It looks like things are really starting to clear up at this point with just a couple of weeks left to go in the spring. The biggest questions are for the last 3 spots in the bullpen, where the Cubs still have 6 viable candidates, 3 of whom are out of options and another who is a Rule 5 pick who needs to make the roster to stay with the Cubs. It seems certain the Cubs will make some minor deals near the end of the spring to try and maximize their bullpen assets.
Here's how the roster is shaping up right now...
C: Geovany Soto - Incumbent having a solid spring but with young catchers playing well behind him, teams who need a catcher may be calling Theo and Jed.
1B: Bryan LaHair - Has really struggled this spring while Anthony Rizzo has flourished. He's going to have to hit to keep this job.
2B: Darwin Barney - Added some bulk and has been adding extra base power to his defense and contact skills.
3B: Ian Stewart - Swing was coming around before he got injured but he should be ready soon.
SS: Starlin Castro - Quietly has played better defense this spring. Will be interesting to see if that carries into the season. Everyone knows he can hit.
LF: Alfonso Soriano- Started the spring hot and will remain a Cub for now.
CF: Marlon Byrd - Fans eager to see top prospect Brett Jackson play. Jackson has had a solid spring and may already be the Cubs 2nd best player, but Byrd also playing well and he'll keep the job as long as he's with the team.
RF: David DeJesus - The Cubs leadoff man is off to a slow start but most expect him to perform when the bell rings.
C: Steve Clevenger - In a neck and neck battle with Welington Castillo. Only reason Clevenger may get job is his LH bat complements Soto and Cubs may want Castillo to play everyday.
IF: Jeff Baker -- A lock to retain his jack of all trades role off the bench -- if he's still here.
IF: Blake DeWitt - Still holds lead over Adrian Cardenas, but that gap has narrowed of late. DeWitt will have to hold off a late charge from Cardenas, who has the advantage of youth and already being on the roster.
OF: Reed Johnson - The steady veteran is the Cubs best defensive outfielder, particularly in LF, where Soriano needs some late inning help.
OF: Joe Mather - Came in to camp and basically took Tony Campana's job as a long shot non-roster invite. His versatility on offense and defense is a plus. It's also possible he could end up with Jeff Baker's all-purpose role
Matt Garza, RHP: Looks to take another step forward this year and become a bona fide ace. Cubs will have to make a decision soon whether to sign him long term or trade him for prospects to continue the rebuilding process.
Ryan Dempster, RHP: Veteran leader for changing staff. This will likely be his last year as a Cub unless he comes at a big discount next season.
Paul Maholm, LHP: Not exactly going to wow anybody, he just gets the job done.
Jeff Samardzija, RHP: Sveum is talking like Samardzija is a lock, or at least close to it. His size, velocity, athleticism, and 4 pitch repertoire make him interesting, but the difference has been his much improved command.
Chris Volstad, RHP: Has pitched great this spring by pounding the ball low in the strike zone.
Carlos Marmol: Hasn't been lights out by any stretch of the imagination, but has shown signs of figuring it out recently and should be the Cubs closer...for now.
Kerry Wood: Veteran should be the primary guy in the 8th inning but some young arms are coming on strong.
James Russell: Inherits Sean Marshall's late inning lefty role out of the pen but has been shaky so far this spring. Cubs need him to step up.
Rafael Dolis: He's earned a spot by not giving up a run and pitching with pretty good command all spring. Strikeouts aren't there yet, but he does have swing and miss stuff.
Trever Miller: Despite the bad outing he may still have the edge on Scott Maine for the moment. With Russell something of an uncertainty, Sveum may feel better with another veteran lefty to fall back on. Then again, there's nothing written that the Cubs have to take a second lefty, especially if one doesn't distinguish himself. Both players can be sent down to Iowa.
Randy Wells: The Cubs are going to have to give him a role in the bullpen if he loses out on a rotation spot. Wells has pitched well this spring, but Samardzija and Volstad have been a tick better. Wells may end up as trade bait as many teams will be looking for a starter at the end of the spring.
Marcos Mateo: Right now I'm giving him this spot because he has no options, but he's hanging by a thread as Lendy Castillo has made a strong move this spring and the Cubs have picked up a second pitcher that has no options in Frankie De La Cruz. The Cubs may try and find a way to keep all 3 arms.
As mentioned, Lendy Castillo could still get that last spot but my feeling is the Cubs would rather see if they can try and make a deal to keep him in the minors while he continues to refine his command and secondary pitches.
Frankie De La Cruz: Like Mateo and Wells, he's out of options but there's a bit of a logjam at the bottom of the bullpen. It's unfair to count De La Cruz out without him having thrown a pitch yet, but it appears the Cubs will have to make a move or two to keep him and Castillo.
Welington Castillo: Battling with Clevenger but his higher ceiling may cost him a spot on the roster.
Adrian Cardenas: It was his job to lose and so far DeWitt has done his best to make sure that happens. This one isn't decided yet, though Sveum seems to be a bit more partial to the veteran DeWitt here.
Tony Campana: His speed off the bench could be useful, especially early in the year when runs are hard to come by, but Campana has done nothing to earn that spot while Mather has played lights out. Campana's only chance right now may be a trade of Jeff Baker, which seems unlikely at this point.
Scott Maine: The hard throwing Maine is Miller's main competition to be the second lefty out of the pen...if there is a second lefty, that is.
Travis Wood: He started the spring with a good shot at making the team but has pitched his way off the staff for now. With a strong finish, he may still challenge for a role, but that is unlikely at this point. Wood has an option left so he can regroup in AAA Iowa
There are other players, such as Casey Coleman and Blake Parker, who still have an outside chance, but right now it's looking like there are 32 players vying for 25 spots. The bullpen picture remains the foggiest but the Cubs could clear things up with a roster move or two soon.
It'll be interesting to see what direction the Cubs go with those last 6 spots but it seems right now they'll have to do some fancy maneuvering if they want to keep as many of these players as possible.