Three Players To Watch For Chicago Cubs This Spring

As spring training games get started this weekend, there will be a lot to keep an eye on. Typically, this time of year is spent getting a read on players who could either emerge as stars or have bounce back seasons.

For the Cubs, there is a little of both. They have had one of the best offseasons in the league, and the roster in Chicago looks a lot different in 2023 than it did a year ago. The Cubs should be much more competitive this season, but a lot of that will hinge on performances from a few key players.

With that in mind, here are three to keep an especially close eye on:

Seiya Suzuki — OF

Suzuki is entering into his second year in the United States. He came over with some fanfare after nine successful seasons in Japan. Suzuki was a batting champ there in 2019 and 2021 and a five-time NPB All Star. In his first season with the Cubs, he put up a respectable two wins above replacement in 111 games with a .770 OPS and 14 home runs. But Cubs fans were understandably expecting more, given his resume in Japan.

It’s important to consider a few things in this case. First, that Suzuki lost a large chunk of the season last year to a left ring finger injury that sidelined him in June. Also, that any player making the transition from a league in another country — not to mention adjusting to things like culture and travel — is bound to need some time to feel fully comfortable and perform at his best. And on an encouraging note, Suzuki put up some of his best numbers later in the season, batting .286 in July and .321 in September.

This year, Suzuki came into spring camp a couple of weeks ago with about 20 pounds of added strength:

He may not vie for a batting title in the United States just yet, but Suzuki will be an important part of a contending Cubs team in 2023.

Cody Bellinger — OF/1B

There might be no greater wild card in the National League than Bellinger. What he’s capable of versus what he’s done lately presents a wide chasm. There are reasons to think issues with his leg and shoulder have caused his recent struggles, but the main question going into the 2023 season is whether he can put that behind him.

If he does, the Cubs are sitting on a gold mine. Bellinger was a rookie of the year and National League MVP early in his career and put up numbers in his first three seasons that would make for a Hall of Famer.

And through the first few looks in Cubs’ spring training, Bellinger is showing promise.

Obviously we should be leery of putting much stock in a batting practice home run in February, but Bellinger is talking like a player who feels healthy and ready to produce.

“I’m very free, feeling athletic, feeling strong, feeling refreshed and feeling confident. It’s a pretty good combination right there,” he told reporters.

Again, Cubs fans should be careful not to get ahead of their proverbial skis, but if Bellinger is at all like his former self, he not only locks down center field at Wrigley but even puts the Cubs in the playoff conversation.

Kyle Hendricks — SP

The past two seasons have been disappointments. Hendricks essentially struggled throughout 2021 and then had to be shut down with shoulder problems in 2022. There are questions about whether he can reasonably be expected to pitch to his old standard again, but Hendricks could factor in the Cubs’ rotation conversation at some point this season.

Friday was his first bullpen session, and he showed off new mechanics that could help restore his old performance.

No question, Hendricks is still a long ways off from any serious talk about him pitching in a major league game, but this is still a positive step.

“I feel really happy with where I’m at,” Hendricks told reporters before his Friday bullpen session. “All the video I’m seeing on myself, too, made some good changes mechanically. I’m just curious to see where we’re at when we touch the mound and make that next step.”

Even without Hendricks, the Cubs should have a sturdy rotation in 2023. Lead by Marcus Stroman and newcomer Jameson Taillon, the group is filled out by emerging arms like Justin Steele and reliable veterans Drew Smyly and Adrian Sampson. Add Hendricks back into that mix, and the Cubs will have a rotation worth a few October daydreams.

There are other guys on the Cubs roster worth keeping an eye on as spring training games get rolling, but Suzuki, Bellinger, and Hendricks stand to have the greatest impact on the team if things go well.

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