Szczur's skill set a need for winning team

CHICAGO -- There's still a place in baseball for the Matt Szczurs of the world, and as the Chicago Cubs look to become a contending team, he might become even more valuable.

"He's a guy I can use in many ways," manager Rick Renteria said Tuesday afternoon. "He can pinch run, he can pinch hit, plays all outfield positions. Pretty astute baseball player."

Szczur feels like a throwback. A defensive whiz without much pop -- he hit one home run at Triple-A this season -- he's more interested in the brick behind the ivy than which way the wind is blowing.

"Usually, wherever I play is all padded," he said before his first game at Wrigley Field. "I got a feel for it walking out there to the batting cage. But how the sun plays is the most important. Walking out there [Tuesday] was like a day game before batting practice, so I got a feel. We'll see how it plays when the sun goes down."

That's hardly the talk of the next slugger to crack the Cubs lineup. There'll be enough of those when it's all said and done, but what contending team can't use an athlete like Szczur? A two-sport (football) star at Villanova, he's made it to the big leagues because of his defense and speed (30 stolen bases at Triple-A). As a fifth-round pick in 2010, Szczur showed the Cubs that athleticism.

"They are very valuable players," Renteria said. "They are components of a winning team -- guys you can use later on in the ballgames. The skill set that he brings in terms of speed is really big."

Think about it: There is no Cub with that dimension who isn't already a starter. When is the last time they brought in a player as a defensive replacement or pinch ran with someone? Darwin Barney earlier this year? Every winning team has that kind of a guy on its roster. It’s not a luxury. It's a need. Szczur could be that guy, but he'll have to prove himself at the plate first and foremost.

"These guys coming off the bench need to play, too," Renteria said. "You might have a player go 10 days, two weeks without playing. They still have to perform."

As much as his defense could help the Cubs win games, it'll still be his bat that states whether Szczur has a future in Chicago. He knows that.

"I have to produce when given the opportunity," he said. "That could mean any number of things -- taking a walk or pinch hitting. I hope to stay."

His type will be needed.