Pitchers and catchers have had their physicals and their first workout. The first spring training game is about 2 weeks away. The starting lineup is pretty well established with very little, if any competition among the position player starters.
The pitchers are a different story as there are available spots in both the rotation and the bullpen. Here's a quick look at all the candidates...
1. Matt Garza
2. Ryan Dempster
3. Paul Maholm (L)
These 3 veterans will likely hold down the first 3 spots in the rotation. Garza is the only real difference maker while Dempster and Maholm figure to provide steady innings. As I've mentioned in past articles, I believe Dempster is a candidate to bounce back and be a more reliable starter this year.
4. Chris Volstad
5. Travis Wood (L)
The Cubs two rotation acquisitions figure to have the inside track for the last two spots in the rotation but they are certainly not a lock. They will have to throw well this spring. Wood has an option left, but you have to think that the Cubs will want to have a second lefty in their rotation. That gives Wood an edge and I think he just has to be healthy and throw strikes to win a spot. Volstad had a bad 2011 but finished strong. His youth and upside make him a fit for the rebuilding Cubs.
6. Randy Wells
7. Casey Coleman
Wells has a serious shot at the rotation and I probably should have lumped him in with the favorites. His age and relative lack of upside though probably has him more in the long relief/6th starter plans. Coleman fits for a similar role but he's had less experience and success at the major league level. His biggest advantage is youth and low cost. One of these guys will probably be the Cubs swingman and first in line if there is an injury or if one of the pitchers proves to be ineffective.
The wild card
8. Jeff Samardzija
Samardzija has been told he'll be worked as a starter in spring training. The Cubs probably expect him to fill an important role in the bullpen, but Samardzija has the stuff and enough pitches to be an effective starter. The question with him, as always, is command. He's going to have to throw really well early and often to catch the attention of the new front office/coaching staff.
9. Rodrigo Lopez
10. Andy Sonnanstine
11. Ryan Rowland-Smith(L)
12. Nate Robertson (L)
13. Chris Rusin (L)
14. Nick Struck
15. Jay Jackson
Lopez was the best of the Cubs replacement pitchers last year after Andrew Cashner and Randy Wells went down. He has the flexibility to go back and forth between the rotation and the bullpen. The rest of the guys are extreme longshots to make the team right now. They are more likely competing for the AAA rotation and to best position themselves for a call-up should disaster strike. Some, like Robertson, Smith, and Jackson might be fighting just to save their careers. If they don't pitch well, they may just end find themselves looking for work elsewhere. I've also speculated that the Cubs may lose Sonnanstine as he could be a candidate to get bumped from the roster when the Gerardo Concepcion signing becomes official.
Unlike last season, the Cubs are well prepared to withstand multiple injuries to their rotation. They've added some young arms, particularly Volstad and Wood, who may be trying to win more than just a job in 2012. They're looking to become a permanent part of the Cubs rebuilding process. The 3 pitchers who are locks for 2012 may not even be with the team in 2013.