Spring Training Notebooks

Spring Training Notebook: Pitching picture and prospect notes

2 months agoTony Andracki

St Notebook Sloan Image

MESA, Ariz. — Shota Imanaga will pitch Saturday.

Just wanted to get that out of the way as quickly as possible here in this story.

The biggest offseason addition to the Cubs pitching staff will take the mound in a real, live game against the Dodgers at Camelback Ranch in Glendale, Ariz.

Imanaga hasn’t been dealing with an injury of any sort — the Cubs simply chose an alternate path for him early in camp. He has been throwing bullpens and building up outside of games but Saturday will mark the first time fans will get a true look at the Japanese lefty.

It is unknown what the Dodgers lineup will look like that day, but with Shohei Ohtani projected to play Friday, it appears unlikely he would be in the game Saturday to face his fellow countryman. The Dodgers have not yet announced their starting pitcher for Saturday’s contest.

[WATCH: Cubs Weekly Podcast: Ripple effects of Cody Bellinger’s return]

Meanwhile, Drew Smyly took the ball Thursday at Sloan Park for the Cubs against the Rockies. He surrendered a pair of homers and 5 runs in 2-plus innings of work.

The veteran southpaw admitted he was not particularly happy with the results but he was focused more on gaining experience with his new pitches in an exhibition contest.

Smyly has been working to add a splitter and a slider to his repertoire this offseason. He spent the offseason working on the splitter at Driveline, the renowned player development organization.

Smyly wants to gain more comfort and confidence in the new pitches — including a changeup that he has not thrown for several years — so he is continuing to showcase them against hitters in Cactus League contests.

There is no guarantee Smyly will crack the Cubs’ rotation to begin the season. After Justin Steele, Jameson Taillon, Imanaga and Kyle Hendricks, the Cubs have only one opening (or two if they opt for a 6-man rotation at any point).

Rookie Jordan Wicks has a solid chance to make the initial rotation while Smyly, Hayden Wesneski and Javier Assad are also in the mix.

However, the Cubs do not have much in the way of left-handed bullpen options and that is an area Smyly has excelled at in the past. Luke Little is currently the only left-handed reliever on the 40-man roster.

For his part, Smyly doesn’t care what role he pitches in.

“It’s not important,” Smyly said. “I want to throw zeros. I want to be an impactful pitcher on the team. But in terms of starting or relieving, it’s really not important to me.

“I think I can do both. I don’t feel like I’m a bad starter. Either way, I’m just working on myself, trying to be the best pitcher I can be.”


Daily Belli

Craig Counsell acknowledged on Thursday that Bellinger won’t get into a game until sometime next week. The Cubs skipper said he is targeting a 7-10 day build-up for Bellinger before seeing live action.

Thursday was the second official workout day for Bellinger. He did some outfield work, took batting practice and then faced teammate Keegan Thompson in a live BP.

In both “at-bats” during the live BP session, Bellinger roped line drives to the right side.

Prospect notes

Brennen Davis’ bad luck continues.

Davis was seen by many as the top prospect in the organization just a couple short years ago. But his career has been derailed by injuries since then that have limited him to only 124 minor league games over the last 2 seasons.

The 24-year-old came to camp healthy but is sidelined once again after getting hit in the helmet by a pitch in Tuesday’s game.

Davis is now in concussion protocol with mild symptoms and will be unable to work out until he passes the necessary tests.

“We’re hopeful this is mild,” Counsell said. “I think not gonna miss a lot of time here. He just had some symptoms yesterday as we started to work out and he quickly said something and we shut him down.

“Hopefully this is something he can get tested and do a little bit more each day and as long as there’s no symptoms, just keep going.”

Davis ranked as high as No. 15 on MLB.com’s Top 100 prospects prior to the 2022 season. He is on the 40-man roster, though the Cubs outfield is crowded with fellow prospects Pete Crow-Armstrong and Alexander Canario also potentially starting the season in Triple-A.

Another promising young outfielder, Owen Caissie, had a nice game Thursday against the Rockies.

The 21-year-old doubled twice and walked:

Caissie mashed in Double-A last season (.918 OPS) and very well could begin the season in the mix in the stacked Triple-A outfield.

On the mound, Ben Brown navigated through traffic in his 2 innings against the Rockies. He struck out 3 batters but also gave up a run on 3 hits and a pair of walks.

Brown, 24, is knocking at the door of the big leagues after a solid 2023 campaign in Triple-A. He will serve as rotation depth to start the season but could also potentially factor into the bullpen mix at some point as well.

Next up

New week, same Friday outcome?

For the second Friday in a row, the Cubs host the White Sox at Sloan Park. Steele will make his Cactus League debut and you can catch all the action on Marquee Sports Network beginning at 2 p.m.

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