MESA, Ariz. — Seiya Suzuki came to camp this spring with a bigger frame after learning how much stamina a Major League season takes. His performance in batting practice in the early spring was breathtaking, giving the Cubs easy dreams of a breakthrough this year.
That could still happen, but the North Siders need to take a break from Suzuki’s pre-season for the time being. The right fielder is currently facing a left oblique backhand, and the team announced Monday night that Suzuki will not be participating in the World Baseball Classic.
“He looked really good,” Cubs manager David Ross said. “He worked his tail to take care of his body. Sometimes things happen.”
As the Cubs await Suzuki’s return — Ross was unwilling to speculate on timing before meeting with team doctors and the outfielder — the ball club can at least begin to review its contingency plans for the right field.
One of the reasons the Cubs targeted veteran Trey Mancini in free agency this offseason was his versatility.
Under normal circumstances, Mancini would ideally split time with Eric Hosmer at first base and also get at bat as the designated hitter. That said, Mancini has plenty of outside cornering experience in his career and could handle right field, if Suzuki is sidelined.
Last season, Mancini recorded 162 innings to left field and 86 innings to right field between his saves with the Orioles and Astros. He was a positive defender in terms of UZR/150 (23.1 in the outfield overall) and also had two defensive points saved.
Besides Mancini, Chicago would also have the ability to move Patrick Wisdom to right field. As it stands, Wisdom is primarily a third baseman but, like Mancini, he could help at first or DH. Last year, Ross gave Wisdom small chances in the three outfield spots.
“Those are the first guys that came to mind,” Ross said, “and how I’m reworking schedules on the road to get some people playing properly in case Seiya can’t come back.”
The best options off the list
If Suzuki’s situation ends up having an impact on the construction of the opening day roster, two unlisted outfielders who would be given serious consideration would be Ben DeLuzio and Mike Tauchman. As it stands, they will be rated in the race for 26th on the roster.
DeLuzio, 28, is a good fit as a potential fourth outfielder, given he could be a right-handed complement to left-handed center fielder Cody Bellinger. Not only does DeLuzio provide the ability to play skillfully through the middle, but he provides speed off the bench. He stole 30 bases for Triple-A Memphis last year and has 140 interceptions in six Minor League seasons.
“Basic running and stealing is probably going to be a step up in our game,” Ross said, “in terms of priority and people trying to take advantage of that. So it fits in to that.”
Tauchman, 32, hits from the left, but Ross was impressed with his ability to “control the strike zone”. The manager also appreciates that Tauchman has some Major League experience, having played in five seasons with the Rockies, Yankees and Giants. Last year, Tauchman had a .366 on-base percentage with 53 added hits in 144 games for the Hanwha Eagles in Korea.
“Tauchman is smooth, calm, good approach to home plate,” Ross said.
Last season, Christopher Morel and Nelson Velázquez received rookie tries as part of the Cubs’ outfield. They’ll have the chance to make the opening day roster, but the team could ultimately see an upside in playing regular Triple-A Iowa to start the season.
Morel offers a possible right-handed complement to Bellinger at center, but he’s also in the mix at third base or as a super utility. In 113 games in 22, the 23-year-old Morel hit .235/.308/.433 with 16 home runs, 19 doubles and 137 strikeouts, while bouncing all over the infield and outfield.
Velázquez, 24, is shaping up best as a right fielder, but he’s also logged time at center, where he and Morel each recorded minus six DRS. Velázquez hit 0.205/0.286/0.373 in his 77 major league games in 22.
The Cubs also have a highly touted prospect in 23-year-old Brennen Davis, but he was limited to just 53 Minor League games due to injury setbacks last season. While Davis can play all three outfield spots, he’s likely tagged for Triple-A to start the year.