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Projecting the 2022 Cubs roster

2 weeks agoTony Andracki

Throughout Jed Hoyer’s 55-minute-long season-ending press conference last week, a common theme started to emerge.

When asked about where players fit on the 2022 roster, the Cubs president of baseball operations did not offer up much in the way of specifics, only that certain players would “play a big role.”

With four months remaining until pitchers and catchers report, Hoyer and his front office are not going to paint themselves into a corner. Entering a pivotal offseason for the future of this franchise, very few players are locked into spots on the roster.

A perfect example is Frank Schwindel, who was mighty impressive in his two-month audition down the stretch. But it wasn’t enough to earn him the guaranteed first base job in 2022.

“Frank is gonna be a big part of our team next year,” Hoyer said. “I’m not gonna make out lineups or anoint different guys at different positions but certainly excited he’s on our team for next year and I think he’s gonna play a big role.”

Nico Hoerner will also be a big part of the Cubs next season, but at what position? What about the young pitching trio of Adbert Alzolay, Justin Steele and Keegan Thompson — will they be in the rotation or bullpen?

With similar questions like these up and down the roster, we attempted a glimpse at what the 2022 Cubs might look like.

Since there are so many unknowns, we’re going to take a little bit of different approach than we’ve done in the past. Instead of locking down positions, we’re looking at what players will be on the 2022 roster, who is on the bubble and who likely will begin the season in the minors — one call away from Chicago.

Disclaimer: This is not a prediction of who the Cubs will acquire in the offseason, but rather a look at how the roster shakes out at this current moment.

CATCHERS

In

Willson Contreras

On the bubble

P.J. Higgins

Minor league depth

Miguel Amaya
Erick Castillo
Tyler Payne

Analysis

2022 represents Contreras’ final year of team control and it remains to be seen if a contract extension is in the cards for the two sides. Assuming he is not traded away this winter, the Cubs’ position player group begins here with the two-time All-Star.

One of the team’s top priorities this winter will be finding a suitable backup for Contreras to keep him fresh. The Cubs had a revolving door behind him in 2021, as injuries hit the catching group hard.

Austin Romine was signed last offseason to be a veteran backup but a knee injury in spring training and a wrist injury early in the regular season limited him to only 28 games.

Robinson Chirinos brought the position some stability late in the year and is currently a free agent. He will turn 38 next year but it would not be a surprise to see the Cubs re-sign the veteran after he impressed the organization both with his play on the field and his intangibles in the dugout/clubhouse.

Higgins, 28, made his MLB debut in May after turning heads in the organization over the last few years. An elbow injury shut him down in early June and he missed the rest of the season. Depending on his recovery, he could be a part of the Cubs’ catching picture in 2022.

Castillo and Payne, both 28, were promoted in the final week of the season for depth and are under team control for next season.

Amaya is one of the Cubs’ top prospects but like Higgins, his promising 2021 season was derailed by an elbow/forearm injury. The 22-year-old Amaya played in just 23 games with Double-A Tennessee — the only experience he has above A-ball. He is already on the team’s 40-man roster but will almost assuredly start 2022 in the minors for more seasoning.

INFIELDERS

In

Nico Hoerner
Nick Madrigal
Patrick Wisdom
Frank Schwindel

On the bubble

David Bote
Sergio Alcántara
Alfonso Rivas

Minor league depth

Christopher Morel
Trent Giambrone

Analysis

This position group will likely be impacted by the arrival of the designated hitter, which has long been assumed as part of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement.

How Hoyer answered the Schwindel question is a perfect example of how the DH might impact the picture here. He worked hard on his defense with Cubs bench coach Andy Green, but the presence of a DH spot could be a simple way for the Cubs to get Schwindel’s bat in the lineup and opt for a smooth-fielding player like Rivas to man first base.

Of course, the Cubs could also go out and sign a free agent to play first base and move Schwindel to DH on a more regular basis.

Wisdom turned in an incredible rookie campaign, leading the Cubs with 28 homers in only 375 plate appearances. He also rated well as a defender and can play first base and the corner outfield spots in addition to his usual position at third.

It was a small sample size for the pair of rookies, but Wisdom and Schwindel will get another opportunity in some capacity in 2022 to prove they are for real.

Madrigal will turn 25 in spring training and has yet to suit up for the Cubs after missing most of 2021 with a hamstring injury. Acquired in the Craig Kimbrel trade, Madrigal makes an amazing amount of contact at the plate and sports a .317 batting average over his first two big-league campaigns.

Madrigal has almost exclusively played second base in his professional career and the Cubs plan to have him at the same position for the next few years.

That moves Hoerner off second base, where he was a Gold Glove finalist in 2020. The 24-year-old was originally drafted as a shortstop and has also seen time in the outfield, so he could be in the picture at a number of different positions next season. It’s also entirely possible the Cubs regularly utilize Hoerner’s verstaility in 2022, similar to how Kris Bryant was used prior to the trade deadline.

The big question with Hoerner and Madrigal will be health, as both players have struggled to stay on the field in their young MLB careers.

Bote won the starting second base gig out of spring training but he also dealt with some injuries — a shoulder separation in May and a sprained ankle in August. All told, he hit only .199 with a .606 OPS. He’s signed through 2024 (with team options for 2025-26) at an affordable price and figures to serve in a utility role in 2022 unless the Cubs find a taker on the trade market.

Alcántara, 25, appeared in 89 games for the Cubs in 2021, playing mostly shortstop and second base. He hit .205 with a .630 OPS and could serve as a backup infielder next season.

Rivas was impressive in his short stint in the big leagues before a finger injury cut his season short. A left-handed bat with a calm approach at the plate, he can also play outfield and at 25, could have a long career ahead of him.

