Spring Training Wishes: Fewer Walks from Maples, Orgy of Bunts from Schwarber and Heyward

Baseball is back! Spring training is upon us and Cubs pitchers and catchers have reported to Arizona. I will be joining them in Arizona for the first time this year since my wife gifted me the trip for my 41st birthday.

As you can imagine, I am quite excited to see Sloan Park and another season of Cubs baseball. I also hope to see signs of progress from a few key players. In particular, I would love to see Dillon Maples painting corners, along with an orgy of bunts from Kyle Schwarber and Jason Heyward.

We all know the Cubs could really use another elite bullpen arm, and Maples is one in-house candidate. I am a huge Maples fan, have been for nearly three years now. His fastball sits in the 96 mph range with movement and he has a wipeout slider. His 2018 strikeout rate in both the minors and majors was over 40 percent

His walk rate, however, was north of 20 percent. Maples has the tools to be a high-leverage setup man if he can just find consistent control. If he is running a walk rate in the single digits this spring, it’s going to be difficult for me to contain myself.

Meanwhile, on the offensive end I want to see Schwarber and Heyward laying one down every other trip to the plate. With Bryce Harper off the table, those two will be manning the outfield corners for the foreseeable future. A commitment to the bunt would benefit both.

Among the many reasons for Heyward’s failure to thrive since joining the Cubs has been the 20-30 point drop in on-base percentage. Not only does this mean he is making more outs, but it also deprives the Cubs of his baserunning value. Long story short, Heyward needs to find ways to get on base. Given his speed and the excessive shifting he faces, a commitment to bunting for hits in empty-base situations would seem an obvious first step.

In Schwarber’s case, the bunt could be a tool to finally beat the shift that has played havoc on his game. Schwarber hits a ton high-exit velocity, lower-angle grounders to the right side. Against a traditional defensive alignment, many of these would find the outfield. Instead, they are finding the third baseman deep in the grass on the second-base side.

In the process, many teams are leaving the entire left side open for Schwarber. If he could develop a hard, consistent bunt to the third base side and use it in roughly 30 percent of his empty-base at-bats, he could force a more conventional defensive alignment. Long term, I think this could raise his batting average by 10-15 points.

Schwarber did show the bunt occasionally last year, but there is a difference between laying one down for a hit once in a while (which I want to see Heyward use) and bunting so often defenses need to adjust their alignment. I would like to see Schwarber go for the latter, even if it costs him a few home runs early, because I think it will pay dividends.

If any of our readers plan on being in Mesa from March 5-7, let me know. I’d love to meet y’all.

Tags

Moshe Wilensky

Moshe is a weekly columnist, and self-styled financial reporter, for Cubs Insider. Moshe is a Chicago native who first fell for the Cubs in 1984 at age 7. He currently resides in Charlotte, NC where he gleefully watched the Cubs’ 2016 run, interrupted only by the birth of his first daughter on Thursday AC 0000108. He can be reached at moshethecubsfan@gmail.com.

Related Articles

Back to top button
Close