The Cubs completed their Spring Training schedule yesterday afternoon with an 11-5 loss to the Rangers. A handful of roster players, and AAA depth started the game but were removed by the 4th inning as the club prepared to catch their flight north for the start of the regular season. Those left behind to finish the game were a combo of prospects rehabbing from injuries or interrupted spring schedules (Cole Roederer, Andy Weber, Luis Vazquez, Jordan Nwogu), along with younger prospects (Cristian Hernandez, Kevin Alcantara, Moises Ballesteros) who will stay back in EXST rather than open the year in full season ball, and then unfortunately there was final group of Minor League veterans who failed to make an affiliate roster and may have been playing their final game in the Cubs organization.
There has been no formal Opening Day roster announcement as of this post, but there is really only one real question at this point. The team will open with a 14-14 split of position players and pitchers.
C: Contreras, Gomes
1B: Schwindel, Rivas
3B: Wisdom, Villar (UT)
LF: Happ (likely DH most days until fully healthy), Frazier
CF: Ortega, Hermosillo, Heyward
10-Day IL: Simmons
60-Day IL: Bote
Once Simmons is ready to return it is likely Alfonso Rivas is sent to Iowa. Clint Frazier is the only other OF or 1B with options but the team seems committed to him as a nearly everyday player after the spring he had. If everyone is healthy come May, the Cubs will be forced to decide among their trio of centerfielders in order to cut down to 13 position players.
The one remaining roster question I have is on the final spot for the pitching staff. I’m uncertain whether Mychal Givens is fully prepared to begin the year, or if he’ll open on the IL. If he isn’t ready, Michael Rucker would be in line to take his place after throwing two innings yesterday.
Rotation: Hendricks, Steele, Stroman, Smyly (Or Mills)
RHRP: Wick, Robertson, Martin, Effross, Roberts, Chavez, Thompson, Mills, Givens/Rucker
15-Day IL: Miley, maybe Givens
60-Day IL/Rescricted: Alzolay (shoulder), Heuer (TJS), , Vizcaíno (restricted), Wieck (elbow)
Any IL stints for Simmons, Miley and Givens can be backdated enough that they would be available at some point in the second week of the season if the Cubs believe they’ll be ready.
Given off days already built into the schedule and the potential for weather cancellations the Cubs will not necessarily require a 5th starter until the middle of the month, by which time Wade Miley might be ready to return from the IL (although that appears less likely now than a week ago).
Along with Rucker sticking around in case Givens is not ready to go, the club also kept reliever Eric Yardley, catcher John Hicks, and utility man Ildemaro Vargas in Mesa yesterday rather than sending them to Buffalo for the Iowa regular season opener. This was further insurance in the event of another injury. It is even possible those three stick around Chicago this weekend and don’t join the I-Cubs until the Iowa home opener next Tuesday.
It was a low event game for Iowa. The weather was shockingly nice for an early April day in Buffalo, but it didn’t help heat up the I-Cubs bats. They scraped together just three hits, two of them doubles off the bat of old friend now returned Robel García. The other was a one out single by Trent Giambrone in the 6th which broke up Buffalo’s no-hit bid.
With Rivas, Hicks, and Vargas away from the club, Iowa was without three projected starters.
Matt Swarmer threw 4 shutout innings (69 pitches) in a piggyback role behind starter Cory Abbott (2.2 IP, 48 pitches). The Cubs plan for the first week or two of the season, both in Chicago and throughout their Minor League system, is to have at least 8 guys stretched out to pitch multiple innings and to utilize piggybacking as often as necessary. Some guys are stretched to roughly ~50 pitches, others up to the ~65 pitch range. So, expect a lot of 2-4 inning appearances early on. I doubt we see anyone exceed those pitch counts the first time through any rotation except for maybe Marcus Stroman or Kyle Hendricks.
- Robel García: 2-3, 2 2B, R, RBI
- Trent Giambrone: 1-2, BB
- Matt Swarmer: 4 IP, H, 0 R, 2 BB, 3 K
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Matt Swarmer finished last season on quite a run for Iowa. Over his final 15 games (11 GS) he posted a 3.68 ERA in 73.1 IP. He figures to once again be an important innings eater for the squad. His fastball and slider from his unique over the top delivery are his main weapons, and though not overpowering, he locates them well in most outings.
It was a rough day for Brennen Davis at the plate. The top prospect in the system will have plenty of better days to come, but he opened with an 0-for-4 including 3 punchouts, all swinging. Davis and García are the two legitimate power threats in the Iowa lineup so much will needed from them if the I-Cubs are to put together a good season.
Greg Deichmann is the lone 40-man representative among position players for Iowa. The outfielder will turn 27-years old at the end of next month. Injuries have slowed him throughout his career, but he’s shown spurts of both power and OBP ability in the past. It figures to be a make or break year for him in terms of roster status. The Cubs have a ton of young outfielders who will need 40-man spots this fall, so if Deichmann fails to break through in the bigs later this year his roster time will probably run out.
The majority of the Iowa lineup will be filled by veteran players. Among the most interesting is 2B Estaban Quiroz, a 30-year old left handed hitter acquired in a trade with Tampa this spring. Signed out of the Mexican League by the Red Sox in 2018, he’s been an intriguing AAA bat (career .286/.398/.474) the past few years. Teams keep targeting him in trades (first SD, then TB, now the Cubs) with the idea that he could step in at the MLB level should injuries arise. The right circumstances have not lined up for Quiroz as of yet though, and he is still waiting for his first shot in the bigs. Given the record number of players the Cubs used last season, and with more trade deadline deals expected this summer, Quiroz could get a 2nd half shot this year the same way veterans Ortega, Schwindel, and Wisdom did in 2021.
32-year old John Hicks should be a solid 3rd catcher for the Cubs this season, and the primary backstop for Iowa once he joins the club. He’s spent parts of 6 seasons as a backup at the MLB level, mostly for the Tigers. If called upon, he won’t walk much, but he’s a good bet to hit in the .230-250 range with a decent bit of pop. He’s been considered a solid defender in his career, but there is always concern his skills will have eroded somewhat at his age. I haven’t gotten enough looks at him this spring though to pass judgement. Still, I feel more secure with him as the 3rd option than I have the choices the Cubs have had in many recent seasons.
On the pitching side, Cory Abbott is the lone rotation member on the 40-man roster, but he’ll be joined by a top 10 prospect in the system (Caleb Kilian), as well as several veteran arms with plenty of AAA success and MLB experience (Swarmer, Mark Leiter, Jr., Adrian Sampson, Stephen Gonsalves, and eventually Steven Brault).
The Iowa bullpen will have a bit more in terms of young firepower however. Not only will 40-man roster players like Rucker, Ethan Roberts, and Manny Rodriguez likely spend time shuttling between AAA and the Majors, but they are backed up by young guns Cayne Ueckert and Ben Leeper. Both had breakout seasons in the Tennessee bullpen last year and offer potential late inning upside the same way Roberts and Rodriguez do. Those four should miss plenty of bats when in Iowa. Ueckert will be eligible for the Rule 5 draft next fall, while Leeper will not, so should the Cubs need to call on one of them I would expect Ueckert to get the nod (assuming both are pitching well).
The rest of the pen is a collection of vets. Former Mets swingman Robert Gsellman being the most well known. He’s spent 5 years in the bigs posting a 4.59 ERA, so he definitely received an opt-out of his MiLB deal if he isn’t in the Majors by a certain date. Should injuries arise in Chicago which frees up a 40-man spot, Gsellman figures to be first in line.