OUTFIELDERS

In

Jason Heyward
Ian Happ
Rafael Ortega

On the bubble

Alfonso Rivas
Michael Hermosillo
Trayce Thompson
Greg Deichmann
Nick Martini
Johneshwy Fargas

Minor league depth

Christopher Morel
Brennen Davis

Analysis

Heyward is one of the unquestioned leaders of the team, though he had a tough 2021 with injuries (104 games played) and production (.627 OPS). He has two years remaining on his deal.

Happ played himself back into an everyday role with a huge two-month stretch to end 2021. The switch-hitter can play all three outfield spots and should figure into the mix next year, though he and the Cubs are hoping he can become more consistent at the plate.

Ortega was a bright spot in the Cubs outfield throughout the second half, but he’s likely only a platoon option moving forward. He hit .321 with a .900 OPS against right-handed pitchers in 2021 compared to a .128 average and .421 OPS against southpaws. All 27 of his extra-base hits came against righties.

Hermosillo is only 26 and could form an intriguing right-handed half of a platoon with Ortega. Thompson is a bit older (30) but displayed his big-time power late in the year and could also factor into the mix.

Martini was popular inside the clubhouse and might be an option if the Cubs want another veteran left-handed bat. Rivas and Deichmann are also lefties and could carve out roles for themselves on the big-league roster and have minor-league options remaining.

Davis is the most heralded prospect in the Cubs system and finished 2021 with Triple-A Iowa, one step away from Chicago. If all goes according to plan, he could make his MLB debut sometime in 2022.

ROTATION

In

Kyle Hendricks

On the bubble

Alec Mills
Adbert Alzolay
Justin Steele
Keegan Thompson
Adrian Sampson

Minor league depth

Cory Abbott
Kohl Stewart
Brailyn Márquez

Analysis

If it wasn’t already clear, this is the obvious top priority for Hoyer’s front office this winter.

Hoyer and Co. know the Cubs will need to rely on more than five names to make starts in 2022 so they will look for depth as well as stability in adding to the rotation over the offseason.

Hendricks endured his most difficult big-league season in 2021 but he’ll enter next spring near the top of the Cubs starting staff. He turns 32 in December and is still in the prime of his career.

It would not be surprising to see Mills in the Opening Day rotation and the Cubs know he’s had more success as a starter than reliever. Sampson impressed in any role he was thrust into throughout 2021 and the veteran could begin next year in the bullpen and provide rotation depth in case of injury.

Alzolay, Steele and Thompson showcased their immense potential in 2021 but questions still remain if they can find long-term success in the rotation. All three will likely receive an opportunity to start at some point throughout 2022 and will pitch out of the bullpen at other times.

Abbott and Stewart each drew a handful of appearances with the big-league club last year and serve as depth entering 2022.

Márquez essentially has not pitched in two years, so he will be on a careful innings limit in 2022. But the Cubs still plan to deploy him as a “pitching weapon” and he may be a part of future rotations.

BULLPEN

In

Rowan Wick
Codi Heuer
Brad Wieck

On the bubble

Adam Morgan
Rex Brothers
Manny Rodríguez
Scott Effross
Jason Adam
Tommy Nance
Jonathan Holder

Minor league depth

Trevor Megill
Michael Rucker
Joe Biagini
Ben Leeper
Ethan Roberts
Brendon Little
Dakota Mekkes

Analysis

This group will look a lot different once the starting rotation is sorted out. Let’s say one of the three young pitchers (Alzolay, Steele, Thompson) makes the rotation — that pits the other two as relievers. Sampson or Mills could also pitch out of the bullpen.

Hoyer’s front office will certainly add a few names to this list over the winter with a robust free agent market.

As the Cubs build their bullpen of the future, it figures to center around Wick and Heuer. Both right-handers have proven they can handle high-leverage roles and they are under team control through 2025.

Wieck has been impressive when he’s been on the field in recent years (he had a 0.00 ERA in 15 appearances in 2021) but a heart issue cut his season short. The Cubs believe he will be healthy for spring training and the soon-to-be-30-year-old southpaw should have a bullpen spot locked down if healthy.

Morgan and Brothers are in their final years of arbitration and it’s hard to see the Cubs keeping both veteran left-handers. Brothers was the only pitcher to make it from Opening Day through Game 162 in the Cubs bullpen in 2021 but he had a 5.26 ERA and 1.43 WHIP. Morgan joined the big-league club midseason after rehabbing from an arm injury and had a 4.26 ERA but allowed 6 homers in 25.1 innings and struggled to get righties out (.405 average, 1.369 OPS).

Rodríguez had an up-and-down debut season before landing on the IL to finish the year. He’s been one of the top relief prospects in the Cubs system for years and figures to spend much — if not all — of 2022 in the big-league bullpen.

Effross, Adam and Nance each had periods of success in 2021 and could factor into the equation as right-handed options for manager David Ross.

Holder, 28, was sidelined by a shoulder injury all season but he has 157 MLB games under his belt and he is under team control for two more years.

Megill and Rucker got their first taste of MLB action last year and feature enticing stuff but are not finished products and will most likely begin next season in the minor leagues for more development.

The Cubs also have a group of intriguing young relievers coming up through the farm system, led by Leeper and Roberts. A big spring training could put one or two of that bunch onto the big-league radar and they could certainly emerge as midseason factors in the bullpen.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Including all of the players under the “in” label above, that’s 12 roster spots out of 26 accounted for. Add in the four pitchers whose roles have yet to be determined — Mills, Alzolay, Steele and Thompson — and the Cubs have at least 9-10 roster spots wide open to begin the offseason.

There will be a backup catcher added to the mix, plus position battles sorted out on the bench and the pitching staff. Big signings or trades could inject some major shake-up on this projected roster and Hoyer’s front office will assuredly add some depth in every facet of the organization this winter.

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