Cubs’ Luis Valbuena, says, ‘I don’t feel like I’m on the team’
BY GORDON WITTENMYER firstname.lastname@example.org February 16, 2013 11:40AM
Updated: February 17, 2013 12:01AM
MESA, Ariz. — Luis Valbuena, a .224 career-hitting infielder who was released by the Toronto Blue Jays at the end of spring training last year, already has a spot on the 2013 Cubs’ roster, as far as manager Dale Sveum is concerned.
Understandably, Valbuena doesn’t necessarily see it that way.
“I don’t feel like I’m on the team,’’ said Valbuena, 27, who was claimed on waivers by the Cubs the day before the season started last year. “I have to work hard like I did the last two years. I don’t feel like I’m on the 40-man [roster] or on the team. I don’t feel comfortable. I feel like I have to play 100 percent.’’
Valbuena, who got most of the starts at third base when Ian Stewart went down with a season-ending wrist injury in June, hit just .219 with little power and no stolen bases for the Cubs last year.
But he handled third base especially well defensively and has the versatility to play the middle infield — maybe even left field, which he has done three times in the big leagues.
“Valbuena’s going to be with us,’’ Sveum said. “He can do too many things. He had a heck of a winter ball, and people know how much I like the guy, and what he did for us last year. He had a heck of a lot better offensive year than the .215 or whatever it was.’’
Valbuena still is looking for his first full season in the big leagues after spending parts of the last five years with Seattle, Cleveland and the Cubs. After the Cubs claimed him in 2012 and put him on the roster, he was quickly sent to Class AAA Iowa three days into the season and eventually recalled to replace the DL’d Stewart.
Over the winter, Valbuena hit .306 for his Venezuelan winter ball team, with six homers and 15 doubles in 51 games. And he was in the running for the league MVP award into the final week.
He played deeper into the winter than he had in recent years and says he feels good at the plate coming into the spring with hopes of carrying the hot hand into the frigid April start of the season.
Until then, Sveum said he’ll get Valbuena playing time at several positions and keep the lefty hitter in mind as he watches to see whether Stewart proves this spring that can earn the starting third base job.
“Valbuena’s sitting there, seeing what happens,’’ Sveum said.
And taking nothing for granted. “I’m just competing right now,’’ Valbuena said.