The tight quarters in the Wrigley Field dugouts are about to get a little more cramped when rosters expand by 60% in September. In previous seasons that have already been tossed out and their engrams nearly erased, this time of the year meant a talent transfusion, new shiny objects to distract us from the scoreboard or the standings. Now, however, the Cubs have such a wealth of talent that September call-ups are like a daily driver for the guy who’s got a fleet of supercars.
But that doesn’t mean Joe Maddon won’t be discerning when it comes to choosing which minor leaguers will make the trip to Chicago. After all, it’s not just about brewing a pot of coffee and handing out cups. Some of these guys may actually have an impact in October. Think about being able to put Albert Almora in left as a defensive replacement late in a close game. Or Tommy La Stella delivering a pinch-hit when the pitcher’s spot is up.
Yeah, but those are guys we’ve already seen and who we expect to contribute once they come back from the minor league…um, is exile the right word? If we’re looking at contributions from players not already on the 25-man roster, picking those two is like shooting ducks in a barrel, as a friend of mine is wont to say.
We could look at some of the pitchers too, but any call-ups will serve as little more than live arms to help shoulder the load down the stretch. With the rotation shortening up and the back-end guys getting healthy, no one from the farm is coming up to impact the playoff race.
The only other position players on the 40-man are Jeimer Candelario and Munenori Kawasaki, and having to lean on either of them come postseason play would mean the Cubs are in a world of hurt. So that means purchasing the contract of someone who’s not already on the roster, and no, it won’t be Ian Happ (he’s still struggling with the adjustment to AA) or Midwest League MVP Eloy Jimenez (he’s only 19 and would be eaten alive by MLB pitching, but that won’t stop people at the fringes from asking about him).
We already talked about one guy who provides a superior glove and another with a great contact bat from the left side, but one thing the Cubs lack is speed. Sure, they’re a great baserunning team and most of the guys on the roster can move pretty well. What would be really nice, though, is that guy who can come in as a pinch-runner when an extra step or two could decide the game. You know, someone like Quintin Berry, the speed-burner the Cubs brought in to help out down the stretch last year.
Enter John Andreoli, the spring training sensation who’s second in the Pacific Coast League with 34 stolen bases on the season, only one behind…no way. Quintin Berry? Yep, the former Cub has 35 for the Salt Lake Bees (Angels). Berry’s role in Chicago was incredibly limited, but I’ll forever remember him for dropping an F-bomb after scoring on a sac fly as a pinch-runner. Though he was left off the playoff roster, he provided a nice little burst toward the end of the season.
Based on his performance in Mesa, Andreoli was looking like a dark horse candidate to break camp with the Cubs. He showed power, flashed a nice glove, and that speed (he’s put up big stolen base numbers everywhere he’s been) plays pretty much anywhere. As expected, however, Andreoli was once again assigned to Iowa, where he struggled mightily right out of the gate. Well, sort of.
A .194 batting average in April looked pretty ugly, but it was mitigated by a .341 OBP. Andreoli has steadily improved the average each month and is now slashing .255/.372/.399 in 129 games. Don’t let the 85 walks fool you, though, there’s a lot of swing and miss in this kid’s game. To wit, Andreoli is third in the PCL with 146 strikeouts this season.
Of course, none of that really matters, at least not for the time being. If the Cubs bring Andreoli up, it’s not going to be for his ability to walk. He’ll be there to run. So exactly how valuable is that to Maddon and the organization? Is it worth opening up a spot on the 40-man just to have a situational pinch-runner in games that may not really matter? I believe it would be.
Take Kawasaki, for instance. A great dude by all accounts, he’s not going to contribute anything to the team down the stretch, let alone in future seasons. He could be let go without any repercussions. The Cubs could also stash someone else on the 60-day DL to make room for Andreoli. Given the minimal cost, it seems to make sense to bring him up and see what he can do. I mean, it can’t hurt.
Like the speculation in March, it’s possible that Andreoli could secure a spot on the playoff roster as a special weapon of sorts. Even though he’s not on the 40-man, every player who’s part of the organization by September 1 is eligible for the postseason roster. And while I can’t really envision a scenario in which that comes to pass, you never know what could happen between now and then.
Given Andreoli’s skillset, it’s likely that he’ll be trying to make a move when he’s in there, which means his presence brings the potential for something exciting. That was almost a necessity in the not-too-distant past, when we needed a reprieve from the doldrums of another lost season. We could actually encounter an entirely different form of boredom this year if the Cubs continue to play keep-away with the division lead.
John Andreoli probably won’t impact the Cubs’ season in any meaningful way and he might not even get the call at all, but I look forward to this time of year and seeing some new faces get the chance to live out their dream.