The Iowa Cubs kept their initial roster under wraps until just an hour ago, releasing the 25-man just hours before first pitch in Nashville. The I-Cubs had as many as 38 players in camp vying for spots, so you have to imagine there was a lot of jockeying down to the final day for the last few spots.
The story for Iowa is still Ian Happ’s presence, and you can bet that Happ is anxious to get out to a quick start and return to Chicago before he loses Super Two status. Happ hit .298/.362/.615 in 26 games with Iowa in 2017 before receiving his first Major League call-up.
Also, with the bullpen in Chicago struggling so significantly, it’s likely we’ll begin seeing players riding the I-80 Express very soon. Iowa has a good and exciting bullpen, and dominance early could be the difference in securing the first bullpen opening in Chicago.
- Trent Giambrone, 2B, RH
- Ian Happ, CF, SH
- Philip Evans, 3B, RH
- Zach Borenstein, LF, LH
- Johnny Field, RF, RH
- Jim Adduci, 1B, LH
- Zack Short, SS, RH
- Taylor Davis, C, RH
The I-Cubs actually have Giambrone in left field on Opening Day, with Short at second base, signaling there will be a lot of versatility asked from this group. Giambrone and even Happ can jump between the outfield and infield, while most of the infield options can play three or four positions.
There is a noticeable power uptick in Iowa from last year, led of course by Happ’s inclusion, but also with Borenstein and the Giambrone-Short combination. Johnny Field was a guy that really impressed in Major League camp, and he was one of the players the Cubs used their 40-man flexibility to acquire this offseason.
- Duncan Robinson, RH
- Duane Underwood Jr, RH
- Matt Swarmer, RH
- Colin Rea, RH
- Kyle Ryan, LH
What probably jumps out is who isn’t here, right? We don’t have Adbert Alzolay or Alec Mills, both of whom are catching up from early Spring Training injuries. Mills sounds like he’s closer to a return, while Alzolay will be later in the month, if not May. As for Jen-Ho Tseng and Trevor Clifton, we are waiting to hear if they are staying in Arizona for Extended Spring Training, or on their way out of the organization. All four players could get starts down the line, potentially.
This gives Rea, an Iowa native, a chance to pitch in front of his family. Rea was highly regarded with the Padres in 2015, but has faced a fair share of injuries since. I have Ryan listed in the rotation until another player is healthy, merely as a placeholder. Ryan’s appeal is his versatility, but his spot on the 40-man roster is tenuous, so he’ll be wanting to pitch well out of the gate.
The big win here is Matt Swarmer, who beat out the rest of the guys in the Double-A rotation for the single Iowa opening. Swarmer is the oldest of that group. We will see how a hitter’s league like the Pacific Coast League, with plenty of high-altitude ballparks, and new baseballs that travel farther, treat Swarmer’s fly-ball tendencies.
Robinson receives the Opening Day nod, which isn’t a surprise given his fantastic 2018 season, and all the offseason praise the front office heaped on him. With a good first half, he could be in line for spot starts in the summer.
- Matt Carasiti, RH
- Tim Collins, LH
- Brian Duensing, LH
- Dillon Maples, RH
- Dakota Mekkes, RH
- James Norwood, RH
- Allen Webster, RH
- Rowan Wick, RH
A lot of attractive options and big velocity. By my count, four of the players (Carasiti, Maples, Norwood, Webster) are routinely north of 95 mph, while Mekkes and Wick both pitch there at the top end of their range. This group will likely be a revolving door up to the Major League team and back, but the good news for Iowa is they will always have a capable closer around.
The interesting thing here is that unless Ryan is actually in the bullpen, there is no long relief option on the initial roster. It’s just a series of short relief options. Without off days on the horizon for the I-Cubs — they play 12 in a row out of the gate — they have to hope the starters eat some innings so the guys don’t tire out.
Note that Alberto Baldonado starts the season on the injured list, giving the Cubs another high velocity (and left-handed) option when he returns.
- Cristhian Adames, IF
- Francisco Arcia, C
- Donnie Dewees, OF
- Dixon Machado, MI
Adames and Machado both make the team, so playing time for infield at-bats is going to be tough. Machado draws the Opening Day nod, in fact. Adames had an amazing camp, and will see a lot of at-bats all over the infield.
The Cubs will want to understand quickly what they have in Francisco Arcia as a Major League emergency catching option, as they assess how immediately they’ll need another veteran catcher. It appears Donnie Dewees won a crowded competition for the fourth outfield job, beating out the likes of Evan Marzilli, Jacob Hannemann, Jose Cardona and more. No word on whether those players have been released or will begin the season on the Injured List.