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Spring Training Notebook: Why Cubs optioned Alexander Canario during final roster cuts

3 weeks agoAndy Martinez

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MESA, Ariz. — Alexander Canario made an impression on manager Craig Counsell.

But as a young player still developing, the best course of action — the Cubs deemed — was to continue to have everyday at-bats. And those at-bats will come at Iowa at Triple-A.

The 23-year-old outfielder was optioned to Iowa, along with right-handed pitcher Hayden Wesneski, on Monday morning as the team finalized their 26-man roster ahead of Opening Day. Wesneski will serve as a starter in Iowa.

“I think he showed me he can be a good major league player and I think he’s a very prepared kid and I love that about him,” Counsell said of Canario.  

Ultimately, though, the season lines up in a way where infielders Miles Mastrobuoni and Nick Madrigal made more sense for the Cubs. Madrigal, who had been battling a right hamstring strain this spring, gives Counsell an option as a defensive replacement for Christopher Morel at third.

“We’re comfortable in his health — that’s 1,” Counsell said of Madrigal. “And then I think second, when we were kind of down to figuring out that decision it’s just like there’s a role for Nick to play on the team.”

The team is currently slated to face just two left-handed starters in their first three series, and they have three off days in the first 15 days. So, from a rest and matchup perspective, Canario might not have seen much playing time early on.

“I was struggling finding at-bats for Canario just how we’re situated right now,” Counsell admitted.

Canario hit .226 with a .689 OPS this spring as he adopted some new swing changes. Those mechanical adjustments were done to clean up his swing. They were also done to help him improve his pitch selection. The early results in spring were promising — he had a 15.9% walk rate.

Now, the key for Canario will be to carry over those results in Iowa with more regular playing time. After all, Canario played in just 59 games last season as he returned from ankle and shoulder injuries that he suffered playing winter ball in 2022.

“There was a lot of good out of what he did this spring,” Counsell said. “At his age, forecasting [what] he was going to do the first part of the season here, it’s like, let’s just keep going, playing and working on becoming a better offensive player consistently. And that would have been hard to do here.”

Little’s first Opening Day

After Luke Little wrapped up his outing Sunday in Peoria, Ariz. he talked with the Cubs pitching coaches to recap the outing. When they were done chatting, they had a message for him.

“Craig wants to talk to you for a second,” they said.

“I was like, ‘This is either gonna be good or bad,’” Little recalled.

The rookie reliever approached his manager and was asked how he felt after pitching on one day’s rest.

“Really good, ready to go again,” Little told Counsell.

That’s when Counsell delivered the good news — “Good, we want to have you in Texas.” It will be Little’s first Opening Day roster and he’ll be one of two lefties (Drew Smyly) in the Cubs’ bullpen.

“I think Luke had a really good spring,” Counsell said. “As much as anything I think as any reliever on our team showed uncomfortableness from hitters.”

Swiss Army Knife

Mastrobuoni always seemed like a safe bet to make the Cubs’ roster, but Counsell confirmed his place on Monday. Mastrobuoni can play second base, shortstop, third base and corner outfield while hitting from the left side. He joins Mike Tauchman as a lefty hitter off the bench.

“For me, the safety of the positional versatility is really nice to have,” Counsell said. “It lets you be more aggressive — I think — at points in the game with other kinds of decisions. Because really if you get in a bind, he can do anything. And that’s important. And that’s very useful.”

Next Up

The Cubs wrap up their spring slate against the Cardinals at Sloan Park at 2 p.m. on Marquee Sports Network. Shota Imanaga will make his final start of the spring for the Cubs.

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