Spring Training Notebooks

Spring Training Notebook: Cubs roster decisions coming into focus

2 months agoTony Andracki

St Notebook Sloan Image

MESA, Ariz. — The Cubs still have plenty of questions to answer up and down their roster this spring but a couple of spots appear to have been solidified.

The Cubs’ bench has come into focus early in camp.

Miguel Amaya will split time with Yan Gomes at catcher. As it stands right now, Patrick Wisdom represents a right-handed power bat that could platoon with Michael Busch at first base or factor into the DH equation. And then Nick Madrigal is likely a backup at second base and in the mix at third.

The outfield picture was a bit more crowded, especially now that Cody Bellinger is back in the fold.

Veteran Mike Tauchman emerged as a surprise contributor in 2023 and he will be on the Opening Day roster, manager Craig Counsell confirmed Sunday.

Miles Mastrobuoni also looks to be in line to secure the final spot on the bench as a super utility player. He can play all over the infield and has some experience in the outfield, as well.

He started in left field Sunday against the Guardians at Sloan Park, making a nice play to pull a home run back onto the field of play and also crushing a homer of his own.

With Ian Happ sidelined due to a hamstring injury, the Cubs are now thinking about their backup plan in left field. They are optimistic Happ will be ready for Opening Day but now is the time to get other players experience in case the need arises.

“[Mastrobuoni’s] value is as a left-handed hitter,” Counsell said. “We can put him at a lot of positions. Ian’s injury has opened up some playing time in left field and so a place to get him some at-bats and really experience out there in case you use him there during the season. Part of what Mastro would have to do during a season with us.”

Assuming health, that settles the Cubs’ bench on the Opening Day roster. But more than three weeks remain in Spring Training, so things could change and it’s always possible Happ is unable to return on time.

The Cubs have a trio of veteran players in camp on minor-league deals: David Peralta, Dom Smith and Garrett Cooper.

Smith and Cooper will both make their spring debuts Monday and Peralta is targeting later this month as he recovers from an arm injury. Any of those 3 could turn in a quality spring and force their way onto the roster on Opening Day or shortly thereafter.

Then there are outfield prospects Pete Crow-Armstrong and Alexander Canario, who are vying for jobs on the big-league roster but could head to Triple-A Iowa for regular playing time as well.

Tauchman was a non-roster invite to camp last year after playing in Korea for the 2022 campaign. He had a strong spring but ultimately started the year in Triple-A. He was called up and received playing time when Bellinger went on the IL in mid-May and emerged as one of the best stories of the season.

The Palatine, Ill., native ended up playing 108 games for the Cubs last season, seeing time at all three outfield positions and holding down the leadoff spot against right-handers by showcasing his good on-base skills (.363 OBP).

Tauchman has made Opening Day rosters in the past with the Yankees and Rockies but he does not have a ton of experience coming into camp knowing he has a spot guaranteed.

“Guys like Mike I think always have to feel challenged,” Counsell said. “He said he’s been told like once that he’s made a team before camp started. But I take it at the same time of, that means the challenge still goes on.

“You still have to earn playing time. And that’s how it should be and that’s how it’s gonna be for Mike. But he put together a lot of quality at-bats last year. He’s capable of doing that. Just keep them in that space and those at-bats will be there.”

Tauchman has a different feeling this spring knowing he doesn’t have to fight for a roster spot.

“It’s great, obviously that’s what everybody strives for,” he said. “I think from a personal standpoint, it’s given me a little freedom to trial and error a couple things rather than really focusing on results, focusing on quote-unquote making the team. Because now it’s about getting ready for March 28.”

Mastrobuoni, meanwhile, is hoping to follow a path similar to Tauchman’s early career and settle in as a successful role player coming off the bench.

Mastrobuoni made the Opening Day roster last year but was up and down between Chicago and Triple-A all season. He has come to camp in a much better place mentally and believes that will help him both offensively and in the field.

He acknowledged it was a struggle last year adjusting to new role where he may only get a couple of at-bats a week coming off the bench.

“I learned a lot,” he said. “It was tough mentally on me big time. I wrote a lot of things down. That was something I needed to do to kinda get it out. If I bottle it in, it doesn’t seem to help me too much.

“I wrote a lot of things down, talked with a lot of guys in that locker room. They’re super helpful. We got a good group.”

Mastrobuoni has also been working a lot at shortstop this spring and will end up serving as the backup for positions all around the diamond.

The Cubs could elect to have Tauchman lead off against righties still, as they don’t have a true leadoff hitter on their roster currently. His ability to play all three outfield spots means he could spell Happ, Bellinger or Seiya Suzuki for a full day or give one of those guys a half-day off by DHing.

Tauchman could also DH as the Cubs look to get more left-handed bats into the lineup.


The Professor’s spring course

Kyle Hendricks made his 2nd Cactus League start Sunday, tossing 3 innings.

It has been quite the contrast for “The Professor” so far this spring compared to last year. In March 2023, Hendricks was throwing bullpens and live BPs to try to ramp up to the season after a serious shoulder injury.

He didn’t end up making his 2023 debut for the Cubs until late May but is on track to be a big part of the 2024 rotation from Day 1.

“It’s so much fun, man,” Hendricks said of pitching in front of the fans at Sloan Park. “The environment, being back out there with the fans. You feel the energy, even here out in Arizona.

“It just feels more like a real game, being back out there. A normal spring. Getting some normal reps under my belt.”

Hendricks said he feels great physically and is just focusing on fine-tuning a few things before Opening Day. He wants to continue to lock in his mechanics and establish his 4-seam fastball at the bottom of the zone consistently.

The Philosopher’s lesson

Shota Imanaga made his spring debut Saturday against the Dodgers and was promptly called for a pitch clock violation, awarding the hitter an automatic ball.

Imanaga, whose nickname is “The Throwing Philosopher,” called it a valuable learning experience and his manager was actually appreciative of the situation.

“Those are the things you want to happen, actually,” Counsell said. “You want pitch clock violations for Shota so he can learn from them. We learn from our mistakes.

“And so I was actually happy that it happened and it’s gonna make him better. You saw the rest of the game, just super aware of it. And that awareness is good for him. He’ll make the adjustment and he made it really quick.”

Imanaga actually hopes to be able to use the pitch clock to his advantage to throw off opposing hitters by the time the season rolls around.

Quite the return

Outfield prospect Kevin Alcántara had been sidelined in Cubs camp with a hamstring strain that cost him 4-5 days. 

He returned to action Sunday, entering the game as a reserve and promptly hitting a homer:

The 21-year-old Alcántara ranks as the No. 65 prospect in the game by MLB Pipeline and reached Double-A last season.

Next up

The Cubs play the Padres Monday in Peoria, Ariz. Jordan Wicks is scheduled to make his 3rd start of the spring while Jameson Taillon is throwing in a simulated game against Cubs teammates.

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