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Thoughts on how Cubs could work their initial 30-man roster

1 week agoTony Andracki

The Cubs will hold their first on-field workout this week at Wrigley Field.

As part of the lead-up to the 2020 shortened season, the Cubs submitted their initial roster to the league Sunday afternoon.

Each MLB team is allotted 60 spots between the summer camp roster at Wrigley Field and the taxi squad/backup unit at South Bend (home of the Cubs’ Class-A affiliate). There are more changes that can be made to the roster, but the first draft had 39 players competing at Wrigley Field with 11 pegged for South Bend.

Each team will start the campaign with a 30-man roster and then move down to a 28-person roster two weeks into the season. Two weeks after that, the roster moves back down to the standard 26 spots that was set up for this season.

Teams will also be traveling with a taxi squad of three players (one of which has to be a catcher) so they are available in case a need arises due to injury or illness. Meanwhile, those not on the active roster or taxi squad will be competing against each other and practicing at South Bend.

A lot can change between now and July 23-24 when the 2020 MLB season kicks off, but here’s how the Cubs could utilize their 30-man roster:

CATCHERS (3)

Willson Contreras
Victor Caratini
Josh Phegley

Contreras and Caratini are locks and with the addition of the designated hitter, Phegley becomes a likely candidate for one of the 30 roster spots.

On days where Contreras doesn’t catch, he can still DH and the Cubs can keep his All-Star bat in the lineup on a near-daily basis without putting the grind of catching everyday on his body. When Contreras is catching, Caratini is a solid option to DH following his breakout 2018 season, the fact he is a switch-hitter and his solid contact ability.

Phegley, 32, brings a lot of veteran experience (376 career MLB games), has some pop in his bat and is known as a good defender. Depending on how the Cubs want to work the eventual 26-man roster, he may wind up serving as the catcher on the taxi squad but expect him to make the initial roster to provide depth and free up Contreras or Caratini to DH.

Next up: PJ Higgins

The Cubs have top prospect Miguel Amaya working out in South Bend and while he has a bright future, he has yet to play a game above A-ball.

If injury or illness hits the Cubs catching depth, Higgins would be the next man up. The 27-year-old is in the initial Wrigley batch and he can also play all over the infield. He had a nice 2019 season with Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa, combining to post a .281 average, .765 OPS and 10 homers in 108 games.

INFIELDERS (7)

Anthony Rizzo
Kris Bryant
Javy Báez
David Bote
Daniel Descalso
Jason Kipnis
Nico Hoerner

Rizzo, Bryant and Báez will once again play a huge role for this team. The question going into the season was at second base and it’s a question that was not fully answered in spring training before the mid-March shutdown.

With an expanded roster and no minor-league season, Hoerner will likely be on the initial roster continuing his development after an excellent debut last September. He also represents depth at shortstop behind Baez.

Veterans Descalso and Kipnis figure to be included on the roster, as they both offer leadership and perspective behind the scenes and left-handed bats who can play other positions beyond second base. Bote also has versatility and his work against left-handed pitchers could prove valuable this season.

Next up: Robel García

García can play almost anywhere on the field and is a switch-hitter who showed his immense power last season (32 HRs between majors and minors). He’s currently on the South Bend section of the list, but he provides depth at multiple positions in case the need arises.

Zack Short is another option, though he wasn’t included on the initial list the Cubs released Sunday. He is on the 40-man roster and can play shortstop, second base and third base.

OUTFIELDERS (6)

Jason Heyward
Kyle Schwarber
Ian Happ
Steven Souza Jr.
Albert Almora Jr.
Ian Miller

Before the shutdown, Miller was turning heads with a huge spring. He provides a different element to this roster with his speed and prowess on the basepaths and that figures to put him in a spot to play a key role in 2020. With the new rule that extra innings will begin with a runner on second base, Miller could be inserted as a pinch-runner, allowing the Cubs to take advantage of his speed.

Even beyond the extra innings rule, having a pinch-runner option and Miller’s speed in the outfield is a nice luxury for the Cubs with an expanded roster.

Beyond that, the rest of the guys are probably locks. Expect Schwarber to see some time at DH, but don’t expect him to spend every day there. He likes playing the field and it’s more likely the Cubs will use the DH as a revolving door to rotate bats, give guys half-days off or to keep Contreras’ bat in the lineup, like we mentioned earlier.

