Injuries opening door for young talent

CHICAGO -- A slew of injuries to the Chicago Cubs have opened the door for even more young players to take the field in the final month of the season.

If you are keeping track at home, Anthony Rizzo (back) and Starlin Castro (ankle) are down. Both might be done for the year, as the Cubs will take no chances with their all-stars -- not this season. Outfielders Justin Ruggiano (ankle) and Ryan Sweeney (hamstring) have been moved to the 60-day disabled list, so their seasons are definitely over. Mike Olt has been nursing a hamstring injury but should return soon.

“These two injuries [to Castro and Rizzo], to me, they reinforce the value of depth,” Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said Wednesday afternoon. “This kind of thing happens in a pennant race. There are no excuses. You have to have guys that can go in.”

If there is a silver lining regarding the injuries to the Cubs’ stars, it is that neither appears to be a problem heading into 2015. Rizzo had it right when he said Tuesday that he wants to get healthy “for the offseason,” not during it. Both Rizzo and Castro had rebounded from subpar 2013 campaigns. Now it’s about who takes over for them.

“It’s not a slight moving around [the diamond],” Hoyer said. “It’s about making the best team possible.”

So Javier Baez will move back to shortstop, though his future looks to be at second base. Hoyer figures keeping him sharp there might pay off when it really matters someday.

Logan Watkins will get his chances at second base, as Hoyer indicated he looks “more comfortable” this time around in the big leagues.

Arismendy Alcantara will stay in center but could see some time at second as well when a tough lefty takes the mound.

Indeed, the Cubs will make the most of this injury situation by looking at other players, plenty of whom will be here next season.

“I think we have a fairly good idea where people are going to be,” Hoyer said. “We always talk about it. You have to have redundancy at different positions.”

But are the Cubs hindering a player’s progress on defense by moving him around? Every game Baez plays at shortstop in Castro’s absence, for example, is one fewer he’ll play at second base.

“For me, it’s obvious how much more comfortable he is at shortstop than at second,” Hoyer said.

Then why give him the reps there? Yes, he could be at shortstop someday in a pennant race, if Castro is injured again. But it’s more than likely he’ll be at second base for the playoff push, as Castro isn’t exactly injury prone.

“Like I said, we have to make sure he can do it,” Hoyer said on the matter. “It’s a fair question, but I think we’ll put Javier at short. I’m not saying he wouldn’t potentially have some games where he moves over, but right now he’s at shortstop every day.”

So the Cubs are simply going to move on from their injury situation and prepare their roster for next year. The battle is on for backups, as Watkins will get a good look just like Luis Valbuena has as a quasi-starter, with Sweeney and Ryan Kalish before him. By the way, Kalish is back, and Olt is rehabbing with Kane County for two games, then he will join the Cubs and get his reps at first base. Got it?

The Cubs are playing musical chairs due to injuries, but they keep winning, while finding out what they have for 2015.