Spring training is a time for optimism, opportunity and surprises. Every year teams go into camp with plans that, six weeks later, are altered because of injuries, poor performances or the sudden emergence of a rookie or veteran player. There are also late free-agent signings and usually one or two shocking trades that change the shapes of opening-day rosters. With those factors in mind, here are my bold predictions for spring training.
1. Jason Heyward will start in center field on Opening Day
The Chicago Cubs’ plan for their outfield as they head into spring training is clear. Manager Joe Maddon’s starters are supposed to be Kyle Schwarber in left, Jason Heyward in right and a platoon of Albert Almora and Jon Jay in center. He’s also planning on using Ben Zobrist as his Opening Day second baseman while again slotting Javier Baez into a super-utility role.
I understand that’s the plan going in, and it will work if Almora shows that his bat is ready. If that happens, it would give the Cubs two outstanding, Gold Glove-caliber outfielders in right and center to compensate for the below-average defense they’ll get from Schwarber in left.
I’m just not buying that it’s going to play out that way, though. First of all, Baez is one of the best defensive second basemen in baseball and has a chance to be a 30-homer, 30-steals impact player. He showed in the NL playoffs last year that he’s ready for the big stage.
Second, I’m not sure Almora is ready to hit enough to be the Cubs’ primary center fielder and I think he could be better utilized as a defensive replacement for Schwarber in left late in games.
Therefore, I’m predicting that by opening day Zobrist will be moved to right field, Heyward to center and Baez will become the Cubs’ regular second baseman while Almora and Jay become the team’s fourth and fifth outfielders.