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How the 2023 Cubs roster is shaking out with Opening Day approaching

11 months agoAndy Martinez

MESA, Ariz. — The Cubs Opening Day roster is taking shape.

The team finalized conversations with players on Monday as they prepare to embark to Chicago to open the 2023 season against the Brewers.

Here’s a breakdown of what the roster could look like, by position group, when Marcus Stroman takes the bump at 1:20 p.m. on Thursday at Wrigley Field:

Rotation

  1. Marcus Stroman
  2. Justin Steele
  3. Jameson Taillon
  4. Drew Smyly
  5. Hayden Wesneski

Depth/injuries – Kyle Hendricks (on 40-man roster/injured) Adrian Sampson (40-man), Caleb Kilian (40-man), Ben Brown (40-man), Roenis Elías (not on 40-man).

One of the key battles this spring was between Sampson, Wesneski and Javier Assad for the team’s fifth starter job. Wesneski had a dominant spring, striking out 22 over 5 starts and posting a 2.12 ERA.

The rest of the rotation is pretty set — Stroman is the Opening Day starter; Steele will likely follow in Game 2 and Taillon in Game 3. David Ross has liked to alternate his starters by handedness, so Smyly would likely start the series in Cincinnati, with Wesneski rounding out the rotation.

Beyond that, the Cubs have some real depth — something that wasn’t necessarily the case early last year. Sampson is probably the first call if a spot start or injury occurs and Kilian (2.25 ERA, 0.50 WHIP in 2 spring starts) could fill in, too.

Some questions arise when Hendricks returns to health, but as Ross and Jed Hoyer have mentioned before, those are good problems to have.

“I feel good about the Triple-A rotation, obviously,” Hoyer said. “Then I think when I look below that in Double-A we have a lot of arms as well. The hope is that the pitching depth is in a much different place than it was a year ago. That can really help us cause like I said, there’s gonna be injuries, we’re gonna need it.”

Bullpen

  1. Michael Fulmer
  2. Brad Boxberger
  3. Julian Merryweather
  4. Adbert Alzolay
  5. Keegan Thompson
  6. Javier Assad
  7. Michael Rucker
  8. Mark Leiter Jr.

Depth/injuries: Brandon Hughes (40-man/injured), Jeremiah Estrada (40-man), Codi Heuer (60-day IL), Ethan Roberts (60-day IL), Rowan Wick (not on 40-man), Ryan Borucki (not on 40-man), Tyler Duffey (not on 40-man), Anthony Kay (not on 40-man), Cam Sanders (not on 40-man)

Some of the final roster decisions came down to the bullpen and how that would piece together, especially with some injury concerns to the only lefty in the bullpen in Hughes.

The team will likely add Leiter to the 40-man roster before Opening Day and he would serve as the team’s lefty specialist. Borucki and Kay were the last two left-handed non-roster invitees in camp.

Hughes (left knee inflammation) was scheduled to pitch in Monday’s game against the White Sox, but the Cubs opted to have him pitch in a high-intensity bullpen instead, allowing him to throw in a controlled environment. The Cubs feel as though Hughes is 100% health-wise, but the injury caused him to begin forming bad habits, so they are having him correct those. He will likely start the season on the injured list and, because he didn’t pitch on Monday in the game, the Cubs will be able to backdate the IL stint the maximum of three days before Opening Day.

Most of the rest of the bullpen arms were no brainers — save two, Assad and Rucker.

Assad seemed destined to start the season in Triple-A’s rotation, but his dominant performance with Mexico at the World Baseball Classic helped change the narrative, plus the ability to serve as a multi-inning weapon out of the bullpen, a la Thompson and Alzolay last season.

“He’s pretty unflappable,” Hoyer said. “We’ve seen him go to New York and throw a gem. Seen him pitch on big stage in the WBC.

“I think even some ways, he earned the job in part how he threw in the WBC. That certainly opened everyone’s eyes and made it that clear in short bursts like that, he can be really effective.”

Rucker posted a 3.38 ERA and 1.38 WHIP in 7 games this spring. Last season, after he was recalled from the minors following the trade deadline, the righty posted a 2.93 ERA and 1.173 WHIP in 26 appearances. He also has minor league options, which creates roster flexibility. He beat out Wick for one of the final spots in the bullpen. Wick was outrighted to Triple-A on Monday.

“He’s got really good stuff. He throws strikes,” Hoyer said. “This guy’s got really good stuff and he continues to get better and better.”

