23 for ’23: Who steps up for Cubs in wake of the Seiya Suzuki injury?
Between position battles, roster additions and new rules, there are plenty of questions surrounding the 2023 Cubs. We attempt to provide answers for 23 of the most intriguing questions heading into the season.
MESA, Ariz. — In the wake of Seiya Suzuki’s “moderate” oblique strain, the Cubs are left pondering their right field options.
Who will step up with Suzuki down?
Maybe the more important question is: When will Suzuki return to the field for the Cubs?
But right now, that answer is elusive.
The Cubs simply want to be sure Suzuki is fully healthy.
“We’re not gonna put any firm timetables on it but I think there’s a general expectation of what a moderate oblique injury is,” Jed Hoyer said. “That certainly would put Opening Day in strong jeopardy. We just want to make sure we get him completely healthy.
“When that is that he comes back, I’m not sure. When he does come back, he’s gonna be ready to go and we’re not concerned about it.”
Opening Day is still a month away but the Cubs now turn their attention to who mans right field if Suzuki is, indeed, unable to suit up on March 30.
“Definitely gives some guys opportunity to make the team that might not have or might’ve been facing different competition,” Hoyer said. “We’ll see. We’ll obviously have a lot of conversations about it through the rest of camp but it’s too early now to really say much.”
Patrick Wisdom and Trey Mancini have experience playing right field and the Cubs could always move one of them over and backfill third base or DH with other options on the roster.
Mancini has only played 11 games in right field since 2019 but played there often earlier in his career. The Cubs have a number of options at third base, so moving Wisdom to right field for a short time could open up playing time for Nick Madrigal and others.
Youngsters Christopher Morel and Nelson Velázquez are also options in the outfield.
Morel has not played right field in the big leagues but has appeared in 21 games there in the minors. Velázquez — who is about to leave Cubs camp to join Team Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic — has spent most of his career in right field and made 23 appearances there for the Cubs last season.
Top prospect Brennen Davis could also work his way into the mix but he’s also coming off a back injury that kept him out for most of last year, so the Cubs will likely want to ease him in in the minors to begin the year.
There are also a couple non-roster invitees in Cubs camp like Mike Tauchman and Ben DeLuzio.
Tauchman is a Chicagoland native from Palatine, Ill., who attended Fremd High School and grew up a Cubs fan. Cubs director of hitting Justin Stone has a facility in the Chicago area and has been working with Tauchman since the fall of 2016.
Tauchman, 32, is a left-handed hitter and has big league experience (257 games) with the Rockies, Yankees and Giants. He put together a solid season as a role player for the 2019 Yankees with 13 homers, 47 RBI and a .277/.361/.504 slash line (.865 OPS) in 87 games.
He has bounced around since then, including a stint in Korea last season before signing a minor-league deal with the Cubs this winter.
“It’s been kind of a crazy few years,” Tauchman said. “Having the COVID season after having a successful year in New York. Being a little banged up and then having the disruptions and different things coming up. And then the lockout came up and I got the opportunity overseas.
“It’s kinda been a whirlwind. But you take what you can from every experience you’ve had. You try to learn and get a little bit better. I’m 32 years old, trying to still get a little bit better, get a little bit smarter every day, find whatever edges I can find. I still think I’m a good player.”
He’s off to a hot start this spring, going 5-for-9 at the plate with a double, an RBI, 3 runs scored and a pair of stolen bases. He also made a nice sliding catch in Thursday’s game at Sloan Park.
“You can just tell he’s been around,” David Ross said. “Got time in the big leagues, knows how to handle his at-bats. The things that stood out early were a calm approach, better outfielder than I expected. Thinks through his at-bats, thinks through his swing, feels like he controls the zone really well and making solid contact.”
DeLuzio can play all three outfield positions but is more of a true centerfielder. Like Tauchman, he signed a minor-league deal with the Cubs this winter after he spent 2022 in the Cardinals organization.
DeLuzio brings a different skillset to the Cubs roster as a speedster who hits right-handed. He could be an option to spell the lefty-swinging Cody Bellinger in center field or he could work his way into the mix in right field.
“Obviously I never wish for somebody to get hurt, never pray for somebody to get hurt,” DeLuzio said. “But when opportunities like that do arise, you want to be prepared just so that when the team needs somebody of your expertise, you’re ready to go.
“Trying to come out here, be a good teammate first and foremost and then just trying to compete and showcase what I can do — whether that’s on the bases or defense, continue to work on the bat.”
The 28-year-old stole 30 bases in 94 games on the Cardinals’ Triple-A squad last year while also posting solid offensive numbers (9 homers, 16 doubles, 6 triples, .278/.353/.429 slash line).
With stolen bases expected to rise as a result of the new MLB rules, a player like DeLuzio could provide value to the Cubs.
But they also won’t get a chance to see him for the next couple weeks as he left Cubs camp to join Team Italy for the World Baseball Classic.
The Cubs are still working through all of their options in right field and trying to prioritize the big picture with Suzuki’s injury.
“I think a lot of bad decisions are made around Opening Day,” Hoyer said. “It’s one day on the calendar but people rush back for it. We want to make sure we are patient. If he makes it back for that, that’s great. But that’s not what we care about. We just care about getting him totally healthy.”
23 for ’23 series
What will the Cubs’ new era at catcher look like?
What is the Cubs’ plan at third base?
Who steps up in the wake of the Seiya Suzuki injury?
What role will Christopher Morel have on the 2023 Cubs?
Who will win the Cubs’ 5th starter spot?
Where does Nick Madrigal fit on the roster?
Who will close for the Cubs?
What kind of impact will Dansby Swanson have in his first season in Chicago?