Sunday Rundown: A Tale of Two Castoffs, Depth a Team Strength, Spring Training Hijinks Circa 2018

“Turning on the charm long enough to get you by. You’re still the same. You still aim high.” – Bob Seger, Still the Same

Jason Heyward hit a home run off of Andrew Heaney last week and Dodgers nation is calling the former Cub the “disruption” that will shake up their outfield. Heyward signed a minor league deal with Los Angeles shortly after Cody Bellinger signed with Chicago, essentially creating a trade. The two had run afoul of the fanbases of each team and high hopes abound for each player with their new organizations.

Freddie Freeman thinks Heyward is going to shock the world this season. The two were once teammates in Atlanta and Freeman thinks Heyward’s new swing will turn the clock back to 2010, when the outfielder finished second in Rookie of the Year voting. But will it?

Evan might just be a blogger to most of you, but trust me, the man knows a thing or two about swinging the bat. He’s sought advice from a lot of well-known experts to help with his son’s baseball journey, and Evan has become a student of hitting in the process. He did a great job of breaking down Bellinger’s new swing and has written several dozen hitting analyses for Cubs Insider.

What will make either or both players successful this season is their ability to go to the opposite field. Right field is where baseballs go to die at The Friendly Confines, and Billy Williams remains Chicago’s only left-handed batter to belt 40 home runs in a single season. If Bellinger can work the gaps at home, he’ll have a bounce-back season.

On the other hand, Heyward tends to roll over the top of pitches when he pulls the ball, resulting in a lot of groundouts to second base. Shift limitations will help somewhat, but it’s not like said shifts robbed Heyward the way they did Albert Pujols. Heyward hit more than his share of pedestrian grounders to the right side for the better part of seven seasons in Chicago.

We’ve been often teased by great spurts from Heyward and we still have little to go on in Bellinger’s case. But J-Hey will turn 34 this season while his counterpart is six years younger and just entering his prime. My gut tells me Bellinger has a better shot at bouncing back than Heyward. Time will tell.

Cubs News & Notes

Midwest Farm Report

The first base battle is not quite the contest I expected once spring training began. It appears that Matt Mervis has always been ticketed for Iowa, though that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The Cubs will start Eric Hosmer at first and Trey Mancini will serve as his backup, at least as things stand currently.

Mervis is a hulking left-handed hitter with a patient approach, excellent bat speed, and 60-grade raw power. That he signed as a UDFA is a bit of a misnomer. The slugger joined the Cubs in 2020 out of Duke, but the draft was only five rounds that year. After initially struggling to make contact, the Cubs shortened his swing and Mervis honed his approach in 2022 to focus on pitches in the middle third of the plate, leading to his breakout year. He demolishes fastballs and has a terrific grasp of the strike zone, so he won’t strike out a lot.

He’ll remind you a lot of Anthony Rizzo when he was a rookie. If Mervis is ever called upon to take the mound, it’s worth noting he pitched at Duke, has a 70-grade arm, and can dial his heater up to 96 mph.


Big League Chew

The Cubs haven’t made the playoffs since 2020 but boast one of the league’s best farm systems. Their next championship window has cracked a tad open and their minor leaguers will play a big part in the team’s future success. By signing Swanson and Taillon, the Cubs committed to winning baseball as early as this season.

I mentioned in Friday’s Rundown that I believe this team could win 90 games in 2023. That means the Cubs could be buyers at the trade deadline. Even if they do not, a lot of money is falling off of their payroll after this season. Jed Hoyer could theoretically make a run at Shohei Ohtani if he wants to, and he could also model Chicago after the 2019 Padres. That would mean trading from the team’s minor league depth.

The Cubs seem to have a bottomless well of starting pitchers, middle infielders, and outfielders. There will not be roster spots for all of those players, but who stays and who goes? You’d have to think that any of the top five will be non-starters in trade negotiations. Assuming Pete Crow-Armstrong, Kevin Alcántara, Brennen Davis, Cade Horton, and Hayden Wesneski are untouchable, who might be used to strengthen the big league roster via trade?

Other teams would surely be interested in Ben Brown, Jordan Wicks, Alexander Canario, and Owen Caissie, but I’d hate to see the Cubs get burned by moving any of them. The distaste from the failure of the José Quintana trade is still a little too fresh on my tongue. Dylan Cease is a stud and Eloy Jiménez isn’t bad. How Hoyer and Carter Hawkins draft in the coming years will determine who remains with the organization.

If the Cubs do not compete, they also have enough players to move at the deadline to further deepen the system. Additionally, Hoyer owns the No. 13 pick in this year’s draft. The organization should therefore be near the top of most minor league rankings by this time next year. That means by hook or by crook, that glut of young talent will determine if, when, and how the Cubs will win their next championship.

Sunday Morning Six-Pack

  1. Purple Rain by Prince & The Revolution
  2. Dave Matthews & Tim Reynolds Live at Radio City Music Hall
  3. Steel Wheels by The Rolling Stones
  4. Teatro by Willie Nelson
  5. Theme Music from the James Dean Story by Chet Baker & Bud Shank
  6. Innervisions by Stevie Wonder

Money Quotes

  • “I’ve believed [I made the right decision] ever since Day 1. My wife and I prayed about it a lot. When that was answered, I haven’t regretted one ounce of it. I feel very convicted [about] being here. Chicago is where we felt led to be. I’ve learned to trust the big man’s plan more than my own. Every time I’ve had a big change in my life, it’s worked out for the better. Getting traded to Atlanta was an amazing thing for me. That’s how I met my wife. I just know that this is where we’re supposed to be.” – Swanson
  • “[Taillon’s] a gamer. He gives you innings. He’s a tremendous teammate. I think he’s going to be a really valuable, solid piece for the Cubs as they move forward. He’s going to be someone we miss. He’s a winner too. So at the end of the day, the Cubs got a good one there.” – Brian Cashman

Sunday Funnies

Tommy La Stella stole Theo Epstein’s spring training parking spot back in 2018. That prompted the executive to issue a pair of khakis and a polo shirt to La Stella for workouts. The infielder returned the volley by having a bouncy house constructed in Epstein’s spot.

“That’s the unique kind of stuff that adds to the day,” manager Joe Maddon said at the time. “I drive up and started smiling, immediately. I probably thought it was Tommy; it probably is Tommy. I’m into all this stuff.”

The one-upmanship didn’t end there. Epstein enlisted Rizzo to create a homemade dating video that hilariously trolled La Stella. All in good fun, am I right? Gosh, I love being a Cubs fan.

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