Projecting the Chicago Cubs opening-day roster: Who will claim the remaining spots?
In two weeks the Chicago Cubs will line up along the third-base line for opening-day introductions at Wrigley Field.
Although a majority of their opening-day roster spots are locked in, barring any injuries before the team departs Arizona on March 28, the Cubs will soon begin deliberating on how best to build their team to open the year.
And with that in mind, here’s a projection of the opening-day roster:
Starting pitchers (5)
- RHP Marcus Stroman
- RHP Jameson Taillon
- LHP Justin Steele
- LHP Drew Smyly
- RHP Hayden Wesneski
Also in consideration: RHP Adrian Sampson, RHP Javier Assad.
Wesneski’s results are starting to speak for themselves. Yes, it’s spring training and his shutdown performance through three Cactus League starts — no earned runs in 8⅔ innings — comes in an environment where numbers can be tough to gauge. But his stuff has been nasty and at this point he should be considered the front-runner to be the No. 5 starter.
If Sampson is the odd man out, the Cubs must weigh whether to designate him for assignment to use his 40-man roster spot on a non-roster invitee — should they need to add someone to the active roster — or keep him as an optionable player who could be used in the rotation or bullpen if injuries arise.
Assad’s uptick in velocity via an offseason throwing program while maintaining his command was one of the Cubs’ best developments coming into camp. His electric three scoreless innings in Team Mexico’s win against Team USA in the World Baseball Classic showed how well his stuff can play even when his fastball hits 95-97 mph.
- RHP Brad Boxberger
- RHP Michael Fulmer
- RHP Keegan Thompson
- RHP Adbert Alzolay
- LHP Brandon Hughes
- RHP Michael Rucker
- RHP Julian Merryweather
- RHP Rowan Wick
Also in consideration: RHP Mark Leiter Jr., RHP Cam Sanders, RHP Jeremiah Estrada, RHP Tyler Duffey.
The Cubs face tough decisions constructing their bullpen, in part because of the number of relievers who don’t have minor-league options remaining. Those limitations could help Merryweather and Alzolay land on the roster.
Leiter has a March 30 opt-out in his minor-league deal, a source told the Tribune, which would allow him to go elsewhere if the Cubs don’t put him on the roster. The opt-out clause isn’t enough to guarantee he will be in the opening-day bullpen. With two weeks to go, injuries could pop up that solve who secures the uncertain two or three openings.
Rucker’s camp performance has impressed the team. He and Wick still have minor-league options.
- Yan Gomes
- Tucker Barnhart
The veteran catchers are expected to split starting duties, while prospect Miguel Amaya might get a look sometime in the second half of the season as the Cubs try to evaluate his big-league potential during his final minor-league option year.
- 1B/DH Eric Hosmer
- 1B/DH/OF Trey Mancini
- 2B Nico Hoerner
- SS Dansby Swanson
- 3B/OF Patrick Wisdom
- IF Nick Madrigal
- IF Edwin Ríos
- IF Zach McKinstry
In consideration: Christopher Morel.
Mancini and Wisdom are expected to factor into the corner outfield options, predominantly in right field with Seiya Suzuki starting the season on the injured list. Manager David Ross will have plenty of mix-and-match options at the corner infield positions.
Morel, 23, is coming off an unexpected rookie season, making the jump from Double-A Tennessee to the Cubs. His defensive versatility and upside are appealing, but he needs everyday at-bats. While the Cubs were able to find him enough playing time last year by using him at second base, third base and center field, those opportunities don’t exist right now.
Morel is better off playing regularly at Triple-A Iowa, where he can focus on lowering his strikeout rate and developing more defensive consistency.
- LF Ian Happ
- CF Cody Bellinger
- OF Mike Tauchman
In consideration: Nelson Velázquez.
Happ and Bellinger are locked into the everyday lineup, leaving right field a likely rotating spot as long as Suzuki is sidelined by his left oblique strain. Tauchman, a non-roster invitee, has seemingly solidified his opening-day roster status. He can play all three outfield spots and gives the Cubs another left-handed bat.
Mancini and Wisdom can play right field too. Tauchman can shift to accommodate Happ or Bellinger getting a day off. The lone wrinkle: Would the Cubs be comfortable carrying only three true outfielders on the 26-man roster? If they want a fourth outfielder, Velázquez, already on the 40-man roster, can play all three positions.
But like Morel, Velázquez would benefit from regular playing time. The best path toward that is at Triple A.