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Cubs Spring Training Notebook: A sneak peek at a potential Opening Day lineup

2 months agoTony Andracki

MESA, Ariz. — From injury updates to workload plans, the Cubs don’t yet have an idea what the Opening Day roster will look like.

So there certainly is no Opening Day lineup set in stone.

That being said, Sunday’s lineup at Sloan Park was a little tease of what the Cubs could trot out against the Brewers on April 7:

1. Rafael Ortega – DH
2. Seiya Suzuki – RF
3. Frank Schwindel – 1B
4. Willson Contreras – C
5. Ian Happ – LF
6. Jason Heyward – CF
7. Jonathan Villar – SS
8. Patrick Wisdom – 3B
9. Nick Madrigal – 2B

Nico Hoerner, Clint Frazier and Andrelton Simmons could also factor into the mix for the Opening Day lineup depending on how manager David Ross wants to play the matchups. Simmons has been slowed in camp with a sore shoulder and has not yet seen time in the field in a Cactus League game, serving as the DH Thursday.

“I’ve been playing around with [the lineup] for a while,” Ross said. “Nothing that we’ll say publicly quite yet. It’s kind of the fun part of my job is mixing and matching, moving things around, seeing what kind of spring guys are having, see who might get off to a hot start, stuff like that. We’re playing with that.”

Sunday marked the first time Happ was able to play the outfield this spring after offseason elbow surgery. The Cubs are confident he’ll be ready to man left field on a regular basis by Opening Day and if he’s not, the DH is an option.

The Cubs would prefer to use a rotation in the DH spot this year, especially early on as players are still getting built up for the 162-game marathon after a unique and hurried Spring Training.

Versatility and matchups will weigh heavily on the lineup throughout the season, as well. Simmons’ best asset is his elite defense at shortstop and if his shoulder isn’t ready to go by next Thursday, Hoerner or Villar could split the shortstop duties.

Villar can play all over the infield and has some experience in the outfield. He is also a switch-hitter, which is another advantage for a lineup that is heavily right-handed — especially on the infield.

Ortega is an interesting case atop the lineup as he found success with the Cubs there in the second half last year and has proven he can hit right-handed pitching. But with the arrival of Suzuki, it has pushed Heyward to center with Happ manning left field.

Frazier looks primed for a spot as an option in the corner outfield as well as DH and the Cubs could very well opt for Michael Hermosillo with the final spot to get another right-handed bat in the outfield mix.

Either way, the Cubs are still discussing how the roster puzzle comes together.

“We’ve had multiple [conversations] just because it is so unique,” Ross said. “There’s a lot of guys that are still ramping up and we can’t make any hard, fast decisions right now.”

A display of Wisdom

Wisdom came into the day hitting .091 in Cactus League play but connected on a pair of blasts:

After setting the Cubs rookie home run record last season, Wisdom arrived in camp with confidence but refused to let himself believe he was the everyday third baseman.

“I still came with the mindset I had to work and fight for a job,” Wisdom said. “I didn’t want anything handed to me. It’s just kind of my nature. I just gotta continue to work every day as hard as I can to be the best player I can be and take it pitch by pitch.”

Wisdom has made some minor adjustments to his swing but believes the key for him will reside in his mental approach.

Aggressive baserunning

Ever since he took over as manager, Ross has delivered a message to his team and coaching staff to be aggressive on the bases.

That has been an emphasis again this spring, as third base coach Willie Harris has been putting the pressure on opposing teams.

Harris sent Contreras home in Friday’s game on a hit to the outfield and the Cubs catcher was thrown out by a couple steps. While that might have been a bit too aggressive, Ross loved Harris’ sends Saturday when Hermosillo scored on an error by the Padres center fielder and even when Alfonso Rivas was thrown out at home on an Owen Caissie double.

“We want to push the envelope,” Ross said. “Trying to find that [fine line] and read your runners and whatever they give you, we put an emphasis on these guys making sure they give us a good effort on the bases.”

Prospect hype

The Cubs have been working several of the organization’s top prospects into each game throughout the spring.

On Sunday, it was young outfielder Pete Crow-Armstrong and shortstop Ed Howard.

Crow-Armstrong is widely lauded for his defensive ability in center field and showed why in the 7th inning:

Crow-Armstrong also worked a walk against Josh Staumont, who was arguably the Royals’ best MLB reliever last season.

Howard — a Chicago native — was the Cubs’ 1st-round selection in 2020 and put on a show at the plate Sunday.

First he doubled:

Then he singled home a pair of runs. Howard finished the day 2-for-2 with 2 runs and 2 RBI. Both hits came against Kansas City pitchers who are competing for spots on the Royals big-league team this spring.

Updates

—Wade Miley threw a live bullpen againt Cubs teammates Sunday. It was the first time he has faced live hitters this spring and threw 17 pitches against Happ, Hoerner, Ortega and Frazier.

Miley will throw another live BP later in the week, where the Cubs will simulate 2 innings in a controlled environment. From there, the team will assess what the next step is, with the possibility the veteran southpaw will get into one of the final Cactus League contests.

—New reliever Mychal Givens also faced hitters in a live bullpen Sunday as he builds up to an appearance in a game.

—Tommy Nance was claimed off waivers by the Marlins Sunday afternoon. The Cubs designated the right-handed pitcher for assignment Friday when he was activated off the COVID-19 list.

Nance was one of the best stories of the season last year, a former Independent League pitcher who worked his way to the big leagues and made his debut at age 30.

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