Tuesday, February 6, 2024

Cubs Gear Up for 2024: Early Arrivals Bring High Ambitions to Mesa

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Pitchers and catchers for the Chicago Cubs must report to Mesa, Arizona, for Spring Training on February 14th. The rest of the roster and invitees are expected to be there on February 19th to prepare for play starting on February 23rd. But some guys don’t want to wait that long. We have early arrivals to the Cubs complex getting ready for the 2024 season.

The Cubs were within reach of the Milwaukee Brewers through most of September 2023. They held at least a share of the last wild-card spot in the National League as late as the 28th but ultimately missed the opportunity to participate in the playoffs. The team that took that final spot, the Arizona Diamondbacks, represented the National League in the World Series.

That is how close the Cubs came to what could have been a magical run. But it’s in the past, and they’re moving on to 2024. Projections don’t favor them as contenders, but that’s familiar territory for the Cubs’ new manager, Craig Counsell. He overachieved multiple seasons as the manager of the smaller-market Brewers. Now, he is in Chicago, where the market is enormous, and the fans have not experienced a playoff win since 2017. Expectations are high, and patience is thin.

With holes to fill, this roster is not yet completed. The Cubs continue their pursuit of pitching and reuniting with last’ year’s Comeback Player of the Year, Cody Bellinger. But there are plenty of players readily available on this team to make themselves an intricate part of what could be a surprise year for the Cubs.

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Nick Madrigal Arrives To Cubs Camp With Something To Prove

Nick Madrigal has been in Mesa and working out for a few days. Madrigal came to the Cubs through a deadline trade with the cross-town rival Chicago White Sox in 2021. Neither the Sox nor the Cubs have seen the best of Madrigal at the big-league level due to injuries. But when he has been healthy and on, he can be a difference maker.

Last year, Madrigal played in 92 games for the Cubs, starting at third base and second. The Cubs’ third base position could be wide open for the taking as spring training begins. Unless the Cubs make a statement and sign Matt Chapman (unlikely at this point), we could see a battle between Madrigal, Christopher Morel, and newly acquired Michael Busch for starts at the hot corner. Madrigal is far from a power-hitter, giving him a disadvantage if Busch pans out the way most believe he will. But with his ability to find contact and get on base when he is at his healthiest, Madrigal could be in a spot where he can move around and give guys rest days while keeping the lineup moving along.

Pete Crow-Armstrong Preparing To Really Start His Cubs Career

Top prospect Pete Crow-Armstrong is ready to go in Mesa and is expected to make the Opening Day roster for the Cubs. Last year, he was called up at the end of the year, but it was quite a weird spot for him to be in. This team was still trying to win and make it into the playoffs, so it was not a normal situation when bringing up a young player to give them big league playing time helps them adjust and develop. He was mainly brought up to pinch hit and be a late defensive replacement. Not much came of it, though, as he went hitless in 19 plate appearances.

Now, he’ll get his fair chance to face big leaguers in Arizona and hopefully transition from a minor league call-up to a major league staple. Center field is going to be his for the taking. Assuming the Cubs do bring Bellinger back to Chicago, he’ll be able to serve as a mentor to PCA as he matures into his incredible talent patrolling the outfield grass.

Nico Hoerner and Dansby Swanson are expected to be in camp as soon as Wednesday, with veteran Ian Happ soon to follow. The memory of how close they came to making it into the dance is still fresh. With that thought and bitter taste in mind, it will be no surprise to see every expected starter in camp early ready to begin a new year more determined than ever.

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