Tyler Lowe 3/8/2018
Going into Cubs Spring Training this year, we all knew that there weren’t going to be many battles for roster spots. Barring any injuries, the 25-man roster was pretty much set in stone. However, there are a few key question marks that will need to be resolved before Opening Day.
- Who will be Willson Contreras’ backup?
- How will Joe Maddon find enough AB’s for all the Cub outfielders?
- Who will be the Cubs’ final reliever?
Spring Training is just getting underway and Joe Maddon has made it clear that previous success in the MLB is more important to him than preseason stats. However, these last few roster spots may come down to who performs the best this spring. So who has helped and hurt their chances at cracking the Cubs 25-man roster? Any of these players could turn things around in the coming weeks before Opening Day, but here’s a look at how things currently stand:
Helped: Chris Gimenez
Gimenez signed a minor-league deal with the Cubs this winter with a chance to prove himself in Spring Training and become Contreras’ backup. So far this Spring, he’s hitting .375 with 8 RBI’s. He’s a veteran catcher who’s done just fine in a backup role throughout his entire career. Gimenez won’t need 200+ AB’s to show what he’s capable of doing, unlike young hitters. His familiarity with Darvish is probably a little overrated, but he should be able to gel with all of the Cubs pitchers rather easily.
Hurt: Victor Caratini
Caratini was probably the favorite to win this job going into camp, but he’s limped to a .586 OPS with only 1 RBI so far this Spring. As a guy with less than one year of MLB service time, he would probably be better suited to receive regular playing time at Triple-A Iowa again in 2018 anyways. Young players usually aren’t very successful early in their careers when they only start 1-2 days a week. In addition, Caratini might be a valuable trade piece for the Cubs in July.
Helped: Kyle Schwarber and Ian Happ
The new-look Schwarber has impressed in the Cactus League. In the field, he looks much more mobile. On the base paths, he’s gotten 3 SB’s already. At the plate, Schwarber is carrying a strong 1.034 OPS.
Happ has easily been the most impressive Cubs thus far this spring. He’s trying to make his case for regular playing time, as he’s exploded for 4 HR’s already out of the leadoff spot. If he stays anywhere near this hot, I’d expect him to get the lion’s share of the time in center field.
Hurt: Albert Almora Jr. and Ben Zobrist
Almora Jr. is projected to be the Opening Day center fielder for the Cubs. He’s homered twice in the last few days, trying to prove that he can handle everyday duties. The problem for Almora Jr. has been Happ, who’s outperforming him and just about every hitter in baseball right now.
Zobrist hasn’t really hurt his cause as a result of his performance, but rather a nagging back injury. He had a rough 2017 so Zobrist needed to show he was capable of rebounding to his usual form again in 2018 with a strong Spring Training.
Brandon Morrow, Carl Edwards Jr., Steve Cishek, Pedro Strop, Mike Montgomery, Justin Wilson, and Brian Duensing are virtual locks for the Cubs bullpen. The Cubs are expected to carry an 8-man bullpen once in again in 2018 so that leaves one spot up for grabs.
Helped: Eddie Butler and Alec Mills
Butler and Mills would have been potential candidates for a spot in the rotation before Yu Darvish was signed, but now are trying to make the 25-man roster as relievers. Both of these guys have a little advantage in that they are capable throwing multiple innings on any occasion. Butler saw time with the Cubs in 2017 as a starter, but he wasn’t great. He’s been pretty solid in Spring Training thus far though. Mills has been the better of the duo, pitching to 2.25 ERA and 0.75 WHIP in limited action.
Hurt: Justin Grimm and Dillon Maples
Grimm has a disastrous 2017 with Chicago, and therefore spent some time at Triple-A. A strong Spring Training could make Grimm a lock for the 25-man roster, but so far he’s carrying his 2017 struggles into this year. He might still make the roster no matter what he does the rest of the spring, as Grimm was guaranteed $2.2 million by the Cubs through arbitration.
Maples is a pitcher with a lot of upside, featuring a mid-90s fastball and devastating slider. However, he’s shown to be very wild in his short professional career. He has a 9.00 ERA in his limited inning this spring, which doesn’t bode well for a guy who already didn’t have a great chance of making the 25-man roster.
Photo: Kue/Harford Courant