Matt Szczur is having the kind of spring training that should earn him a roster spot with the defending World Series champion Chicago Cubs.
It might not be enough, however.(tncms-asset)17f35c7a-e41f-11e6-a2dd-00163ec2aa77(/tncms-asset)
The Cubs likely will choose either Szczur, an athletic reserve outfielder from Lower Township, or Tommy La Stella, who can fill in as an infielder or outfielder, for a spot on their 25-man roster, a decision that will be made this week.
The Cubs open the season next Sunday at St. Louis in a nationally televised prime-time game.
Szczur, 27, is out of minor-league options, having spent much of the 2015 season bouncing back and forth between the major leagues and triple-A Iowa City.
Chicago would have to pass him through waivers if it wanted to send him to the minors again, and another MLB team almost certainly would claim him.
That raises the possibility the Cubs could trade Szczur, who spent the entire 2016 season in the majors, in the coming days. The Chicago Tribune’s Mark Gonzales, citing two MLB sources, reported Saturday the Cubs are trying to trade Szczur.
La Stella is not out of minor league options, so he could be sent down without the risk of losing him to another club. Trading Szczur and demoting La Stella, if they went that route, would allow them to add another pitcher to the roster.
The Cubs demoted La Stella to the minor leagues last summer, and he refused to report for 18 days. Cubs manager Joe Maddon says that issue will not affect La Stella’s chances to make the opening-day roster.(tncms-asset)7c19a0e8-e1c6-11e6-bc91-00163ec2aa77(/tncms-asset)
Szczur, meanwhile, is regarded highly throughout the Cubs organization, from the dugout to the front office. In a story by Patrick Mooney on CSNChicago.com, Maddon lavished praise on the Lower Cape May Regional High School graduate.
“I love Matt Szczur,” Maddon said Saturday from Mesa, Arizona, as reported by Mooney. “This guy as a teammate — you’re not going to get a better one. Nobody’s going to get a better one on any team for any reason.
“We haven’t decided everything or anything yet. Stuff happens in a very short period of time. He is a major-league baseball player. So we’ll just wait a couple more days, see how it plays out. But he’s a benefit to any group that has him.”
Entering Sunday, Szczur was hitting .342 (13 for 38) with a .405 on-base percentage in spring training. He had hit one home run, scored eight runs and driven in seven.
La Stella, a .258 hitter in 534 major league games, began Sunday hitting .267 (8 for 30) in the Cactus League. He had hit two home runs, scored five and driven in three.
Last season, Szczur hit .259 with five home runs and 24 RBIs in 107 games. He was among the NL’s top pinch-hitters but was left off the postseason roster.
The Cubs’ roster is loaded with outfielders again, including starting players Ben Zobrist and NL MVP Kris Bryant, both of whom can play the infield or outfield.