Souza is coming off a knee injury that cost him the entire 2019 season, but he was healthy in spring training. If the Cubs take the cautious route with him, he may see some time at DH, but otherwise can play all three outfield positions.

Happ finished last year on a high note (.898 OPS) and figures to play a big role in the lineup in some capacity.

Next up: Mark Zagunis

García can also play outfield, as can Hoerner, Bryant, Kipnis, Descalso and Bote.

But the Cubs also have outfield depth at South Bend in the form of Mark Zagunis, who actually started on Opening Day for the team in Texas last season. The 27-year-old has played 42 big-league games and has been solid at Triple-A Iowa the past few years.

ROTATION (6)

Yu Darvish
Kyle Hendricks
Jon Lester
José Quintana
Tyler Chatwood
Alec Mills

This is an early guess before camp even begins, but depending on how the schedule lines up, the Cubs may opt for a 6-man rotation at the outset.

These guys have all been working out and throwing on their own, but there’s no substitute for facing live hitters in game situations. With only about three weeks to get up to speed in Summer Camp, teams will likely be cautious at the start and that might be where the 6-man rotation comes in. It works for the Cubs because they have 6 solid options and they could roll with this for a couple weeks while the roster stands at 30 players.

If the Cubs go with a standard 5-man rotation, expect Mills to head to the bullpen and serve in a valuable swingman role. He could slide into the rotation if needed or else provide multiple innings as a reliever.

As for who gets the “Opening Day” nod, expect it to be either Darvish or Hendricks, as David Ross mentioned it was down to those two in spring training.

Next up: Jharel Cotton, Adbert Alzolay, Colin Rea

Again, the roster is a fluid situation. Alzolay was initially listed on the South Bend roster, but he provides more depth as either a starter or multi-inning reliever. Cotton may not make the roster initially, but he could serve in the same capacity. Rea impressed the Cubs with a solid season in Triple-A last year (14-4, 3.95 ERA).

BULLPEN (8)

Craig Kimbrel
Jeremy Jeffress
Rowan Wick
Kyle Ryan
Brad Wieck
Dan Winkler
Trevor Megill
Dillon Maples

Kimbrel and Jeffress are locks as the veterans of the group. Ryan was one of the Cubs’ most reliable bullpen arms last season and Wick and Wieck also emerged as trustworthy options as the year went on.

Winkler, 30, has 117 MLB appearances under his belt working out of the Braves bullpen the last couple years. He’s had injury issues, but he misses bats (115 Ks in 100.1 IP) and has a 3.68 career ERA.

Megill was the Cubs’ Rule 5 pick in December. The 26-year-old right-hander has not pitched in the big leagues yet, but he racked up impressive strikeout totals in the minors and provides the option of going multiple innings in a given appearance.

If Maples can harness his elite stuff, he would be a perfect fit in the bullpen with his ability to generate whiffs. That would come in handy with the new extra innings rule, but it’s obviously a valuable skill in general.

Next up: Rex Brothers, Danny Hultzen, James Norwood, Casey Sadler, Ryan Tepera, Duane Underwood Jr.

You could throw in Jason Adam (a non-roster invitee in spring training), Alzolay, Cotton, Rea or young reliever Dakota Mekkes. The Cubs expect 2nd-round pick Burl Carraway to move quickly and he could be another left-handed option a month or so in. Top prospect Brailyn Márquez could also serve as an X-factor with his elite velocity from the left side.

Brothers and Hultzen are veteran southpaw options while Norwood and Underwood have spent some time in the big leagues the last couple years and could provide multi-inning options. Tepera and Sadler also have MLB experience.

TAXI SQUAD

If Phegley makes the Opening Day roster, Higgins would likely slot in as the catcher on the “taxi squad.”

This roster projection is currently heavy on position players so it’s very possible the Cubs opt for another arm and one fewer bat. In that case, one of the aforementioned position players would likely move to the taxi squad.

The taxi squad is also a perfect spot for a pitcher who can provide some length in the event of injury or illness. So a guy like Rea or Cotton could find their name on there and supply multiple innings if called upon.

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