Surprise of Cubs' camp? Clevenger

Not many teams keep three catchers, but Steve Clevenger is giving the Cubs something to consider. AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh

MESA, Ariz. -- Guess who has impressed Chicago Cubs manager Dale Sveum the most at the plate this spring? It's not who you might think.

Steve Clevenger.

Yes, that Steve Clevenger. The one who hit .186, .162, .132 and .107 in months June-September last year. He's hitting .395 this spring.

“You can't take away the guy has swung the bat better than anyone in camp,” Sveum said Monday morning.

And the Cubs manager was quick to point out Clevenger's struggles last year came after an oblique injury. Now he's healthy and hitting.

“When you come off the bench and you're swinging the bat good, good things happen,” said Clevenger, who was the Cubs' seventh-round pick of 2006.

And that might be the most impressive thing about Clevenger lately. He hasn't been starting most days -- though he did Monday against the San Francisco Giants -- his damage has come as a late game replacement.

“The thing about Clevenger, you can't say he's hitting spring training pitching or early spring training pitching. Yesterday (Sunday against the Indians) he takes a 96 mph and hits it off the wall.”

He did similar earlier in the week against the Mariners and Brewers.

“I think I showed them a little last year coming off the bench,” Clevenger said. “In spring training I think I've shown them I can come off the bench.”

Clevenger is as surprised as anyone he's still around in camp. Once the team signed catcher Dioner Navarro and handed Welington Castillo the starting job behind the plate he knew he might be ticketed for Triple-A Iowa. Rarely do teams keep three catchers. And most of the time spring training does little to dissuade a team of its plans -- but that's not the case for Clevenger. He's changing minds.

“He came into spring training in the best shape he's ever been in,” Sveum said. “The guy is a big league hitter.”

To be more valuable Clevenger has been taking ground balls at first and third though Sveum said it would only be in emergency type situations he would play there. For now the manager says he'll take advantage of the versatility having three catchers on the roster provides.

“We can do more with double switches and stuff like that,” Sveum stated. “It's all come together where it makes it very versatile for me.”

This is all predicated on him making the team. The Cubs still might look to the waiver wire for a more versatile left-handed infield bat but if they don't find one by Sunday Clevenger is the guy

“I'm still in the mix, we'll see what happens over this next week,” he said.