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Chicago Cubs' Top 3 Disappointing Players in Spring Training

Matt Garza, Ian Stewart and Scott Hairston Struggling with Injuries and Performance in Spring Training

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COMMENTARY | Matt Garza, Ian Stewart and Scott Hairston are having a tough spring with the Chicago Cubs.

Garza and Stewart, unfortunately, have both suffered injuries. Hairston, meanwhile, has struggled in the more traditional sense, experiencing a poor spring at the plate.

Statistically, you can make a case other Cubs players have had a worse spring than the three players on my list. But I'm taking into account more than just the numbers, which are greatly limited by sample size anyway.

To be clear, I'm also not blaming Garza or Stewart for being hurt, but simply noting the disappointment that neither player has been able to have the productive spring Cubs fans were hoping for.

MATT GARZA

Had Garza not suffered a stress reaction in his right elbow last July, which ended his season prematurely, there's a good chance he would've been traded at the July 31 non-waiver deadline.

Instead, the Cubs, and any potential trade partners, were left waiting for Garza to show he's fully recovered before making a deal, which could also mean the Cubs deciding to sign the 29-year-old to a long-term extension before he hits free agency in November.

Reports this winter on Garza's recovery were encouraging. He was expected to be at full health in time for spring training. But despite his healed elbow, the right-hander suffered a pulled left lat muscle during the first week of spring camp.

Initially, the injury was listed as non-serious with Garza being sidelined only one week. However, more than a week passed before Garza attempted another throwing session, in which he again felt discomfort in his lat muscle.

Now, for obvious reasons, the Cubs are being extra cautious with Garza. He's scheduled to miss at least another month and will start the season on the DL.

Even though the Cubs added plenty of starting pitching depth this offseason, few things top losing your staff ace to the DL to begin the season, and especially if Garza is unable to regain his high trade value from last summer once he returns.

IAN STEWART

Stewart is another player trying to rebound from an injury-shortened season in 2012. A nagging left-wrist injury required surgery during last year's All-Star break and ultimately kept Stewart out for the remainder of the season.

Due to a thin free-agent market at third base, the Cubs decided to re-sign Stewart this offseason, despite his poor showing in just 55 games last year, in hopes he would blossom into the everyday third baseman the Cubs desperately need.

Although Stewart's wrist has reportedly made a full recovery, he suffered a left-quad strain at the onset of spring camp, which has limited him to light jogging and fielding practice.

Stewart is expected to make his Cactus League debut on Thursday, March 14. But it could prove too late for Stewart to make the team.

Luis Valbuena, who was expected to platoon with Stewart at third base, is having a terrific spring at the plate, hitting .350/.409/.600 in 20 at-bats. If Valbuena's spring success continues, the Cubs may decide to go with him full-time in 2013.

It's a real possibility considering Stewart's one-year, $2 million deal is non-guaranteed, meaning the Cubs can release Stewart before opening day without suffering a significant financial hit.

That's not something I suspect will happen given Stewart's age, 27, and the fact he won't have enough major-league service time to qualify for free agency next winter, meaning the Cubs could offer him an affordable arbitration deal if he were to have a productive season.

The big question, however, is whether or not Stewart can show enough production before opening day to earn a roster spot. Ideally, a healthy Stewart would have already answered the question by this point, thus helping the Cubs decide which direction to go in at third base.

SCOTT HAIRSTON

The Cubs continue to stress to their hitters the importance of working the count in addition to drawing walks to reach base. The team's on-base percentage this spring suggests there's still a lot of work to be done.

The Cubs' .311 on-base percentage is the worst mark in the majors, and Scott Hairston has contributed plenty by drawing a single walk vs. 11 strikeouts in 23 at-bats.

I'm not one to get caught up in spring training statistics, especially over a nine-year veteran such as Hairston. But his strikeout rate and .167 OBP is in stark contrast to the Cubs' offensive plans.

This doesn't come as a real surprise, considering Hairston managed a .299 OBP last season in what was arguably the best offensive season of his career. And to put Hairston's .299 OBP into better perspective, he's in Darwin Barney (.299 OBP) and Brett Jackson (.303 OBP) territory from last season.

I have to believe Hairston, 33, was aware of the Cubs' idea of a quality at-bat before he signed a two-year, $6 million deal this offseason. But it appears Hairston has yet to fully conform to the Cubs' plate approach, or at least has struggled mightily to do so.

Part of the Cubs' reasons for signing Hairston was to beef up the outfield depth, add a right-handed platoon with Nate Schierholtz in left field, and, perhaps more important, take over left field in the event Alfonso Soriano is traded this spring or early in the season.

Using Hairston as a backup plan would also keep the Cubs from hurrying Jackson's continued development at Triple-A Iowa. But if Hairston's regular season goes anything like this spring, the Cubs will not only have added a player who doesn't reach base, but there's also the chance they'll be stuck with him for two seasons.

Brian Corbin is a Chicago-based sports writer. He's covered the Cubs year-round at BullpenBrian.com since 2007. His posts have been published on the Chicago Sun-Times News Group web sites and numerous baseball blogs.

You can follow Brian on Twitter @bullpenbrian.

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