It appears the Cubs four full-season affiliates will enter the season at near-full health, just as the big club did. The organization has enough healthy depth that the they were able to release ten players and trade another last week, yet have not gone outside the organization to bring in additional help, save the signing of veteran utility man Chris Coghlan.
The Cubs traded left handed starter Daniel Camarena back to the Yankees this past weekend, presumably for cash, after signing him away from them in the offseason as a six-year Minor League free agent. With six other healthy starters and a plethora of lefthanded relief options present there was just no room for Camarena to carve out a role. The team also has three veterans rehabbing from injuries beginning the season in extended spring training. None have suffered any reported setbacks thus far which means each could fortify the club's depth even further at some point this season. As of now the Iowa rotation stacks up:
Duane Underwood, Jr.
Swing: Michael Roth
EXST: Ryan Williams (rehab), Danny Hultzen (rehab), Allen Webster (rehab)
The bullpen did suffer a couple losses, Corey Black had an early setback in his rehab from 2017 TJS and will begin the season in EXST. David Garner was suspended the first 50 games of the year due to a second failed drug test. It was rather unlikely that Black would have earned a spot directly out of spring training anyway as he worked himself back so Garner is really the only unplanned loss. The bullpen currently consists of:
RHRP: Dillon Maples, Shae Simmons, Cory Mazzoni, Anthony Bass, Justin Hancock, Craig Brooks, Brad Markey, Daury Torrez
LHRP: Randy Rosario, Alberto Baldanado, Zastryzny/Roth
EXST: LHRP Kyle Ryan, RHRP Jose Rosario, RHRP Corey Black (rehab), RHRP David Garner (50-Suspension)
The position player groups are all healthy for when games kick off on Thursday. Coghlan will remain behind to work himself into shape after signing late. A potential lineup once he is ready:
CF Jacob Hannemann / Wynton Bernard
RF Mark Zagunis
LF Chris Coghlan (EXST) / Bijan Rademacher
2B David Bote
1B Efren Navarro / Taylor Davis
C Chris Gimenez / Ali Solis
3B Ryan Court / Stephen Bruno
SS Mike Freeman / Chesny Young
The rotation is chocked full of prospects which should make the team a fun watch on a daily basis. Adbert Alzolay will begin the season in EXST. He didn't get into games until later in spring training and hasn't built up his stamina yet. No reason to be concerned at this point and I expect he'll join the Smokies after a couple of weeks.
Oscar De La Cruz
EXST: Adbert Alzolay
Tennessee will have to deal with a major disadvantage as the season opens. They will not have a left handed reliever and will need to rely solely on righties. Even the starting rotation contains nothing but righties.
RHRP: Dakota Mekkes, Jake Stinnett, James Norwood, Scott Effross, Zach Hedges, James Pugliese, Tommy Nance, Preston Morrison
EXST: Ryan McNeil (rehab)
As with Iowa, the lineup enters the season at full strength. The team will face the same right handed heavy challenge on offense that they will with their pitching staff. Jason Vosler is the only left handed bat projected to be in the everyday lineup and the only potent one on the roster.
SS Zack Short / Carlos Penalver
LF Charcer Burks
RF Eddy Martinez / Jeffrey Baez
3B Jason Vosler / Jesse Hodges
C Ian Rice / Erick Castillo
1B Yasiel Balaguert
2B Trent Giambrone / Gioskar Amaya
CF Trey Martin
Myrtle Beach Pelicans
Heading into spring training I imagined a three-way battle between 2017 draftees Alex Lange, Keegan Thompson and Cory Abbott for the chance to skip Low-A and jump straight into the Pelicans rotation after spending their post draft season in Eugene last year. The competition never really developed as Abbott spent all spring with South Bend while Lange and Thompson consistently participated with Myrtle Beach and it appears that both have wrapped up jobs with the squad.
Swing: Tyson Miller, Ryan Kellogg, Kyle Miller, Matt Swarmer
EXST: Erick Leal (rehab), Manny Rondon (rehab)
The Pelicans will see their share of piggybacking as the season opens given the number of swing starters available. Even among the regular bullpen arms Tyler Peyton and Casey Bloomquist have starting experience. Thankfully, the Pelicans will have left handed options the Smokies will not enjoy.
RHRP: Chad Hockin, Jhon Romero, Tyler Peyton, Casey Bloomquist
LHRP: Wyatt Short, Jordan Minch
The big news is 19-year old Aramis Ademan has earned the shortstop job in Myrtle Beach despite just a 29 game stint in South Bend late last year. While his potential double-play partner, second baseman Carlos Sepulveda is rehabbing from offseason shoulder surgery, the team will rely on the defensive versatility of Austin Upshaw and Vimael Machin. Expect those two to move around quite frequently. I've listed Upshaw as a 1B below, but given the number of C/1B on the roster I expect he will spend majority of his time rotating between 2B/3B/LF.
CF D.J. Wilson
2B Vimael Machin / EXST: Carlos Sepulveda (rehab)
1B Austin Upshaw / Tyler Alamo
3B Wladimir Galindo
RF Chris Pieters
LF Kevonte Mitchell / Daniel Spingola
C P.J. Higgins / Tyler Pearson / Jhonny Pereda
SS Aramis Ademan / Andruw Monasterio
South Bend Cubs
The reason it was so important for Lange and Thompson to earn jobs with Myrtle Beach is it appears even without that pair that South Bend could begin the season with as many as eight pitchers capable of starting games, so expect a ton of piggybacking, perhaps on a near daily basis.
Jose Albertos, Brendon Little, Cory Abbott, Javier Assad, Bailey Clark, Erich Uelmen, Jesus Camargo, Tyler Thomas
With so many starters and swing men available that leaves few slots for late inning relievers.
RHRP: Ben Hecht, Brian Glowicki, Rollie Lacy, Manny Rodriguez, Elvis Diaz
LHRP: Yapson Gomez
As for the lineup, outfielder Luis Ayala has been limited this spring due to a shoulder injury and is not ready to begin the season. The rest of the squad is ready to go. Unfortunately, the only one of the Cubs promising teenagers to make the team is Miguel Amaya. Outfielders Jonathan Sierra, Nelson Velazquez and infielder Christopher Morel all appear ticketed for Eugene once the short season league kicks off. Like Austin Upshaw in Myrtle Beach, fellow 2017 draftee Jared Young will be tasked with bouncing between positions and will likely spend majority of his time at 2B/3B/LF while 1B will end up as a rotation between Austin Filiere, Chris Carrier and the backup catchers.
CF Zach Davis / Chris Singleton
SS Yelier Peguero / Rafael Narea
1B Jared Young
3B Austin Filiere
RF Brandon Hughes
2B Jhonny Bethencourt / Christian Donahue
C Miguel Amaya / Michael Cruz / Tyler Payne
LF Luis Ayala (rehab) / Chris Carrier