The Cubs’ Low-A affiliate South Bend Cubs have released their preliminary Opening Day roster as they prepare to begin their season on Thursday. Let’s take a look at a fun, and in fact historic, South Bend roster.
Cole Roederer, the 77th overall pick last year and number six prospect in the Cubs system, will be with South Bend from the get-go, building off a good spring that included a home run in his first Major League exhibition at-bat. Roederer is the first high school draft choice in the Ricketts era to open the season following his selection in the Midwest League.
The other good news for prospective South Bend attendees is number three prospect Brailyn Marquez also made the team. Marquez was not pitching in games while I was in Arizona, instead participating in private bullpen sessions and live BP’s on the side. It’s still not entirely clear if Marquez is fully stretched out, or whether he will initially require a piggyback.
- D.J. Artis, LF, LH
- Andy Weber, 2B, LH
- Nelson Velazquez, RF/DH, RH
- Cole Roederer, CF, LH
- Jonathan Sierra, RF/DH, LH
- Rafelin Lorenzo, C, RH
- Tyler Durna, 1B, LH
- Fidel Mejia, 3B, SH
- Rafael Narea, SS, RH
I expect the SB Cubs four-man outfield will all make the lineup more times than not in the early going, all are pretty solid prospects. Artis is very possibly too advanced a hitter to be long for the Midwest League; my expectation is he’ll have the best OBP of any MWL leadoff hitter. Velazquez is back in South Bend after a disastrous showing last year, but after a spring where they allowed him to play even up with the Major League squad, I expect him to be more comfortable. This year is a big one for Sierra to prove he’s more than his bonus.
The single largest surprise on the roster is probably Fidel Mejia, a 20-year-old Dominican switch-hitter that came into camp and flat-out won the third base job. Mejia hit a very solid .324/.389/.410 in 50 AZL games last summer, and continued to show an advanced bat-to-ball line drive approach when I saw him this spring.
On the other end of the spectrum, I’m a bit surprised that Andy Weber ended up here, as he impressed me quite a bit in Arizona, and seems on first blush too advanced, as a polished college draftee, for the Midwest League. I have called Weber the smoothest infielder in the system defensively, and I do wonder if the Cubs will give him a good number of innings at shortstop and explore if he’d be viable at that spot. The good news is Tyler Durna will be there as a vacuum to pick up people’s misses.
If you don’t recognize the name Rafelin Lorenzo, don’t worry, he’s a new one. The Cubs grabbed him from the Pirates in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 Draft, and I think the initial intention was to be a reserve roster catching option at either High-A or Double-A. But when Lorenzo showed the Cubs potential both with power and defensive ability this spring, they decided to approach his development more pragmatically, and hand him a regular job in South Bend.
- Brailyn Marquez, LH
- Derek Casey, RH
- Riley Thompson, RH
- Faustino Carrera, LH
- Eury Ramos, RH OR Cameron Sanders, RH
I expect the loser of that number five spot to serve as Marquez’ piggyback, as Marquez threw just 31 pitches in his last outing in Arizona. It could be either guy, but perhaps they’ll lean on Sanders in the piggyback role, as he has far more bullpen familiarity. Sanders spent this spring transitioning to starting after being drafted from LSU as a wild reliever. I was impressed with what I saw in Arizona, as he was throwing strikes and deceiving hitters.
I have spent copious words already at BN singing the praises of Riley Thompson, and I’ll just say that his starts will be must-watch for me. Derek Casey is another 2018 draftee, and by the time I arrived in Arizona, Casey was one of the talks in camp. By then, he’d seemingly locked up his South Bend rotation spot, despite significant competition. Casey was a player the Cubs drafted out of high school, and then re-drafted after his senior season at Virginia in the 9th round. He has fans in the organization, and his competency and command will probably overwhelm Midwest League hitters.
One of the largest surprises to me is the omission of Yovanny Cruz, who looked really strong in camp, throwing fastballs up to 96 mph. No injury has been reported, so the best bet is Cruz is going to receive some Arizona instruction and wait for Indiana to warm up.
Projected Bullpen (1 will be on reserve roster, not active roster)
- Dalton Geekie, RH
- Ryan Lawlor, LH
- Riley McCauley, RH
- Zach Mort, RH
- Eugenio Palma, LH
- Jeff Passantino, RH
- Peyton Remy, RH
- Ethan Roberts, RH
When the Cubs traded Stephen Ridings for Donnie Dewees a few weeks ago, they probably traded the livest arm competing for a South Bend roster spot. There might not be a ton of fastball velocity in this group, but it should prove a competent group of guys filled with potential down-the-road starters.
In fact, five of these players – Lawlor, McCauley, Mort, Passantino, Remy – either ended last season, or began camp in 2019, as starters. Lawlor is someone I already considered too good for this level, and as a short-inning southpaw reliever, I expect him to be dominant. Remy is another I could see really doing well, his curveball popped when he was promoted from the AZL to pitch for Eugene in their championship run.
The Cubs used high selections on Ethan Roberts (4th round) and Zach Mort (8th round) in last year’s draft, and so those are the two with probably the most possibility to grow their roles with early season dominance.
Projected Bench (1 will be on reserve roster, not active roster)
- Eric Gonzalez
- Levi Jordan
- Gustavo Polanco
- Delvin Zinn
There’s not a ton of utility in this group, as Gonzalez and Polanco are catchers, while Jordan and Zinn are up-the-middle infielders. Should an injury arise to other positions, the Cubs will have to borrow from their extensive Extended Spring Training squad to fill it.
The name I most want to point out here as a potential sleeper is Delvin Zinn. I’m always impressed watching him, he’s a pretty twitchy infielder that I saw get an extra-base hit off Alex Lange in Arizona while spending a day playing up with the Triple-A group. Despite the solid bat speed, Zinn is rail skinny, and has so far shown not even a hint of power in regular season contests.