State of the Cubs: How the bullpen is shaping up for 2022 and beyond
With the lockout over and Spring Training kicking into gear, the focus shifts to the Cubs’ roster. Jed Hoyer, Carter Hawkins and the rest of the front office still have some holes to fill before the first regular season game on April 7.
We break down the organizational depth chart at each position post-lockout and what to expect in 2022 and beyond.
Next up: Bullpen
1. Rowan Wick
2. Mychal Givens
3. Chris Martin
4. David Robertson
5. Daniel Norris
6. Steven Brault
7. Jesse Chavez
8. Justin Steele/Drew Smyly
9. Keegan Thompson
10. Manny Rodríguez
11. Scott Effross
12. Tommy Nance
Honestly, we could keep going on and on with the bullpen depth chart options. The Cubs have added a plethora of arms since the lockout ended and the group of non-roster invitees this spring includes:
-Jonathan Holder (who was with the Cubs last year but missed the entire season with a shoulder injury)
-Adrian Sampson (who performed well in Chicago down the stretch last year)
-Robert Gsellman (350.2 career MLB IP)
-Eric Yardley (53.2 MLB IP)
Chavez is also a non-roster invitee and the 38-year-old has performed well in recent seasons, including a 2.14 ERA with the World Champion Braves a season ago and a 1.15 ERA in 32 games with the Cubs in 2018. Brault was initially signed on a major league contract but he is nursing a triceps injury and is in camp on a minor league deal now.
The Cubs bullpen has seen a rash of injuries this spring, as Codi Heuer and Brad Wieck are both on the 60-day IL with injuries and Adbert Alzolay is out with a shoulder/lat issue.
Prior to the lockout, Heuer was slated to pitch at the back end of the Cubs’ bullpen but he underwent Tommy John surgery recently and will miss all of 2022 as a result. Wieck — who did not allow a run in 17 innings in 2021 — was just added to the IL late last week as his horrible injury luck continues. Alzolay was going to compete for a rotation spot in the spring and would have been another big part of the equation on the pitching staff in some capacity.
The major influx of veteran arms will help the Cubs weather the loss of the injured arms and give Ross plenty of experienced options to mix and match. Wick missed almost a calendar year with an injury of his own (oblique) before returning down the stretch last year and proving once again he can get big outs late in games. He could be a part of the closing role to start the season, though Givens (29 saves) and Robertson (137 saves) have also pitched the 9th inning in their careers.
Givens, 31, also has 77 career holds, a 3.41 ERA and 10.6 K/9 in 360 MLB games with the Orioles, Rockies and Reds. Robertson has only appeared in 19 MLB games over the last three seasons due to Tommy John surgery but the soon-to-be-37-year-old returned to the mound late last year and tossed 12 innings for the Rays.
Like Chavez, Martin was a part of the Braves bullpen last season and the 35-year-old brings another experienced late-inning arm to the mix.
Norris and Brault are both veteran left-handers who have experience starting and relieving and could fill a variety of roles for the Cubs in 2022. With Wieck’s injury, they could represent Ross’ top southpaw options out of the bullpen.
Steele and Thompson are competing for a rotation spot this spring but with the addition of Smyly — who signed Saturday — the pair of youngsters may be destined for roles in the bullpen to begin the year.
Then there’s Rodríguez. The 25-year-old righty debuted after the trade deadline last season and flashed his potential with a 100-mph fastball and a nasty slider. But he also carried a 6.11 ERA in 20 appearances and was shut down in mid-September with a shoulder injury. He will likely begin the season in Triple-A to get more seasoning but figures to be a part of the Cubs’ bullpen of the future.
Like Rodríguez, Effross and Nance also made their MLB debuts in 2021 and teased their ability to get big-league hitters out. Nance is 31 and Effross is 28, so both players are a bit more advanced in their respective careers. Even if they begin the season in the minor leagues, they will serve as depth and expect both to pitch in the majors at some point in 2022.
Michael Rucker — who pitched 28.1 innings out of the bullpen late last season — also represents a depth arm.
The Cubs have a few intriguing young arms knocking on the door of the big leagues and could certainly see time in Chicago this summer.
Ethan Roberts was just added to the 40-man roster in the fall. Brailyn Marquez has been one of the organization’s top pitching prospects over the last few years but was slowed by injury in 2021 and got to camp late this spring after a bout with COVID-19. Ben Leeper is also in camp as a non-roster invitee after turning heads last season in his first year as an undrafted free agent.
When he returns to health, Heuer will be a big part of the bullpen in 2023 and beyond. It is still yet to be determined what roles Steele, Thompson and Alzolay will settle into long term but they’ve proven they can get MLB hitters out.
Hoyer and Hawkins have obviously been very busy adding potential out-getters for the staff. That makes sense given the pitching injuries the Cubs have already been hit with. And with a shortened Spring Training, it’s impossible to predict how many other injuries will befall a team’s staff down the line.
Ross has a variety of options — from young, hard-throwing talent to veteran arms with experience pitching in big situations. There are also a handful of pitchers who can toss multiple innings, which should come in handy after a hurried Spring Training.
Obviously all the names on the list above will not break camp with the big-league roster. But the Cubs front office created a ton of depth over the last week and the pitching staff should be better for it in 2022.