When the Chicago Cubs hired Rick Renteria to be the team’s manager, the book on him was that he was a guy that was going to maintain a positive attitude even in the face of adversity, and would mentor the younger players on the roster and to help them to rebound after a largely disappointing 2013 season.
In the first three games of his tenure with the team, however, Renteria has also begun to develop another reputation, which is that he has a tendency to overmanage at times.
It may come as a bit of a surprise since the weather outside has been so abysmal lately, but Opening Day is indeed upon us, as the Chicago Cubs will kick off their season on Monday afternoon against the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park.
The Cubs will be looking to build upon a 2013 season that can only be viewed as a disappointment, even by the measure of where they are in their current rebuilding phase. Several players took big steps back, and the firing of Dale Sveum and the hiring of Rick Renteria to manage the club are an indicator that the front office feels the same way.
Mesa, Arizona – The Chicago Cubs’ roster is full of guys who could potentially be plugged into their outfield spots, and they also have a done of guys in their pipeline that could be contributors on the green grass at Wrigley Field at some point in the near future. So far in Cactus League play though, there is one guy that is standing out, and he is making a strong case to lock down the right field spot for the North Siders.
That player is Nate Schierholtz, and he pleaded his case in a strong way on Friday afternoon at Cubs Park. In six innings of work, Schierholtz reached base all three times that he stepped to the plate, including a double in the bottom of the sixth inning that helped propel a four run Cubs rally that culminated with a Luis Valbuena home run to right-center field.
That inning ended up helping the Cubs to a 5-4 victory in the game, but even without the outcome in mind, it was still clear that Schierholtz was well-suited to batting ahead of Anthony Rizzo in the Cubs’ lineup. He was willing to take pitches (as he did in his first inning walk), but he was also willing to swing the bat when necessary, as he showed when he became the first Cub to hit the ball out of the infield on a fourth inning single.
Overall on the spring, Schierholtz hasn’t had outrageously great numbers, but he has still been consistent. His .375 OBP and .899 OPS are both very solid, and he has three walks to go along with his six hits in 24 plate appearances. He also had a home run and two RBI in Cactus League play.
Schierholtz may not get the adulation that guys like Junior Lake receive, and he may not have the raw potential of players like Albert Almora and Jorge Soler, but he is a player who knows what his role is on the team, and he approaches the game like a savvy veteran. He definitely did that on Friday, and if he can continue to do so, then he is going to be an integral part of the Cubs’ lineup this year.
Chicago Cubs manager Rick Renteria has made a lot of headlines during his tenure with the club, mostly discussing his positive attitude and the way he’s going to handle the team’s younger players, but he has rarely made direct comments about what he’ll decide to do with the lineup once the season begins in April.
On Sunday, he broke from that trend a bit, discussing a potential place to put shortstop Starlin Castro in the lineup:
#Cubs Renteria looking at Starlin Castro as leadoff man
— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) February 16, 2014
The thought of putting the free-swinging Castro in the lead-off spot may strike some fans as strange, but it isn’t the craziest idea in the world. After all, Castro does have experience there, with 181 plate appearances in the lead-off position last year. He hit for a .263 average to go along with a .315 on-base percentage. Neither of those numbers were particularly great, but they aren’t awful either, especially on a team that doesn’t have a player tailor-made for the position.
Junior Lake would be another guy to potentially plug in there, but outside of him, the well dries up quickly. The problem with Lake is that his experience was very limited, with only 39 plate appearances in that slot during the 2013 campaign. He did rack up 15 hits and six RBI hitting lead-off, with a .405 average and .436 on-base percentage, but those numbers are slightly deceiving because of the limited number of chances that he got there.
Renteria would definitely be well-served to try both players out in the lead-off position during spring training, but it’s interesting that he’s so willing to give Castro a crack at the spot. Castro’s ability to hit to the opposite field and unwillingness to take walks would seem to work better for him in the second or fifth slot in the lineup, but Renteria could be influenced by the mediocre .235 average Castro carried with runners in scoring position last year.
At any rate, as a new manager Renteria seems to be eager to use the clean slate that he’s been given in terms of tinkering with line-ups and making decisions, and putting Castro in the lead-off slot would definitely qualify.