With Chicago Cubs spring training set to begin Feb. 14 in Mesa, Ariz., we’re taking an early look around the diamond.
Holdovers: Nate Schierholtz
Analysis: Going into spring training, the Cubs have four players for three starting spots in the outfield, with Lake, Sweeney, Schierholtz and Ruggiano set to get the bulk of the playing time. Lake is the player to watch. He burst onto the scene in the second half of 2013, giving the Cubs an intriguing option as a potential power guy who still likes to lay down a bunt and take off on the bases. He tailed off some as the league got to know him, striking out 68 times in 64 games. Still, he opened some eyes as a potential overachiever, and now he’ll get a full spring to learn the outfield after years as an infielder. He likes center field more than left, but he’ll probably start in the latter spot. And he’ll get the chance to play himself into the core of the team with little competition forcing him out of the lineup. Ruggiano is valuable simply because he has right-handed pop -- he hit 18 home runs last season, which is something the Cubs lacked after moving Soriano. The Cubs still have veteran Darnell McDonald kicking around, and former No. 3 overall pick Josh Vitters has moved from infield to outfield.
Outlook: New manager Rick Renteria will have an easier time rotating the outfield than Dale Sveum did a season ago because the Cubs are more balanced. Expect the left-handed Sweeney and Ruggiano to split time in center while Lake and Schierholtz will get the occasional day off in left and right field as well. Schierholtz set career highs in several offensive categories in 2013, and if he comes close to repeating those numbers he’ll be traded midseason before he becomes a free agent. Again, Lake is the one to watch in the outfield. Can he get to the next level as an everyday starter?