What to Watch for from Cubs This Spring

They’re back. The defending World Series champion Cubs have begun their quest to repeat for the first time in 109 years. Here’s what I’ll be watching.

Eddie Butler‘s mechanics

Eddie Butler might be the most intriguing acquisition of the offseason. The former top-20 prospect is still a prime 25 years old and throws fastballs and sliders almost as fast as Jake Arrieta. But the most interesting part about Buter is that the Cubs might be trying to revert his mechanics back to his rookie days, when he had a slightly lower release point.

Jon Jay‘s batting stance

Looks like Jon Jay might have made an adjustment, but I’m not certain because the footage we have is from the first base side. In the video below, Jay’s hands appear to be lower at the start.

Jason Heyward‘s swing

Heyward has a new swing. You know that. Let’s see how it translates.

Pedro Strop and Hector Rondon bouncing back

Strop and Rondon’s injuries essentially sidelined them during the postseason. While Strop battled a bum knee, Rondon’s boo-boo was to his arm. Between the two, I’m more interested to see how Rondon rebounds this Spring. In addition to what we see with our eyes, we’ll have PitchFX data since he’s playing in the World Baseball Classic.

Albert Almora‘s patience

This one is going to sound sort of weird, but oh well: I’m curious to see how Almora takes pitches. For example, is he off-balance? Does he check his swing on clearly unhittable pitches? His sub-3% walk rate won’t play well at the MLB level because of his lack of big-time power. But I’ll be giddy if he does improve his discipline, especially since he’s able to make frequent contact and looked like he’s put on some mass.

Kyle Schwarber‘s defense

How will Schwarber look running after fly balls?

Also, maybe he might catch after all?

Ian Happ and Eloy Jimenez holding their own

The cream of the Cubs farm system will be playing with the big boys for the first weeks. Where will Maddon use Happ? We’ve heard rumors about his defensive versatility. And while Happ might see familiar AA arms this Spring, some of the pitchers Jimenez faces will be entirely new to him. Jimenez has a chance to fly up the prospect rankings this year, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him finish 2017 as a top-5 prospect, a la Gleyber Torres‘ ascend to the top tier of rankings last year.

Felix Pena avoiding contact

I was impressed by Felix Pena last year. In his 9 innings with the Cubs, he recorded a 69% contact rate, which isn’t just nice, it’s 12% better than the MLB average.

Back-End starting pitchers

Alec Mills, Williams Perez, Brett Anderson, Mike Montgomery, Rob Zastryzny, and Pierce Johnson all could be starting at some point in 2017. Mills has had an above-average K/9 throughout his career; Perez is a grounder-heavy former Brave; Anderson has had successful seasons; Zastryzny had a cup of coffee last year; Johnson struggled in AAA. But Monty is my favorite candidate of the bunch because of his diverse pitch basket. Zastryzny is a lefty and I like lefties. Zastryzny, though, loves Cubs Insider, so he’s got that going for him.

Javy Baez’s position

Although Javy played mostly at third base in 2016, he was the primary second baseman in the playoffs. Will he stick to mostly second base now? Will Zobrist, as a result of Baez playing second base, play mostly outfield like he did in the playoffs?

Davis Ross’s role

I like that I get to include Ross in this list. He actually reported to Spring Training, but this time in front-office attire.

Final thoughts

Make sure you follow @realcubsinsider this Spring Training. Jon Strong is at the ballpark daily and will be updating the account with the most recent pictures, batting practice sessions, pitching sessions, and everything else.

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