Entering Spring Training, the 2018 Chicago Cubs have relatively little turnover from the team that lost in the NLCS last October. Because of that, a wide majority of spots on the Opening Day roster are already considered locked.
However, there are a few positions that have yet to be determined. Let’s take a look at what we can expect the Opening Day roster to look like, and what players are competing for those final few spots.
The starting rotation (assuming no injuries) is considered set, so let’s lock in the following five roster spots.
The bullpen has most of its spots locked as well, but depending on how many pitchers Manager Joe Maddon wants to carry, there could be a spot or two for grabs.
- Steve Cishek
- Brian Duensing
- Carl Edwards Jr.
- Mike Montgomery
- Brandon Morrow
- Pedro Strop
- Justin Wilson
The infield and outfield are expected to be made up of the same group as last year.
- Albert Almora
- Javier Baez
- Kris Bryant
- Ian Happ
- Jason Heyward
- Tommy La Stella
- Anthony Rizzo
- Addison Russell
- Kyle Schwarber
- Ben Zobrist
Lastly, the catcher position has one spot locked down.
That leaves two roster spots available. One of these spots will be a backup catcher. The other spot is expected to be an 8th bullpen arm.
Each player brings their own upside to the table. Gimenez caught for Yu Darvish and his wide-ranging pitch arsenal while both were with the Texas Rangers. When the Cubs signed the 35-year-old in January, many speculated that it was partially to give Darvish another reason to sign with the team. While Gimenez and the Cubs maintain that had nothing to do with their match, it certainly couldn’t have hurt. The Cubs have experience with “personal” catchers, with a veteran presence and clubhouse leader David Ross catching almost exclusively for Jon Lester during his time with the team.
Caratini, however, has been a member of the Cubs organization since 2014, working his way up the minor league ranks and making his major league debut last season after the club sent Miguel Montero to Toronto. Caratini is a solid all-around player and is expected to be an effective player, even if he is blocked by Contreras from becoming a starter. With minimal major league experience, Caratini may lose out simply so he gets the opportunity to play more frequently at Triple-A.
Let’s take a look at the production from these two during the first week of Spring Training Games:
Obviously, it’s a very small sample size, and players work on different things for each at-bat. For example, Reds first-baseman Joey Votto asked a team reporter where he should try to hit the ball during an at-bat this week, just to see if he could. For guys like Gimenez and Caratini who are competing for a roster spot, Spring Training at-bats aren’t necessarily like that, but we will see what each player’s stat-lines look like in a month.
Finally, the last roster spots with any question is the 8th bullpen pitcher. While veteran Justin Grimm looks to be the favorite, Dillon Maples, Rob Zastryzny, Dario Alvarez, Shae Simmons, and Luke Farrell are among a group of players trying to pitch their way onto the major league roster.
Grimm has been a staple in the Cubs bullpen since coming over from the Rangers in 2013. He looks to come back from a couple rough years and regain his dominant 2015 form. Grimm’s stuff has always been good, but his control comes and goes. New pitching coach Jim Hickey is hoping to help the 29-year-old finally reach his potential.
Maples is part of a rare breed for the Cubs. He is a homegrown pitcher, drafted in the 14th round of the 2011 draft. Maples made his major league debut last season and has shown the ability to miss bats, putting up 14.2 K/9 in the minors last year. The 25-year-old looks ready to make the jump to the majors, but will likely need an opportunity to open up for his chance this year.
Zastryzny is one of the other few pitchers the Cubs have drafted recently to make an appearance in the majors in a Cubs uniform. The 26-year-old will likely start the year at Triple-A, but will likely be among the first called up in the event of injury.
Alvarez, Simmons, and Farrell are the newcomers to the Cubs organization. All have relatively minimal time at the major league level but have some upside that the Cubs are hoping can be utilized after some work with Jim Hickey. Chances are all three are destined to start the year in the minors, but the Cubs have some intriguing arms available if the need arises.
Through one week of Spring Training games, these six pitchers have put up the following stat lines:
With there being favorites for both roster spots, it remains to be seen if someone can win the job by performing well this month, but it can’t hurt to make management have to think twice before heading into Opening Day. For a Spring Training with relatively few intriguing stories, these two competitions will be worth keeping an eye on.