I don’t envy the Cubs player development department this month, as they have to take a camp with nearly 150 participants and transform it into four 25-man rosters. Camp is extremely dizzying, as each day they play Spring Training games with vastly different rosters. Sometimes, the big league team needs an unexpected extra man. Sometimes, there’s an injury with a trickle-down effect throughout the system. Sometimes, they reward as guy that had a good practice the day before and give him a one-day promotion. There’s very little day-to-day consistency.
Sorting through all of this to make cohesive Opening Day rosters for Iowa, Tennessee, Myrtle Beach and South Bend is a challenge I’ve been grappling with for a couple weeks here. But what I can tell you is that there are four specific battle zones that have me most intrigued.
Candidates: Justin Steele, Alex Lange, Keegan Thompson, Thomas Hatch, Matt Swarmer, Tyson Miller, Michael Rucker, Cory Abbott, Ian Clarkin.
There’s a lot to parse through here. First, I think we need to mention that, because of various injuries and other maneuvering, the Triple-A rotation doesn’t seem full, and might helpfully borrow 1-2 of these candidates. Jen-Ho Tseng and Duncan Robinson are two headed to Iowa, but it’s not clear how healthy Alec Mills or Adbert Alzolay are, or how stretched out Duane Underwood, Colin Rea or Trevor Clifton are.
Because of that, Michael Rucker and Matt Swarmer have been recently playing with the Triple-A team (and Swarmer’s a bit behind after missing a rotation turn in spring with a blister). Tom Hatch has split time between the Majors, Triple-A and Double-A. Justin Steele is also behind, throwing just one inning in an intrasquad game on Tuesday. Clarkin could probably go to here or High-A. Perhaps Abbott could go back to High-A, but of this group, he’s probably the one pitching the best! He was very good in four innings with the AA squad on Wednesday.
My Guess at First Smokies Rotation Turn: Hatch, Lange, Thompson, Abbott and Miller.
Candidates: Jimmy Herron, Nelson Velazquez, Jonathan Sierra, Chris Pieters, D.J. Artis, Cole Roederer, Brennen Davis, Brandon Hughes, Dalton Hurd, Chris Singleton, Edmond Americaan.
I think the hardest guy to fit in here is Roederer. It felt like early in camp, the plan was to hold Roederer back in Extended Spring Training, at least until things warmed up in Indiana. But Roederer keeps impressing, having spent most of the last week playing with the Myrtle Beach group, except for a break to hit a home run in a big league game. I’d be inclined to have Roederer play CF at South Bend, and send D.J. Artis to Myrtle Beach, as Artis just keeps drawing walks. But so far, Herron is the only one that seems particularly likely to become a Pelican. Davis and Americaan are good bets for the Eugene outfield, and Hughes-Hurd-Singleton are bench pieces.
My Guess at First S-Cubs Outfield: I think Roederer has earned it, I’m going the very exciting Velazquez-Roederer-Sierra trio we hoped for here.
Triple-A Right-Handed Relievers
Candidates: Dillon Maples, Allen Webster, George Kontos, Rowan Wick, Alec Mills, Dakota Mekkes, Matt Carasiti, Carlos Ramirez, James Norwood, Duane Underoowd Jr, Brad Markey, Zach Hedges, Tommy Nance, Corey Black, Jose Rosario, Craig Brooks.
These guys have been split between Major and minor league camp, so it’s a bit hard to figure where this battle lies. We have talked about why Webster is a tricky fit initially in the big leagues, so you have to figure he ends up in Des Moines. The spot Webster is said to be competing for currently – the one opened by a Pedro Strop injury – is probably more likely to go to option-able Dillon Maples, if that spot stays open at all. Where else could you put Wick, Mekkes, Norwood, or Underwood besides here? The crunch probably is bad news for Kontos and Ramirez, who I can’t imagine would want a last-man job in Iowa. On the other end of the spectrum, the last six guys on the candidates list would kill for that spot. Some will go to Tennessee, some will head to the IL, some will be released.
My guess at first 6 I-Cub RH RP’s: Webster, Mekkes, Wick, Norwood, Underwood, Carisiti.
Candidates: Brailyn Marquez, Yovanny Cruz, Derek Casey, Cam Sanders, Riley Thompson, Eury Ramos, Faustino Carrera, Riley McCauley, Zach Mort.
Casey and Cruz have seemingly been the locks so far. I was sad not to see Marquez in Arizona, and that’s because (according to AZ Phil), he’s only throwing bullpens. Unclear on what that means for his future assignment schedule. The Cubs have had Ramos and Thompson piggyback each other, have pitched Mort in relief, and have tried transitioning McCauley and Sanders to the rotation. In my time there, I saw McCauley move back to the bullpen (for two innings), while Sanders was stretched out to three innings and throwing strikes. I’m not exactly sure where Carrera fits in, but after an excellent season last year in Eugene, you’d think a South Bend slot was a shoo-in.
My Guess at First S-Cubs Rotation Turn: Cruz, Casey, Sanders, Thompson, Carrera.
The full-season guys will head out to their new locations around April 1, so you’d expect assignments come internally a day or two before that. A little over a week left, much still to change!