MESA – Since the start of spring training, news surrounding the Chicago Cubs’ lineup has been quiet. Besides the backup catcher vacancy, many jobs aren’t up for grabs.
But one uncertainty is on everyone’s mind.
Manager Joe Maddon struggled to fill the spot last year, constantly changing the order throughout the season.
Since the 2016 World Series championship season when Dexter Fowler was the set leadoff man, the team hasn’t had a go-to hitter since.
“As a player, you want to have as much consistency as you can,” first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. “I don’t think we’re going to have that one solidified Dexter Fowler leading off every single game. Hopefully, someone can grow into that for sure.”
Multiple players were tested in the spot last season including Rizzo, who jokingly called himself the ”‘Greatest Leadoff Hitter of All Time” based on his stats in the role.
“It’s something I had fun with last year, and hopefully, I don’t have to ever lead off again,” Rizzo said. “But if I do, I do.”
Center fielder Ian Happ is the likely option to put at the top of the order right now, as he’s thrived in the leadoff spot throughout spring training. In 15 games played, Happ has whipped out five home runs.
Happ had a batting average of .253 last season in 115 games.
If Maddon does not designate Happ as the main leadoff hitter, it could be another season of inconsistency in the batting order. But according to right fielder Jason Heyward, that’s something the team can handle.
“This group is used to different things happening,” Heyward said. “We just roll with that and go from there. In years past, having a guy you knew is going be at the top of the lineup everyday, it did do something to the lineup, but it’s kind of a new way for baseball as well.”
Although Happ does appear to be the obvious option, things could go in another direction.
Shortstop Addison Russell says he trusts the system, but would be interested to see if someone further down in the lineup moves up.
Russell held the fifth spot in the lineup last season, and struggled at the plate with a .239 batting average.
“It would be cool if myself or someone else who hit down at the bottom of the lineup to take on that role,” Russell said. “That would be very interesting to see.”
The Cubs wrap up Cactus League play this weekend, and open their season Thursday in Miami.
“I really don’t question what those guys do, as far as Joe and the metric system and all that other stuff, Russell said.
“I think that they’re going to put the right person in at the right time.”