John Andre…Holy Cow!

Jason Heyward drove in 3 runs to lead an 11-1 route of the Padres, but it was John Andreoli who had onlookers buzzing with a pinch-hit inside-the-park home run to cap off the scoring in the 8th inning.

The homer was Andreoli’s third of the spring and he’s now batting .364 (8-for-22) with 6 RBI and a robust 1.264 OPS. Small sample size and all that, but the kid’s looked really comfortable at the plate down in Arizona. A bit of a forgotten man, the versatile outfielder (he’s played at least 94 games at each of the three positions in the minors) looks like he’s trying to force the Cubs into a decision regarding his inclusion on the 25-man roster.

That’s not something I would have imagined myself typing a year ago, let alone a couple weeks ago, but it’s true. The kid’s always been a good hitter, but he remained mired in high-A ball for 799 plate appearances before getting the call to AA. At each stop, he continued to boast an OBP that 70 to 110 or so points above his batting average. And it’s not like he was flirting with the Mendoza line, either. Andreoli hit at least .289 across two levels in 2012 and 2013. So why has he been overlooked?

A wrist injury hampered the fleet outfielder’s performance and cut short his 2014 season, during which he hit only .211 with a .578 OPS. He got on base at a .329 clip thanks to 34 walks, but the stat line wasn’t really one that had prospectniks getting all aflutter. The Cubs, however, saw enough to promote the UConn product to AAA Iowa to begin the 2015 campaign.

All he did in 106 games in Des Moines was slash .277/.372/.401 with a career-high 5 home runs, one more than he’d tallied in the previous four seasons combined. Power is often the last part of a hitter’s game to mature, and that certainly appears to be the case with Andreoli. Not that he’s ever going to be a 25-homer guy, but the pop he’s showing in camp is further evidence that he might eventually be able to get his slugging (career .368) above his OBP (.374).

Andreoli checks a lot of boxes for the Cubs: he’s a versatile fielder, an on-base machine, and he can fly. Oh, did I forget to mention that earlier? You could probably tell from the clip above, but 159 steals in 425 minor league games is further proof that the dude has top-end speed. It sure would be nice to have wheels like that on the bench to really squeeze the most out of late-inning situations in close games, particularly when you’re not forced to carry a one-dimensional player to do it. But is there really a chance the Cubs could bring Andreoli north when they break in April?

Despite having several tools the Cubs covet, his handedness may put him at a disadvantage. Given Joe Maddon’s split- and platoon-conscious managerial style and the fact that there’s already a righty OF on the bench in Soler, I’m inclined to think they might lean toward carrying a left-handed bench bat. That could mean Shane Victorino, who’s back to hitting from the left side after health issues forced him to abandon switch-hitting a couple years back.

And while he’s not a lefty, Matt Szczur is out of minor-league options and might have a leg up as a result. He’s already had a couple cups of coffee and Cubs may want to see if he’s able to make a contribution to the club before exposing him to waivers. If it’s me making the call, I’m going Andreoli over Szczur all day. Of course, it’s not me making the call.

I do, however, have a bit of inside info that has come to me via someone with great awareness of the situation. I’m hesitant to share this, as I’m pretty sure neither my source nor the team will be happy with me making it public, but it’s just the two of us. If you promise not to tell anyone, I’ll let you in on what I’ve heard. Now lean in close, because I don’t want your coworkers or fellow commuters to hear what I’m about to say…IT’S ONLY SPRING TRAINING!

Now please don’t go spreading that around.

I don’t want to completely marginalize what Andreoli is doing, but it’s not likely he’ll get to drop the 2 from the O-lineman’s number he’s wearing in camp. If he continues to show increased power while maintaining the average and OBP in Iowa, however, we could certainly see him in Chicago this season. Even if it’s just as a situational call-up in September, Andreoli is the type of player who could end up having a bit of an impact too. Think Quintin Berry, only younger and more dynamic.

Not many casual fans knew him when March began, but they’re not going to forget John Andreoli’s name any time soon.

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