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Et tu, Szczur: Hard-charging outfielder latest prospect to earn Cubs debut
NEW YORK – Matt Szczur probably couldn’t have picked a better place to make his major-league debut. Well, maybe Philadelphia, where the New Jersey native was a football star at Villanova.
“But it’s good to be in New York. It’s good to be on the East Coast, that’s for sure,” said the Cubs outfielder, who earned his first major-league callup this weekend, with his fiancé and several family members making the short trip to share it with him.
Manager Rick Renteria didn’t have the aggressive, versatile outfielder in the lineup Sunday but plans to get him a start in the next few days.
Szczur (pronounced like “Caesar” from Planet of the Apes), 25, was taken in the fifth round by then-scouting director Tim Wilken, who gambled the Cubs could get him to give up his NFL dreams – then get his raw hitting skills refined enough to get him to the big leagues.
“It was a long road,” said Szczur, a .280 hitter with 120 stolen bases in 491 minor-league games. “I didn’t even know I’d be playing baseball, out of my junior and senior year. I thought I was going to be in the NFL playing football.
“It’s been a great journey. There’s been struggles,” he said. “There’s been ups and downs. I’m glad I’m here now. But it doesn’t stop here. I’ve got to continue to work and try to get better.”
Szczur hit .261 for AAA Iowa this season, with a .315 on-base percentage as the I-Cubs’ leadoff hitter and center fielder. He has hit .315 with a .351 OBP since last month’s All-Star break.
He’ll be the seventh player to make his major-league debut with the Cubs this season, joining infielder/outfielder Arismendy Alcantara, second baseman Javy Baez and pitchers Kyle Hendricks, Neil Ramirez, Tsuyoshi Wada and Dallas Beeler.
“It’s definitely a high number of men breaking into the big leagues,” Renteria said. “It’s good to see. It’s a show of movement and the progress that the organization’s having. It’s actually a good thing.”
When outfielder Junior Lake was optioned to Iowa over the weekend, Szczur got the call ahead of $30 million outfield prospect Jorge Soler.
And regardless of all the hype and attention focused on the Cubs marquee prospects such as Soler, Baez, Kris Bryant and Albert Almora, Szczur plans to find a significant place in the Cubs’ competitive future.
“I feel like I can be a really big piece of the puzzle,” he said. “I can help contribute a lot, defensively, offensively, on the bases. I’m excited to be here. I’m excited to help us win.”