Saturday, March 23, 2013
On cut-down day, some make it, some don't
By Jesse Rogers
MESA, Ariz. -- Cut-down day in spring training brings elation for some and frustration for others. The immediate fate of two Chicago Cubs players -- pitcher Casey Coleman and outfielder Dave Sappelt -- was decided on Friday as Coleman was sent to the minors while Sappelt survived.
For Coleman, "frustrated" is definitely the right way to describe his frame of mind after getting the news.
"It's a tough one to swallow," Coleman, the Cubs' 15th-round pick in 2008, said Saturday morning. "They have a plan, they have guys here with no options that have pitched well in the big leagues. You came in here throwing no runs, no walks and felt like you did everything you could, perfect. Knowing there are some other teams out there you could have made."
Though he sounds upset, Coleman isn't holding any grudges. By now he knows what this business is all about. He has been up and down from the minors 11 times in three years. And after throwing 6.1 innings this spring, without giving up a run or even a walk, Coleman thought he'd at least last until the final round of cuts.
"I'm not going to lie, it's frustrating when you do put up those numbers and nothing happens," he said. "You feel like you just didn't get the opportunity from the get-go."
He probably didn't get that opportunity as much for business reasons as anything else. Teammate Michael Bowden is out of options -- meaning he can't be sent to the minors without clearing waivers. And Rule-5 pick, Hector Rondon, can't just be sent down either. Those are part of the rules of baseball, but it doesn't make Coleman feel any better. He wants to be one of those guys "you can't just send" down someday.
"You never know there are scouts at every game, maybe there is a trade, you never know what can happen," Coleman said. "My confidence is high still, when you're pitching that well. That's when you want to be in the big leagues."
Manager Dale Sveum indicated Coleman was cut simply because the Cubs want him getting work in the minors using a new and consistent delivery. In the past, Coleman said he liked using different arm angles, including dropping down to sidearm. Since the results were mixed -- his career ERA is 5.76 -- changes had to be made.
"He [Sveum] wanted me up top, and I was able to change and be consistent and get my velocity back up," Coleman said.
Added Sveum: "Coleman is learning a new arm slot to where he needs to develop some. Those guys need to be ready to pitch when the phone rings down there."
On the same day he was cut from the team, Coleman's alma mater, Florida Gulf Coast University, was pulling off one of the great upsets in NCAA tournament history as a 15-seed by beating second-seeded Georgetown on Friday. It took his mind off his job -- at least for the moment.
"It was really cool watching the game and then how they surprised everyone," Coleman said. "It's just great to see how the university has come up from basically scratch in like 10 years."
But then it was back to reality and a trip to the Cubs' minor league complex, but not before hanging around Saturday's game against the Angels in case he was needed. He wasn't. Coleman is trying to put it all in perspective as he heads to the minors once again.
"At the same time, I'm 25 years old, it's not the end of the world," Coleman said. "A lot of people would like to be in this situation. You have to think of it that way."
Dave Sappelt will be the Cubs' fifth outfielder unless something changes between now and the beginning of the regular season.
He didn't look at an outfield job as one he had to go out and win.
"It was my job to lose, and coming into spring training, I just had to get back on track hitting wise and show them I could play center," he said on Saturday. "Every year it takes time to get locked in. Every time I saw lefties I started to get more comfortable. It started with [the] Japan [game]. ... I started to make adjustments in my head and once I figured it out I've been hitting them pretty good. I've never had a problem against lefties."
Sveum knows this as well, and that's why Sappelt was chosen over Darnell McDonald or anyone else in camp. He can be trusted against left-handed pitching. He had a slow start to spring games, hence his batting average is only .182, but with three home runs and nine RBIs -- mostly against left-handed pitching -- he's trending the right way.
Facing righties is a different story, a fact that probably has prevented Sappelt from becoming an everyday player.
"I've always had a problem stepping out [against righties]. For some reason against lefties I step to them so I stay closed," Sappelt said. "This winter I stayed close against righties. I'm getting there."
His splits tell the story. He's a career .345/.410 player against lefties, but his batting average and on-base percentage drops to .215/.269 against righties. Those are in limited at-bats over the -ast two seasons, including 2011 with Cincinnati, which drafted him in the ninth round in 2008. That's where manager Dusty Baker dubbed him Mighty Mite.
"Whatever I'm listed at I'm probably not that high, but I can hit the ball pretty far," Sappelt said of the origin of the nickname.
Officially he's listed at 5-foot-9, which might be generous. He's underrated as a base stealer and he knows playing center field also helped his chances of sticking around. He has played it throughout his baseball career except for last season with the Cubs.
"The corners are easy," he said. "You can make cool plays in the corners. You can dive and run into the wall."