In just five days, the Chicago Cubs will kick off their 2017 Cactus League slate with games against the Giants and A’s. Nothing like starting the spring with a split squad day, eh? That may sound sarcastic, but I actually love it – not only will we get to see/hear/read about many Cubs regulars in action, but split squad days, especially early in the spring, necessitate the involvement of youngsters. That’s always fun.
To that end, you can get ready to see some non-“regular” names in the rotation in that first week of Spring Training, as the Cubs have decided – as expected – to hold back their front four starters until at least the second week of games (Cubs.com). Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta, Kyle Hendricks, and John Lackey all threw plenty of pitches last year, and holding them back now – and perhaps throughout the spring – will be part of the strategy to ensure they’re well-rested this season.
Not included in the resting group, however, are Mike Montgomery and Brett Anderson, each of whom is expected to get into the spring starting mix right away, and each of whom is trying to lock down the fifth starter job when the season opens. Although their Spring Training performances – in terms of results – will not necessarily be the deciding factor in who gets the fifth starter job (and how that spot is used throughout the season (i.e., at what point does a sixth starter start complementing the rest of the rotation)), it will still be worth seeing what the pitchers are working on and how they’re feeling.
Meanwhile, we should get plenty of early looks at other depth starting options like Eddie Butler, Alec Mills, Rob Zastryzny, and more.
The Cubs have already indicated an intention to use a whole lot of starting pitchers throughout Spring Training, so we’re likely to see several of the “depth” options continuing to take starts (or piggybacking for multiple innings on starts) even if they aren’t a serious threat to win an Opening Day 25-man roster spot. These guys will have to be stretched out to continue starting at AAA Iowa anyway, and to be ready to go if disaster should strike the big league rotation late in the spring or early in April.