Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Sounds Like Zach McKinstry is Making Cubs Team Whether Fans Like it or Not


So, I’ve been writing about a few pitchers and position players who I think are trending up so far in spring training, which may lead to future opportunities for them on the Cubs some time in 2023. I also wanted to focus on a few guys who have been struggling through the first 2.5 weeks in spring training. One problem, for some reason it seems like left-handed hitting utility man Zach McKinstry is a lock for the Opening Day roster.

McKinstry was going to be the main player on my short list because ever since the Cubs acquired him from the Los Angeles Dodgers last year for reliever Chris Martin, he’s been really bad at the plate. I mean, the best spin zone I can come up for McKinstry is that he had a .741 OPS in the last month of the 2022 season. But even that late-season progression only raised McKinstry’s wRC+ to 79.

And I do understand that McKinstry has some value for the Cubs. He seems like a solid baserunner and he’s been good defensively at multiple spots, so he can give a manager flexibility on the roster. But man, McKinstry’s at-bats are so brutal watch.

So far in spring training he’s 2-for-21 with five strikeouts. Hey, four walks though, working that plate discipline I guess. Anyway, the Cubs are trying to compete for a playoff spot in 2023, but I don’t know how they can have that mentality if they begin the season by not having the best possible roster right out of the gate. I mean, especially for guys at the bottom of the roster, the competition for the final few spots should be earned, right?

Well, after slashing .199/.273/.361, last year, which included a .633 OPS in 47 games with the Cubs, McKinstry is being talked about like a player who doesn’t have to worry about losing his spot all because he’s out of minor league options and the Cubs could end up losing him for nothing.

This past weekend, McKinstry played in left field and David Ross was asked about it. The reason? Just in case McKinstry needs to go out there in case of emergency in the regular season.

Via Marquee Sports Network.

“That’s not kinda the priority, but if I have to put him out there, it’s just a little irresponsible of me not to get him some reps,” Ross said. “He is an option out there, he’s played there before. Just making sure that we get him a game out there, some game reps, something to just turn his attention [to] the little details out there, be fundamentally sound out there.”

Given McKinstry’s situation — he’s out of options this year — he’ll likely start the season with the big-league team, meaning the Cubs want him ready for any and all situations. Ross and the Cubs like to have versatile bench pieces and McKinstry certainly is that — he’s a left-handed hitter than can play second, third or shortstop, so having that ability to play in the outfield in a pinch is a boost to the Cubs roster.

Do not like.

It would be fine if McKinstry was driving the ball all over the park in spring training, but he often looks overmatched at the plate. Does the defensive versatility really out-weigh the offensive shortcomings when you’re already going to begin the season without Seiya Suzuki, Eric Hosmer doesn’t have the prettiest track record in recent years and the catcher position is going to provide almost no value on offense? Not ideal to also carry another player who hasn’t shown a lot of progress offensively at the major league level.

While I do think that most results don’t matter in spring training, some guys should have to prove they belong. I thought McKinstry was in that group, but it appears like he’s making the Cubs Opening Day roster no matter what.

Oh and the other guy who really only needed to look OK to keep his spot was Adrian Sampson, but he’s been terrible. Sampson began spring training competing for the fifth spot in the starting rotation as the Cubs are still waiting for Kyle Hendricks to return from his shoulder injury. Well, in a three-man battle, Sampson is currently third, as Hayden Wesneski has been amazing and Javier Assad has even moved ahead after his impressive outing against the United States in the World Baseball Classic.

I think some of the reaction to Sampson has been a tad bit over the top, he’s not getting cut, but right now he might closer to beginning the season at Triple-A than making the Opening Day roster as the eighth reliever in the Cubs bullpen.


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C: Gomes/ Barnhardt
1B: Hosmer/Mancini
2B: Hoerner/McKinstry
SS: Swanson/Morel
3B: Rios/Madrigal
LF: Happ
CF: Bellinger
RF: Wisdom
** When Suzuki comes back someone
has to go. If we are winning and
Rios/Madrigal are hitting it’s a big
question. I’d like to McKinstry sent
down. Go w/ Madrigal/Morel as
infield back ups.

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