Spring Training is underway in Mesa Arizona for the Chicago Cubs, and we have already been entertained in ways we are not used to before the meaningless practice games have even begun. The most entertaining thing to come out of Cubs camp so far is the bunting tournament which has seen 63 Cubs players and the Manager Dale Sveum himself competing to see who the best bunter in camp is.
Fan Favorite Tony Campana started bragging early and often how he was the favorite to win the tournament, but he was ceremoniously knocked out in a first round battle. Honestly, he was the person I was hoping would win, because if he ever learned how to bunt, he would be an unstoppable leadoff hitter with his speed. However, he was one and done which disappointed Cub fans everywhere. In what might be the most shocking turn of events in the tournament, Sveum defeated Kerry Wood in the first round, and then eliminated Ryan Dempster who was my pick to win the tournament in round number two.
You cannot believe how upset this made some fans feel, that the best bunter on the team was looking to be the one person who would not be laying down bunts at all during a game, the manager. One thing to keep in mind about this bunting tournament, they are not facing live pitching. By that I mean they are not facing pitches that are in the 80-100 MPH range. These are batting practice speed pitches, and the likelihood of any batter facing a pitch this slow in a real game situation is unrealistic. So while this tournament is fun to keep track of and will keep us mildly entertained, the person who wins this thing is not necessarily the best bunter in camp.
With the tournament well underway and the first meaningless practice game scheduled for tomorrow, Sveum added two intrasquad games to the Cubs schedule. Yesterday Cubs camped played the first one which saw the I-Cubs defeated the Cubs by a score 10-4. The star of the game was budding minor leaguer Matt Szczur, who drove in six of the 10 runs for the I-Cubs. You can imagine how this turn of events sent several Cub fans into a frenzy wondering if Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein, General Manager Jed Hoyer and Sveum might be bringing the wrong team north when the regular season begins. The answer to that question is no.
This was only one game, which should be considered nothing more than a more aggressive practice. While the efforts put forth by the I-Cubs was impressive, the better team is still the group built of major league talent like Alfonso Soriano, Marlon Byrd and Starlin Castro despite what the results appear to be saying.
Look at the rosters for each team. The Cubs had players are all major leaguers who were well known to the I-Cubs starting pitcher Randy Wells who has seen them all up close and knows their tendencies. On the other side, the I-Cubs had minor league talent, who while the Cubs themselves know well, their starting pitcher Travis Wood knew nothing about because he was with the Cincinnati Reds last season. The “game” had a September feeling, and we all know that you can never take numbers from the September call ups too seriously because the players called up do not have a scouting report to work with yet. More often than not, if the young call ups have any talent, they will be able to put up impressive numbers giving a false sense of security to the fans and the teams.
Then you have the Spring Training effect which also tends to give organizations and Managers a false idea of what a player is capable of doing. Keep in mind; this is the first “game” of the pre-season where pitchers and batters are still getting into game mode. As usual, the batters are always ahead of the pitchers early in camp. Both starting pitchers, Wells and Wood, are also likely throwing at full strength for one of the first times in camp, and are also likely working on pitches getting them ready for the regular season. This makes hitters look all the better in camp, making you think they are better than they may be. That is not to say that the kids on the I-Cubs are not good or that they will not be an impactful major league player one day.
Do not fall into the trap that so many managers and organizations have by believing the stats more than your eyes. Also, do not let one practice game give you false impressions about any of the players on the ball club. Remember the thin Arizona air makes the stats players put up to be inflated.
More important than the practice time stats, is what a player looks like while performing in these games. Making contact, hitting spots, and form are far more important than a hitter who is able to hit .500 with 13 home runs. Great looking stats yes, but most of the time they are against players who are not ready for the big leagues and are just roster fodder to fill out a spring camp.
Until the end of Spring Training and the rosters are set, just sit back and enjoy the ride. Enjoy the game that is being played without reading too much into things. After all, if you let your emotions get swayed by one game then you are in store for a very long pre-season fiilled with many 180s.