Mesa, AZ — For the most part, there wasn’t a lot of drama for the Cubs this spring training. Seiya Suzuki’s perverted injury isn’t as bad as he first thought. The team avoided the worst-case scenario there and it looks like their right-hander is getting closer and closer to a comeback in early or mid-April.
When the most troubling news is Keegan Thompson looking for speed with minor mechanical adjustments and left reliever Brandon Hughes dealing with a slight left knee condition, it’s been a solid spring.
So who are the 26 players expected to be on the roster this Thursday at Wrigley Field? It’s not set stone in stone yet, but it’s getting close. The rotation is cemented – Hayden Wesneski was officially named the fifth starter on Saturday, although the decision has been close to being made for weeks – we’re close to hitting the roster, the position player pool close, with surprises potentially arriving for Opening Day.
Here’s a look at where things stand early this week before final decisions are made.
closing: Yan Gomez, Tucker Barnhart, and Luis Torrence
Everyone knew that, barring an injury, Gomez and Barnhart would be here. But multiple sources have indicated that Torrence is likely to be on the team, which was a bit of a surprise. There are two factors at play in this decision. The Cubs did not want to lose Torrence’s bat and saw him as solid, if unspectacular, defensively. If he doesn’t make the team, Torrence will likely opt out of his contract, which means the Cubs will lose a valuable third catcher.
Despite a tough season in 2022, Torrence has looked strong on offense this spring and in previous seasons. Having him on the list would allow manager David Ross to feel comfortable around Tucker Barnhart in the big moments and still allow 35-year-old Lean Gomez to get full days off.
closing: Dansby Swanson, Nico Horner, Eric Hosmer, Trey Mancini, Patrick Wisdom, Edwin Rios, Nick Madrigal, Ian Happ and Cody Bellinger, Miles Mastrobone
List of injured: siya suzuki
Outside: Mike Tauchman, Christopher Morrell, Zack McKinstry (trade to the Tigers for RHP Carlos Guzman Monday)
Let’s bring court and field together because it all relates to how this list is structured.
Suzuki’s not-so-serious injury means Tauchmann likely falls short of making the team, because he won’t be needed as long as he once thought. With the Torrens needing a 40-man spot and potentially an extra bullpen spot – more on that below – it only makes it harder to keep Tauchman. The only reason he’s listed on the fence is because something weird is going to happen over the next couple of days, but don’t expect him to be in Chicago on Thursday.
Right now, third base looks like a mix of Wisdom, Rios, and Madrigals. The initial plan appears to be less of a straight platoon and more based on the type of shooter they’re up against. Madrigal would be in the lineup against starters who have great things to swing and miss because in that scenario a contact-oriented bat would be more useful. Wisdom will have two gentle lefties and two right-handers.
But that doesn’t mean that Wisdom and Ríos only play in those situations. Both can play first and will get time in the DH. Wisdom will also play some right field, as does Mancini. However, Mancini likely won’t get a significant amount of time on the field because the team doesn’t want to risk injury or have him wear out in a position that isn’t seen as a strength for him. There has been some debate as to whether Reus’ strong spring makes Hosmer redundant, especially with his lack of versatility. It never got to the point where he was actually seen as not making the team out of the spring, but the lead could fall short if he’s struggling out of the gate and the Cubs need a spot on the roster.
The last player position appears to be a discussion between Mastrobuoni, Morel, and McKinstry. This will be how they are ranked by their probability of making the team. McKinstry can’t handle right field, the kind of variety the Cubs will need early in the season while Suzuki is on the mend. Muriel has looked great at the plate, but there’s also the feeling that he has to play every day and that wouldn’t happen if he was with the big league club.
Mastrobuoni can tackle right and has also looked good at the plate this spring and during the WBC. Looks like this one is going down to the wire. Mastrobuoni may have a slight edge but that could certainly change over the coming days of debate. With no options left, McKinstry will be set to allocate or trade, which will open up a place for the Torrens.
closing: Marcus Strowman, Justin Steele, Jameson Tellon, Drew Smillie, and Hayden Wisinski
I: Kyle Hendricks
There are no discussions here. This is the rotating order for the Season Opener as well. Adrian Sampson is already picked at Triple A and his 40-man spot is safe for now. While the Cubs love their depth, they’d rather let Caleb Kilian continue working at Triple A early in the year. The hope behind this is that the talented Double A staff, which includes Jordan Wicks, Ben Brown and Daniel Palencia, will continue to grow this year and one or more will be ready by July to be the kind of depth piece for the rotation that Wesneski and Javier the Lion were in the second half of last season. .
closing: Michael Vollmer, Brad Boxberger, Adbert Zoulay, Julian Meriwether, Javier Assaad, Michael Rooker
Possible: Keegan Thompson, Mark Leiter Jr.
Likely IL: Hughes
on the fence: Rowan Wake, Ryan Borucki, Tyler Duffy
Outside: Rowenes Elias and Anthony Kaye
There are six locked points, which means two of them are available for grabs. If Thompson made the team, only one place would remain. Momentum is building that has Thompson looking good enough in his last two games to be able to make the team. He was consistently sitting at 92mph on Sunday and one source confirmed the last two rides saw him around 92.9mph there as well.
While speed was a concern, he was actually fine otherwise. Its slider seemed sharp and didn’t give up much on hard dial at all. Even with all the focus on what he’s not doing, Thompson has worked eight innings this spring, giving up just two hits, striking out seven and walking two. Oh, and most importantly, he allowed a total of zero runs.
Still, it’s not a lock. They may decide that a week or two in Iowa makes the most sense. But that would be a very cautious approach and an unlikely outcome. Hughes will likely start the season at IL, but Monday’s outing might change that mentality if he looks healthy and shut down.
If Thompson or Hughes weren’t on the list, there seems to be a battle between Brewing Litter and Borucki and Duffy. Wake’s situation looks rocky to make room for the 40-man. Leiter has been very good this spring – combine that with his stellar performance out of the game last summer and he probably has the advantage. But there is one school of thought that just having a lefty in the bullpen (assuming Hughes starts the year at IL) matters, even if righties are just as effective at getting out lefties.
However, the Cubs would lose Leiter if the team didn’t make it out of camp because he would opt entirely for free agency rather than take a job to Iowa. Buruki, on the other hand, will be a high quality, left-handed deep in Triple A. He impressed this spring – at one point Kai was probably ahead of him, but he had reverse splits, then Buruki found his rhythm and moved forward with a contest. If Borucki can continue to remain effective in Triple A, he could have a role in the competition when the bullpen is definitely needed to be called up sometime this summer.
Hughes was scheduled to play in the Cactus League game on Monday, but instead threw the bullpen Monday morning at Mesa. This would allow the Cubs to delay IL’s job to start the season, which seems like the likely course of action at the moment. Leiter has the distinct advantage to grab that final spot.
(Photo by Mike Tauchman, Cody Bellinger and Christopher Morell: Dylan Boyle / Getty Images)