, "and how I'm reworking the schedules down the road for some people to play right in case Seiya can't get back."
The top non-roster options
If Suzuki's situation does wind up impacting the Opening Day roster construction, two non-roster outfielders who would be under serious consideration would be Ben DeLuzio and Mike Tauchman. As it is now, they will be evaluated in the race for the 26th roster spot.
DeLuzio, 28, fits as a potential fourth outfielder, given that he could be a right-handed complement to lefty-swinging center fielder Cody Bellinger. Not only does DeLuzio offer the ability to play capably up the middle, but he offers speed off the bench. He stole 30 bases for Triple-A Memphis last year and has 140 steals in six Minor League seasons.
"Running and basestealing is probably going to take a step forward in our game," Ross said, "as far as priority and people trying to take advantage of some of that. So, he fits into that."
The 32-year-old Tauchman hits lefty, but Ross has been impressed with his ability to "control the strike zone." The manager also likes that Tauchman boasts some Major League experience, having played in parts of five seasons with the Rockies, Yankees and Giants. Last year, Tauchman had a .366 on-base percentage with 53 extra-base hits in 144 games for the Hanwha Eagles in Korea.
"Tauchman is smooth, quiet, good approach at the plate," Ross said.
The younger options
Last season, both Christopher Morel and Nelson Velázquez received rookie trial runs as part of the Cubs' outfield. They will be given an opportunity to make the Opening Day roster, but the team may ultimately see a benefit to regular playing time at Triple-A Iowa to start the season.
Morel offers a possible righty complement to Bellinger in center, but he is also in the mix at third base or as a super utility man. Over 113 games in '22, the 23-year-old Morel hit .235/.308/.433 with 16 homers, 19 doubles and 137 strikeouts, while bouncing all over the infield and outfield.
Velázquez, 24, profiles best as a right fielder, but he also logged time in center, where he and Morel each logged minus-six DRS. Velázquez hit .205/.286/.373 in his 77-game taste of the Major Leagues in '22.
The Cubs also have a highly touted prospect in the 23-year-old Brennen Davis, but he was limited to just 53 Minor League games due to injury setbacks last season. While Davis can play all three outfield spots, he is likely ticketed for Triple-A to begin the year.