The Chicago Cubs are pulling off a rare feat in 2022, as Tommy Birch reported last week: their best offensive and pitching prospect will both open the season on the Triple-A Iowa Cubs roster.
The I-Cubs released their preliminary 33-man roster (including the taxi squad) today, just a few hours before they begin their minor league season in Buffalo:
The Iowa Cubs 2022 opening day roster is out. pic.twitter.com/phu1YEfUkI
— Tommy Birch (@TommyBirch) April 5, 2022
Brennen Davis returns to Iowa after playing 16 games there in 2021, where he hit .268/.397/.536. Davis was excellent during the Cactus League season, with two home runs in 11 plate appearances with the Major League squad, but the Cubs will challenge him to reduce the strikeout rate before his inevitable Major League call-up. I expect Davis will see time in all three outfield spots, though the organization seems committed to the idea that center field will be his first Major League home.
Caleb Kilian did not participate in Cactus League play, but did spend the majority of Spring Training in big league camp. We will await to see how stretched out he is, but surely spent time working with Tommy Hottovy and his staff on how to build the best pitch usage plan for 2022. Kilian, you’ll recall, began to implement a knuckle-curve during the Arizona Fall League, and spoke this spring about how a new changeup grip began to feel comfortable over the winter. Those offerings complement the four-seam, two-seam and cutter offerings that Kilian showed loads of confidence with in his breakout 2021 season. We may see him making starts in the big leagues before the year is up.
Neither Davis or Kilian are presently on the 40-man roster. The I-Cubs will feature three players who are on the 40-man, however: Cory Abbott, Manuel Rodriguez, and Greg Deichmann. If you’re looking the likeliest first call-ups to Chicago, look there, for logistical reasons if no other.
The 2022 Iowa Cubs will again be managed by Marty Pevey with Ron Villone working as his pitching coach. They’ll return to Principal Park on April 12.
(In true minor league fashion, this roster is already set to undergo significant changes. Many of the big league Cubs recent cuts will eventually join Iowa, but were not able (or were not needed) to report to Buffalo in time for today’s game.)
Projected Lineup (once everyone reports)
- Donnie Dewees, LF, LH
- Brennen Davis, CF, RH
- Jared Young, 1B, LH
- Narciso Crook, DH, RH
- Esteban Quiroz, 2B, LH
- PJ Higgins, C, RH
- Greg Deichmann, RF, LH
- Dixon Machado, SS, RH
- Ildemaro Vargas, 3B, SH
It was great to see Dewees back healthy during Spring Training, recovering from his ACL injury well and right back at the top of Spring Training lineups. He and new acquisition Esteban Quiroz will look to step forward and create arguments for the 40-man roster with their play. P.J. Higgins and Dixon Machado offer a ton of value to the organization as prominent MLB insurance at their respective positions without currently eating up a 40-man spot.
Big season ahead for Greg Deichmann, who probably needs to show some of the power of 2019 while showing some of the contact gains of 2021. His patience fell off a cliff after going from the A’s to the Cubs organization, that will need to revert back to its previous strength.
We expect Alfonso Rivas will end up making it to Iowa eventually, but until he does, there are large opportunities for Jared Young, Narcisco Crook, and Robel Garcia. Young should see consistent playing time even if and when Rivas returns to Des Moines.
- Cory Abbott, RH
- Mark Leiter Jr, RH
- Caleb Kilian, RH
- Matt Swarmer, RH
- As discussed below, I’m not quite sure
Given the crowded 40-man roster, Abbott needs a strong start to keep a firm hold on one of those spots and show that he can be trusted as the number seven starter for the big league squad. His control really wavered last season after losing a lot of weight and adding a bit of velocity during the lost 2020 season. He, like Matt Swarmer, also is in a fight against the home run ball dragging down the numbers too far.
David Ross gave Mark Leiter Jr. some praise during Spring Training, and I think he’s absolutely a factor for the big league squad in 2022. Leiter is taking over the veteran ace role for Des Moines that was previously helmed by Colin Rea and Joe Biagini, but Leiter probably offers more upside than his predecessors. The 31 year old saw his strikeout rate take a boost last season after he took a step forward in manipulating his slider/cutter to be both a slider and a cutter at will.
As for the fifth starter, the answer is that I don’t know. It could be as simple as Adrian Sampson, but I’m not sure if he’s stretched out enough. I heard rumblings that they were considering either Stephen Gonsalves or Conner Menez as a starter, but they might have been just looking to add multi-inning versatility to their offerings. Could Robert Gsellman be a factor here?
- Manuel Rodriguez, RH
- Ben Leeper, RH
- Cayne Ueckert, RH
- Eric Stout, LH
- James Bourque, RH
- Eric Yardley, RH
- Robert Gsellman, RH
- Aneuris Rosario, RH
- Matt Dermody, LH
- Conner Menez, LH
- Erich Uelmen, RH
- Stephen Gonsalves, LH
- Locke St. John, LH
There’s significant depth here still being sorted through. Rodriguez, Leeper and Ueckert are one of the highlights of the team, a ridiculously talented group of late-inning options for a minor league squad. Rodriguez is in Iowa to work on having his swing and miss numbers match the quality of his stuff. Ueckert and Leeper are not on the 40-man and, as such, not likely the first options to go to Chicago when an injury occurs. But both will absolutely be up in 2022.
After those three, there is a lot of veteran depth still waiting to sort itself out. We assume that most of the players in the bullpen have a June 1 opt-out, so it will be interesting to see who pitches their way into the big league mix, and who eventually moves onto greener pastures. Eric Yardley is probably insurance for Scott Effross, just like Robert Gsellman is insurance for Michael Rucker and Jesse Chavez.
- John Hicks, C/DH
- Tyler Payne, C
- Levi Jordan, IF
- Robel Garcia, IF
- Trent Giambrone, IF
- Zach Davis, OF
This team is overloaded with options at second base, with the three players here in addition to three in their regular lineup all offering insurance at the position. I hope Levi Jordan isn’t lost within that roster crunch for regular playing time. I expect John Hicks will see lots of playing time as he battles P.J. Higgins for the third spot on Chicago’s catching depth chart. Zach Davis is one of the better small-ball players in the organization.