Beyond the 8 starting in Chicago, the Cubs have some real bullpen depth behind that — and a plethora of young arms with exciting stuff, like Sanders, Estrada, Danis Correa and Brendon Little.

Position players

  1. Yan Gomes
  2. Tucker Barnhart
  3. Trey Mancini
  4. Eric Hosmer
  5. Nico Hoerner
  6. Dansby Swanson
  7. Edwin Ríos
  8. Patrick Wisdom
  9. Nick Madrigal
  10. Ian Happ
  11. Cody Bellinger
  12. Miles Mastrobuoni
  13. Luis Torrens

Depth/injuries: Seiya Suzuki (40-man/injured) Miguel Amaya (40-man), Christopher Morel (40-man), Nelson Velázquez (40-man) Matt Mervis (not on 40-man), David Bote (not on 40-man), Sergio Alcántara (not on 40-man), Mike Tauchman (not on 40-man), Ben DeLuzio (not on 40-man)

The surprise in this group comes in the form of 26-year-old catcher Torrens. He was signed to a minor-league deal in late January with an invite to big-league camp. He had 2 home runs this spring and hit .273 with a 1.021 OPS.

The Cubs carried three catchers for the bulk of 2022 with Gomes, Willson Contreras and PJ Higgins. This year, they think Torrens could fit in that role, available to catch when needed, can pinch hit for Barnhart in a matchup situation and can play second base in a pinch. Torrens has an assignment clause, so if another team wanted him on their big-league roster, he could be released from his deal with the Cubs. The Cubs thought there was a strong chance another team would take him, so they plan to add him to their 40-man roster to provide depth to Gomes and Barnhart.

“I think he’s looked great,” Hoyer said. “He hit a lot of homers early, some of them were minor league games, some of them were here, but I think he’s an interesting guy and that’s why we’re keeping him. It’s hard to find catching [and] he’s only 26 years old.”

The rest of the position player group was pretty expected — Ríos has mashed since he signed, Madrigal has looked solid playing third base and can back up at second and Wisdom can play in the corner outfield spots and third base and provides power from the right side.

Mastrobuoni was one of the final players to make the team and will serve as a lefty bat and bench player who can play pretty much anywhere across the diamond. The team opted to carry Mastrobuoni over Morel and Zach McKinstry, who was traded earlier on Monday to clear a 40-man spot. The team believed Mastrobuoni was a better overall athlete and his roster flexibility — he has minor league options and McKinstry didn’t — made the choice easier to make.

Morel was optioned to Iowa because of the lack of opportunities Hoyer and the Cubs expected him to have.

“It was just like, ‘Hey you’re not gonna play every day here,’” Hoyer said. “That’s not the best thing for your development.”

Morel struggled late in 2022 after a hot start. Allowing him to play every day and fix some of the weaknesses that were exploited at the big-league level should allow him to take the next step as a player.

Suzuki, like Hughes, is expected to start the season on the injured list. He played three innings of defense in a minor league game at the back fields of Sloan Park on Monday as he continues to work back from his left oblique injury. He has been taking batting practice and the hope is for him to see live pitching on Saturday or Sunday, per Ross. The team hopes to have him back by mid-April. In the meantime, they’ll go with in-house options to cover right field — Wisdom, Mancini and Mastrobuoni can all fill that spot depending on matchups or rest.  

Tauchman had a strong start to his spring and looked like a surprise candidate to break camp with the team, especially after Suzuki’s injury. He, like Torrens, had an assignment clause in his minor-league deal, but the Cubs hope to keep him in the organization and have him as depth as needed.

Beyond that group are plenty of young players who can fill in if and when injuries or poor performances strike. Velázquez made his big-league debut last year and is a power bat. But like Morel, he struggled in his first season at times and being able to play regularly at Iowa should help him and the Cubs in the long run.

There’s a belief within the Cubs that Amaya will debut at some point in 2023, likely later in the season since the Cubs will need some catching depth and because he’s in his last option year. The position is extremely taxing on players, so there’s a chance the team will need to rely on him at some point.

Mervis struggled at the WBC and always seemed to be a longshot to make the roster after the team added Hosmer and Mancini to platoon at first. If he hits like he did in 2022, though, it will be hard to keep in Iowa for too long.

Bote, Alcántara and DeLuzio all have major league experience and can provide depth to the team as needed.

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