Pitchers and catchers have their first spring training workout on Wednesday for the Chicago Cubs, but there are already several position players in camp down in Mesa, Ariz. While most starting jobs around the diamond are set for manager David Ross, the coaching staff still has to make a handful of decisions leading up to Opening Day.
There are at least five major position battles to watch during spring training.
Fifth Pitcher in Starting Rotation
Kyle Hendricks is going to begin the regular season on the injured list, as he still tries to bounce back from a shoulder injury that forced him to miss the majority of the 2022 season. The top four slots in the rotation are penciled in with Marcus Stroman, Jameson Taillon, Justin Steele and Drew Smyly, but who’s going to be the fifth starter with Hendricks’ absence early in the season?
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The top candidates competing for that rotation spot have to be Hayden Wesneski, Adrian Sampson, Keegan Thompson and possibly Adbert Alzolay. I say possibly because it appears as though the Cubs will be more committed to treating Alzolay as a multi-inning reliever from the beginning of the season, and actually that may be the case for Thompson, too. So, in my eyes it’s Wesneski vs. Sampson.
The deal hasn’t been made official yet, but the Cubs have agreed to terms with right-handed pitcher Michael Fulmer. The former AL Rookie of the Year has turned into a good relief pitcher during the past couple seasons and ever since he was linked to the Cubs in free agency I viewed him as a potential closer on this team. Brad Boxberger, Brandon Hughes and Rowan Wick also have experience saving games, but no one has a long track record at closer.
There’s also 24-year-old righty Jeremiah Estrada, who has the potential to become the Cubs closer at some point this season…if not right out of spring training?
Starting Third Baseman
We pretty much know the starter at every position except for third base and even heading into camp that battle could be contested by at least three different players. Patrick Wisdom can hit for power and his strikeout rate did improve in 2022, but his defense also took a nose dive. Is he more suited in a platoon? Christopher Morel was electric during his rookie campaign, but he did go through major struggles in the second half of the season. Will he adjust at the plate and can his defense improve?
And then there’s Nick Madrigal, who has been taking reps at third base in the offseason, as he’s trying to establish a new role on the team. But I think it will come down to Wisdom vs. Morel.
MLB teams are restricted to a maximum of 13 pitchers on their 26-man roster, which means with a standard five-man rotation there are eight bullpen spots to fill. The Cubs signed a whole bunch of relievers this offseason to minor-league deals and there are still a few more prospects who could possibly win that last bullpen spot during spring training. Or who knows, maybe the bullpen picture looks a lot more clear if they end up signing one more free agent reliever.
Last Bench Spot
Let’s list out the regulars in the lineup.
C – Yan Gomes/Tucker Barnhart
1B – Eric Hosmer
2B – Nico Hoerner
3B – Patrick Wisdom/Christopher Morel
SS – Dansby Swanson
LF – Ian Happ
CF – Cody Bellinger
RF – Seiya Suzuki
DH – Trey Mancini
So, that leaves two more bench spots that could come down to outfielders Ben DeLuzio and Nelson Velazquez, and infielders Zach McKinstry, Miles Mastrobuoni and Nick Madrigal.
Pitchers and catchers officially report to camp Wednesday, while the first team workout will be Monday and then spring training games begin Feb. 25.
What position battles are you most interested in and who do think wins those competitions during spring training? Let us know in the comments.