MESA, Ariz. — Seiya Suzuki arrived at camp this spring with a more impressive build after learning the endurance required for a Major League season. His displays in early spring training have been impressive, making it easy for the Cubs to dream of a breakout showing this year.
It could still happen, but the north sides will have to take a break from Suzuki’s preseason for the time being. The right fielder currently has a left side setback, and the team announced Monday night that Suzuki will not participate in the World Baseball Classic.
“He looked really good,” Cubs manager David Ross said. “He worked his tail off to take care of his body. Sometimes things happen.”
While the Cubs await Suzuki’s return — Ross was unwilling to speculate on the timetable until he met with the team’s doctors and the outfielder — the ballclub can at least begin examining contingency plans for right field.
One of the reasons the Cubs targeted veteran Trey Mancini in free agency this offseason was his versatility.
Under normal circumstances, Mancini would ideally split time with Eric Hosmer at first base and also get at-bats as a designated hitter. That said, Mancini has plenty of experience in the outfield corners in his career and can handle right field if Suzuki is sidelined.
Last season, Mancini logged 162 innings in left field and 86 innings right between his stops with the Orioles and Astros. He was a plus defender in terms of UZR/150 (23.1 in the outfield overall) and recorded two defensive runs saved as well.
Besides Mancini, Chicago would also have the option of moving Patrick Wisdom to right field. As it stands, Wisdom is primarily a third baseman, but like Mancini, he could help out at first or DH. Last year, Ross Wisdom gave small dose chances on all three outfields.
“It’s the first guys that have come to me,” Ross said, “and how I’m reworking the schedules down the road so that someone can play straight in case Seiya can’t come back.”
The best options without a roster
If Suzuki’s situation ends up affecting the Opening Day build, two non-roster outfielders who will be under serious consideration will be Ben DeLuzio and Mike Tauchman. As it is now, they will be evaluated in the battle for 26th place on the roster.
DeLuzio, 28, fits as a potential fourth outfielder, given that he could be a right-handed complement to left-handed center fielder Cody Bellinger. Not only does DeLuzio offer the ability to play skillfully in the middle, but he offers speed off the bench. He stole 30 bases for Triple-A Memphis last year and has 140 steals in six Minor League seasons.
“Running and base stealing will probably take a step forward in our game,” Ross said, “as far as priority and people trying to take advantage of some of that. So he fits into that.”
The 32-year-old Tauchman hits lefty, but Ross has been impressed with his ability to “control the strike zone.” The manager also likes that Tauchman boasts some Major League experience, having played parts of five seasons with the Rockies, Yankees and Giants. Last year, Tauchman had a .366 on-base percentage with 53 extra-base hits in 144 games for the Hanwha Eagles in Korea.
“Tauchman is smooth, quiet, good approach at the plate,” Ross said.
Last season, both Christopher Morel and Nelson Velázquez received rookie tryouts as part of the Cubs’ outfield. They’ll get an opportunity to make Opening Day, but the team could ultimately see an advantage with regular playing time at Triple-A Iowa to start the season.
Morel offers a possible rightful complement to Bellinger in center, but he’s also in the mix at third base or as a super utility man. Over 113 games in ’22, the 23-year-old Morel hit .235/.308/.433 with 16 homers, 19 doubles and 137 strikeouts, while bouncing all over the infield and outfield.
Velázquez, 24, profiles best as a right fielder, but he also logged time in the middle, where he and Morel each logged minus-six DRS. Velázquez hit .205/.286/.373 in his 77-game taste of the Major Leagues in ’22.
The Cubs also have a highly touted prospect in 23-year-old Brennen Davis, but he was limited to just 53 Minor League games due to injury setbacks last season. While Davis can play all three outfields, he is likely ticketed to Triple-A to start the year.