I’ve never been one to get head-over-heels about spring training, other than it signaling the near-end of a long offseason.
Granted there are some interesting position battles each spring, which I understand the spring statistics can play a part in determining final roster cuts, but mostly I keep my fingers crossed the Cubs’ regulars make it to opening day healthy.
Injuries, however, have been mounting for the Cubs since Matt Garza went down with a sore left lat muscle on Feb. 7. Early indications suggested the injury was not serious and would only sideline Garza one week.
Garza, however, didn’t return until two weeks later, when he again felt discomfort throwing. Although the organization, manager Dale Sveum and Garza insist the Cubs are only playing it cautious with the right-hander, he’s not expected to be available through the first month of the regular season.
Dontrelle Willis pulled up lame with shoulder soreness after throwing his first seven pitches this spring. He immediately left the game and has yet to return.
Ian Stewart, who was expected to platoon with Luis Valbuena as the starting third basemen, has been battling a left-quad strain, which has limited him to light jogging and fielding practice.
There’s no question the untimely injury is putting Stewart, who’s playing on a non-guaranteed contract, in jeopardy of not making the team out of spring camp. He’s yet to appear in a Cactus League game.
Third base prospect Josh Vitters is also suffering from a quad strain and has not appeared in game action.
Super utility man Brent Lillibridge entered camp as a favorite to win an opening day roster spot. But he only saw action in five games before suffering a groin strain in early March. He’s still a candidate to make the team if he’s able to return relatively soon.
Aside from Garza, the most concerning setback is with Starlin Castro.
He suffered a tight left hamstring while running out an infield hit on Feb. 27. The Cubs, not surprisingly, have been extra cautious with two-time All-Star’s return.
Castro played in all 162 games last season becoming the first Cubs shortstop ever to do so.
“It was more tight than a pull or anything like that, so he’s just day to day. Thank God, nothing real major at all,” said Sveum.
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Things have come full circle for Dontrelle Willis, as he has signed a minor league deal with the team that took a chance on him back in 2000 in the 8th round of the MLB draft.
The lefty has experienced plenty of highs and lows since then, and now it’s a question of whether he can find a spot on the Cubs’ 2013 roster, or your fantasy baseball team.
It’s obviously a low risk, high reward deal for the Cubs to give Willis, still just 31-years-old, one last chance to resurrect his career.
In recent seasons Willis has been far from the dominate starter we saw with the Marlins. His deceptive delivery that once worked so well for him as seemingly worked against him since the trade that sent he and Miguel Cabrera from Miami to Detroit during the winter of 2007.
Following the trade Willis’ walk rate, in particular, climbed to unsightly levels as he averaged nearly one walk per inning since his first full season with the Tigers. It’s unquestionably contributed to an ERA hovering right around 5.00 during the same time frame.
This spring he’ll work closely with the Cubs’ coaching staff to fine tune the mechanical flaws that have derailed his once bright future.
It’s worth noting the D-Train hasn’t pitched in the majors since a brief stint with the Reds in 2011, which resulted in a (1-6) record and a 5.00 ERA in 13 starts.
He later signed with the Phillies but was released last March before the start of the season. Willis then caught on with Baltimore, but again struggled allowing eight runs in just 6.1 innings at Triple-A. That led to his voluntary retirement on July 2 last year.
The good fortune of being left-handed, however, has presented Willis with perhaps his final opportunity to pitch in the major leagues.
If he’s able to regain his old form this spring it’s likely Willis could stick with the Cubs, who are in need of another left-handed reliever. And if Willis makes it to Opening Day he could prove a sneaky good fantasy pick.
According to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports the Cubs have inked Dontrelle Willis to a minor league deal. Really?
The Cubs could use another lefty reliever, but this is one heckuva long shot. If Willis can adopt to a bullpen role, specifically as a loogy, there’s a chance he could make the team in spring training, but it’s a slim one.
Current Cubs southpaws:
- Travis Wood
- James Russell
- Brooks Raley
- Chris Rusin
- Hisanori Takahasi
Dontrelle Willis – 31 years old
All Time (72-69, 4.17) ERA+101
Lifetime .244 batter, 9 HR, 39 RBI
Last pitched in the major in 2011 with Reds
13 starts, (1-6, 5.00) ERA+79
3 years (2-8, 6.86) in 22 starts
Total bust ERA+64
5 years (68-54, 3.78) in 162 starts
15 complete games, 8 shutouts
Won ROY 2003
2-time All Star
Finished 2nd Cy Young 2005 (22-10, 2.63)
Vs. Cubs in 2003 NLCS
(0-1) 2-games, 1-start
Started Game 4 – 8-3 win for Cubs at Miami
2.1, 6-ER, 3-H, 5-BB, 2-K, 12.38 ERA: allowed first inning grand slam to Aramis
Cubs in minor leagues
2000: Rookie League (3-1, 3.76) 9-games, 1 start
2001: Boise (8-2, 2.98) 15 starts
Drafted by Cubs in 8th round 2000
Traded to Marlins in 2002 for Antonio Alfonseca & Matt Clement
Traded by Marlins to Detroit with Miguel Cabrera in 2007 for Dallas Trahern (minors), Burke Badenhop, Eulogio De La Cruz, Cameron Maybin, Andrew Miller and Mike Rabelo