The Chicago Cubs could actually have a very productive bench in 2013. Final roster guys who will only get limited at-bats are never a sure bet, but considering the Cubs could employ up to two platoons (in right field and third base) it means the non-starter that day will be a little more ready than most teams who employ the same nine nearly every day.
So when Scott Hairston and Brent Lillibridge, for example, do pinch hit they should be expected to do more than the league average off the bench because they will be also getting at-bats as a starter. Hairston is more of a long-ball threat with nine home runs in 199 plate appearances as a pinch hitter, including three last season, but his overall average (.182) off the bench is nothing special.
Coming over from the American League, Lillibridge has had fewer opportunities for straight pinch-hitting duties. His value is in double switches and considering he played all positions on the diamond this spring save pitcher and catcher, Lillibridge will come in handy.
The real pop off the bench comes in the form of lefty Steve Clevenger and righty Dave Sappelt. “Mighty Mite” as Sappelt is known can pack a wallop against left-handed pitching. He’s a .345 hitter with a .410 on-base percentage against southpaws in his short career, but those numbers come way down against right-handed pitching.
Clevenger was a monster off the bench this spring. He hit everything in sight the final couple of weeks and he did a lot of it in dramatic fashion: in the seventh inning or later when the Cubs needed an RBI or a base-runner.
It’s unknown if back-up catcher Dioner Navarro can hit as he did this spring when he led the Cubs in RBIs (16) and was second with four home runs, but he’s the only real veteran catcher on the team so his value is there more than anywhere. By all accounts he calls a pretty good game.
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Lillibridge might see action in some form or another nearly every game. He’ll start some at third base and when coming off the bench -- if he can handle any of the outfield positions along with helping out when Starlin Castro or Darwin Barney need a breather -- his value rises even more. He has to play sound defense first and foremost and then anything he gives the Cubs at the plate is a bonus.
Sappelt is the next best option in centerfield if David DeJesus comes out of the game, but more important is what Sappelt means against left-handed pitching. The Cubs are a very left-handed team which means opposing managers will bring in their specialists to negate the advantage -- that’s when Sappelt comes in. And he’ll get his chances against righties too, so improvement against them is vital. But when he rakes against a lefty he can do some damage.
Hairston is flying under the radar right now as manager Dale Sveum insists Nate Schierholtz is going to mostly be the starter in right field, even against many left-handers. But what Hairston did last season can’t be overlooked. He hit 20 home runs in 377 at-bats. The Cubs need all the power they can get, so if Schierholtz is struggling Hairston might become a more prominent player.