CHICAGO -- Anthony Rizzo as the leadoff man, Ian Happ, Dillon Maples and more are among the topics in this edition of the Cubs Inbox.It seems the big question has been who should lead off. Looking at last year, there was a period that stuck out the most and turned
CHICAGO -- Anthony Rizzo as the leadoff man, Ian Happ, Dillon Maples and more are among the topics in this edition of the Cubs Inbox.
It seems the big question has been who should lead off. Looking at last year, there was a period that stuck out the most and turned the season around. Rizzo deserves the nod as the leadoff batter. Certainly not a prototypical leadoff batter by any stretch, however, he has provided a spark that hasn't been seen since William Fowler. What are your thoughts on this option?
-- Matt M., Peoria, Ill.
I can understand why you'd lobby for Rizzo. According to Elias Sports, he's the only player in the past 60 seasons to reach base safely to start a game in each of his first seven career games batting leadoff. He hit three home runs, a double and two singles in those seven games. He's a natural, right? But as much fun as Rizzo had being the self-proclaimed greatest leadoff hitter of all time, I'd keep him at either third or fourth in the lineup where he'll have a better opportunity to drive in runs. He's driven in at least 100 runs in each of his past three seasons and batted .283 with runners in scoring position last year. Who will lead off? The Cubs might rotate players -- they used 11 last season -- or rely on two or three, including Benjamin Zobrist.
What does this season hold for Happ?
-- Christopher P., Chicago
A lot of opportunities. Happ provided more power than expected (24 home runs) and was versatile, which manager Joe Maddon likes. This season should be much better for him because he knows what to expect in terms of the daily grind, travel and opponents (He batted .297 vs. NL Central teams.)
Is there any chance Maddon will let Kyle Schwarber do any limited catching this year? Just in case, or to give the regular catchers a few innings off.
-- Craig M., Lewistown, Ill.
As of now, Schwarber is considered the emergency catcher, which means he's No. 3 on the depth chart. He'll probably get some time behind the plate in Spring Training.
Why no buzz about Maples? He got his feet wet last year, throws 100-plus with a wipeout slider. Kind of sounds like [Aroldis] Chapman but with a better slider. Why isn't he penciled in for the Cubs' 2018 bullpen?
-- Mike K., San Tan Valley, Ariz.
The Cubs do like what they've seen from Maples, 25, and his slider. He just needs more experience and to be more consistent. One of the things Maples is learning to do is pitch backward, which means using his secondary pitches instead of the fastball early in the count. He has only 17 games and 18 1/3 innings at Triple-A. Hopefully, he makes the jump to the big leagues full-time this year.
No one has signed Jonathan Jay. You would think he'd come back in a backup/pinch-hit role with the Cubs. His defense could be very valuable.
-- Guillermo M., San Diego
Jay, 32, was very valuable to the Cubs last season and not just because of his defense but his experience. He's one of the more than 100 free agents still on the market in the slow-moving offseason. Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer described conversations with agents as "a little bit of a staredown." Let's see who blinks first.
Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat.