Under the radar storylines: Eye on Veras

Could Cubs manager Rick Renteria have found his clean-up hitter in Justin Ruggiano? AP Photo/Morry Gash

MESA, Ariz. -- You’ve heard about some of the major storylines in Chicago Cubs camp this year like Mike Olt’s attempt to win a roster spot and Javier Baez’ extraordinary power. Here are three storylines that have flown under the radar:

Closer Jose Veras: In four innings of work, he’s given up five hits and four runs while walking one and striking out two. He was fortunate to get out of a rough inning Friday against the Los Angeles Dodgers when he picked off a runner at second because he was getting hit hard. Four innings isn’t enough of a sample size but his stuff hasn’t looked great so far. One scout watching didn’t love the look of his fastball and when you consider how the Cubs back-end of the bullpen performed in April last year, any concern is justified. Carlos Marmol had a 6.97 ERA in the spring and lost the closer’s job by the end of the first week. Veras has a 9.00 ERA and will certainly get more chances over the final two weeks to show his stuff, but Marmol got worse as the spring went along last year; Veras needs to go the opposite way. This is only his second year as a closer and yes, it’s still somewhat early and he’s a veteran, but those were the same things being said about Marmol last year at this time. Something to keep an eye on.

Justin Ruggiano: If the spring means anything, manager Rick Renteria may have found his clean-up hitter. Ruggiano is hitting a cool .500 going into games this weekend with an on-base percentage of .550. He’s shown pop with his two home runs and a double to go along with a team-leading eight RBIs. We can argue about the importance of protection in the order but there’s no arguing production. The Cubs need it. Anthony Rizzo takes his share of walks so it wouldn’t hurt to have a run producer behind him in the lineup. If Ruggiano is a Cub from start to finish, he could end up having the most at-bats of any outfielder. After hitting .222 last year with a devastatingly long drought (0 for 42) mid-season, Ruggiano could use some positive results no matter when they come. He’s just a season removed from hitting .313, where he hit lefties and righties nearly equally as well. Ruggiano might not be a long-term answer but the Cubs need something from their outfield now that Alfonso Soriano is gone and Ruggiano could provide that kind of pop if his spring carries over to summer.

Eric Jokisch: As pitching prospects go, Kyle Hendricks gets more publicity as do the pitchers at the lower levels of the minors like CJ Edwards. But Jokisch has opened some eyes over the last 12 months. He threw a no-hitter at Double-A Tennessee last year and pitched as well as anyone in spring camp before being sent to the minor league side. He was an 11th round pick in 2010 and didn’t give up a run in six innings of spring work and pitched effectively against his own club in an intrasquad game as well. Jokisch and Hendricks have a chance to pitch for the Cubs this season if things break right.