State of the Cubs: Where roster stands at DH in 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: Designated hitter
1. Clint Frazier
2. Willson Contreras
3. Nick Madrigal
4. Alfonso Rivas/Frank Schwindel
Really, there are a lot of options at David Ross’ disposal for the newly minted universal DH spot. Back in the shortened season of 2020 when the NL had the DH spot, Ross and the Cubs utilized it as a rotating position that included keeping catchers Contreras and Victor Caratini fresh.
Expect something similar in the 162-game slate this year. Contreras is one of the best offensive catchers in the game and has the most extensive track record of any Cubs hitter heading into 2022.
With a slew of injuries hitting the backup catcher spot, the Cubs had to lean heavily on Contreras behind the plate in 2021. He eventually landed on the IL with a knee injury late in the season but even with the missed time and grind of catching nearly every day in the first half, he still notched his third career 20-homer season (21).
He has flashed his offensive potential in the past, with an .888 OPS in 2019 and an .851 OPS during his first 2 seasons in the big leagues. With more rest and improved health — both aspects should receive a boost with the arrival of the DH spot — those offensive numbers could very well be a reachable goal for Contreras in 2022.
“If I’m gonna play DH this year, it’s gonna help me a lot with my legs,” Contreras said. “Take my rest and take my days off and stay healthy. That’s the main thing for me this year.”
Plus, he’s had plenty of success at the DH spot over his career:
Beyond Contreras, Frazier figures to be a strong option for the DH spot. The 27-year-old is a former 5th overall pick (2013) who is known more for his bat (.761 career OPS) than his glove (-20 Defensive Runs Saved in more than 1,500 innings as an outfielder). Frazier dealt with vertigo issues last season but posted a .267/.347/.497 slash line (.845 OPS) with 20 homers and 64 RBI in 108 games for the Yankees between 2019-20.
At the moment, the Cubs have a glut of outfielders on the roster and the DH spot is another way to get guys like Frazier at-bats. Ian Happ will also potentially play some more DH early in the season as he recovers from an injury to his throwing elbow.
On the infield, the Cubs also have a variety of depth options. Schwindel and Rivas both performed well as rookies in 2021 and while Rivas might be more likely to start the season in Triple-A, he could factor into the first base or DH equation later in the year.
Alfonso Rivas flexing his muscles 💪 pic.twitter.com/cgbCKH5nzf— Marquee Sports Network (@WatchMarquee) March 19, 2022
With the additions of veterans Andrelton Simmons and Jonathan Villar, the Cubs can keep Madrigal and Nico Hoerner — who have both dealt with injuries in their careers — fresh with the DH spot. A pairing with Simmons playing shortstop and Hoerner at second base would be one of the best defensive middle infields in the game, which could leave Madrigal as a solid DH option to keep his high-average bat in the lineup.
In short: The DH spot will be an ever-changing situation for the Cubs in 2022.
“The DH gives us another spot to be flexible and I see that as a kind of rotating position of giving guys that are swinging the bat well and the combination of rest in that area,” Ross said. “So I don’t think I have that defined yet for our group, but it does allow me to get a lot of flexibility to keep a extra bat in there and kind of keep guys fresh.”
It will be fascinating to see how the Cubs — and every other NL team — utilizes the DH spot in the future with more runway to build rosters. Ross’ philosophy matches up with many other teams, as the David Ortiz and Nelson Cruz -types have not been as prevalent in the game in recent seasons.
If the Cubs lock Contreras up to an extension beyond ’22, it would stand to reason that they will employ a similar long-term approach with the DH spot to keep his bat in the lineup as often as possible.
The Cubs also have plenty of interesting offensive prospects coming up through the system, though many are still years away from the big leagues.
Expect to see a host of players in the DH spot for the Cubs in 2022 as Ross utilizes it to help keep players — particularly Contreras — fresh.