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A crowded Cubs outfield has plenty to prove in 2018

Paul Sullivan, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Baseball

After Ben Zobrist earned his second straight ring and was named the World Series MVP in 2016, you can't blame him for taking some time to relax last offseason.

But that's old news.

Zobrist, who turns 37 in May, is coming off a subpar season and doesn't know how he will be used this year in Joe Maddon's revolving-door lineup. So Zobrist took only 10 days off after the Cubs bowed out of the National League Championship Series before diving back into the weight room. He was back in the hitting cage by mid-November, hoping to rebound in 2018.

"I'll say it -- it was my worst year statistically and physically since I've been in the big leagues," Zobrist said. "I also can say this confidently: It was the best year personally in my life because I learned so much through that adversity.

"And it was a big-time growth year to fight through some of those things and still try to maintain a positive attitude and keep working in the same way, even though I was pretty exhausted and physically beat up going into the year. I was more motivated than ever at the end of the year."

All of the Cubs outfielders should be extra motivated in 2018, for various reasons.

 

Fortunately, new hitting coach Chili Davis is here to help revive Zobrist, Jason Heyward and Kyle Schwarber -- all of whom have something to prove -- while furthering the development of Albert Almora Jr. and Ian Happ.

The numbers weren't pretty.

Zobrist's OPS last year was .693, a significant drop-off from .831 in 2016. Heyward's OPS improved from .631 to .715, but he hasn't contributed offensively the way the Cubs envisioned two winters ago when after they signed him to an eight-year, $184 million deal.

Schwarber's OPS in his rookie season of 2015 was .842, and after he missed almost the entire regular season with a torn ACL in his left knee in 2016, he finished with a .782 OPS last season -- though he still hit 30 home runs in a down year.

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