Cubs' Ridling Makes His Case





CHICAGO—Sooner or later, somebody is going to take notice of Rebel Ridling.

While the Cubs search for undervalued players elsewhere, they have one of their own in the 25-year-old first baseman. Ridling hit .309/.372/.515 with 20 home runs for Double-A Tennessee last season, and he continued to hit with Magallanes in the Venezuelan League. But Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer left him off the 40-man roster and perhaps breathed a sigh of relief when he wasn't claimed in the Rule 5 draft.

Ridling, a 25th-round pick in the 2008 draft from Oklahoma State, has taken a step-by-step approach through the Cubs system, delivering an .800-plus OPS in two of the last three seasons. He seems set to play for Triple-A Iowa in 2012 after driving in 80 runs with Tennessee last season.

"Sometimes you never know when the light's going to go on for a guy," farm director Oneri Fleita said. "He's a good first baseman and his defense keeps getting better, and now he's chasing the ball around left field some too. He's become a better hitter. He's cut down his strikeouts, seeing more pitches." 

Ridling and Bryan LaHair, who is expected to get a chance to fill the Cubs' first-base opening, have spent the winter with Magallanes. Ridling has played first base, left field and DH, with LaHair sometimes playing the outfield, which has allowed both to be in the lineup.

While LaHair's terrific winter has drawn attention (he was hitting .280/.414/.610 with 15 home runs), Ridling has remained in the shadows. He was hitting .338/.395/.364 in 77 at-bats. The downside was that he had generated just two extra-base hits and three RBIs. 

"Sometimes the power doesn't show up in those ballparks," Fleita said. "They're like graveyards. But he can hit for power. We've seen that."

Fleita believes Ridling will benefit from his trip to Venezuela.

"This will be a hell of an opportunity for him," he said. "I look for him to have a big season (in 2012). I really do."

Cubbyhole

• The Cubs added to their inventory of prospects by acquiring 19-year-old second baseman Ronald Torreyes and 25-year-old outfielder Dave Sappelt in the Dec. 23 trade that sent Sean Marshall to the Reds for lefthander Travis Wood. The 5-foot-7, 140-pound Torreyes hit .356/.398/.457 in 278 at-bats with low Class A Dayton last season.

• Trying to regain his sparkle, Jay Jackson has had an up-and-down winter. The 24-year-old righthander was 3-2, 5.56 for Caracas after getting knocked out in the first inning of a start on Dec. 22. He was 8-14, 5.34 at Iowa in 2011.