The Triple-A season does not get underway for a month, and given the unpredictable needs of the big league team, MLB had to put together a plan for April. Thus the return of the alternate site squads.
At alternate sites, teams can have a Triple-A-ish roster at the ready to call up/send down players as necessary, where they can be a little better safe-guarded against COVID issues. There, the teams will practice, play intrasquad games, and periodically travel locally to play games against other alt site teams. The Cubs will once again be at South Bend.
A question I’ve had is, when the Cubs’ roster was finalized, how far would they stretch on sending “prospects” to the alt site, versus keeping them in Arizona to participate in minor league spring training, which is now underway. From the look of the now-released Cubs alt site roster, it looks like the Cubs really tried to keep things pretty traditional in this non-traditional time. That is to say, the roster is *mostly* legit Triple-A types.
Here are the 27 players in South Bend for April:
Cory Abbott, RHP
Joe Biagini, RHP
Jake Jewell, RHP
Trevor Megill, RHP
Shelby Miller, RHP
Tommy Nance, RHP
Manuel Rodriguez, RHP
Michael Rucker, RHP
Justin Steele, LHP
Kohl Stewart, RHP
Pedro Strop, RHP
Keegan Thompson, RHP
Brad Wieck, LHP
Abiatal Avelino, UTL
Nico Hoerner, SS/2B
Alfonso Rivas, 1B
Ildemaro Vargas, UTL
Andy Weber, UTL
Patrick Wisdom, 3B/1B
For the most part, that’s about what you would’ve expected for the Triple-A roster coming out of Spring Training. You see the obvious depth relievers who would be next in line when the inevitable shuffling comes, and you also see the contours of a starting rotation, between Abbott, Miller, Steele, Stewart, and Thompson. You’ll note that Tyson Miller would almost certainly also be here, though he is currently on the COVID-related injury list.
Some of the pitchers who participated quite a bit in spring training but who do not show up on the alt site roster: Juan Gamez, Brendon Little, Jonathan Holder (on the IL), and Kyle Ryan. Not quite sure why Ryan, who is on the 40-man roster and figures to be a lefty call-up throughout the year, is not at South Bend.
There are no younger pitching prospects going to South Bend (for example, Brailyn Marquez), and that’s probably fine, given the traditional minor league spring training now underway.
On the positional side, it’s great to see Alfonso Rivas get the big bump, possibly indicating that he’ll open the minor league season at Triple-A Iowa after mostly being at High-A in 2019. That bat could actually be big league ready very quickly, though he’ll have to continue to get corner outfield work if he’s going to become a contributor off the bench. (No, I don’t think he’s being “groomed to be Anthony Rizzo’s replacement” – don’t get absurdly too far ahead of yourself. Instead, it would just be nice if Rivas shows this year that he’s got a big-league-ready bat, and then you figure out the rest in 2022.)
Andy Weber is probably the biggest surprise on here, as he played mostly at Low-A in 2019, and figured to be maybe at Double-A this year. If guys like Brennen Davis and Chris Morel are not at the alt site, then it’s not just about Weber being an advanced positional prospect who is getting some time. I suspect this means he’s actually being considered for the Triple-A roster to open the season, which in turn suggests that the love he was getting at instructional ball was legit. The very limited bits we saw of him in spring training didn’t really tell us much about his readiness for such a huge leap, but obviously the lost year makes everything wonky.
I wonder how long Cameron Maybin will be at South Bend before (1) he’s needed in the big leagues, (2) he’s wanted in the big leagues, and/or (3) he has an opt-out and can join another organization. He’s a pretty solid big league bench guy at this stage in his career, and my guess is guys like Matt Duffy and Eric Sogard will have to keep justifying their presence at the big league level to keep Maybin down.
Some of the positional guys who participated a lot in spring training but don’t show up here: Trent Giambrone (a Triple-A mainstay, so that’s an odd one – wonder if he’s getting a shot elsewhere), Michael Hermosillo (very much assumed he’d be at Triple-A, because he is obviously big-league-adjacent), Brennen Davis, Chase Strumpf, and Christopher Morel. The latter three were not going to open at Triple-A this year, so again, like with Marquez, I don’t see an issue with them sticking around Arizona.
I’m not sure Miguel Amaya will open at Triple-A (he played at High-A in 2019), but it’s not a surprise to see him included here because, simply, you need extra catchers when you’re going to be working so many pitchers every single day at a quasi-instructional site.