Out of all the affiliates, this was the hardest team profile to do. Most of that comes from the fact the Cubs cleaned Iowa’s house after last season and that they signed about 15 arms to compete for starting pitching and bullpen spots. To be honest, I think I can name about 10-11 players who will be on this team on opening day. I can also name another 35 who could fill the other 14 or 15 spots. There are a lot of people in camp including yesterday’s signee, Shane Victorino.
The AAA Iowa team in the Theo era has been a place where the Cubs stashed bench back ups, possible relief pitchers, and maybe an extra starting pitcher, too. Their roster is filled with AAAA players, organizational guys, and the occasional prospect.
This year, all that changes. Why? Because the big league club is winning and Chicago needs players it can call upon in times of need. While there are a few prospects on this team who do fit into the long-range plans of the big league club, the odds of any of those prospects joining the big league team are slim. Spring training will determine who stays on the team come April 4.
Possible Position Player Candidates
C: Willson Contreras, Taylor Davis, Mike Federowicz, David Freitas
1B: Jesus Guzman and Kelly Dugan
2B: Stephen Bruno, Arismendy Alcantara
SS: Logan Watkins, Ryan Dent
3B: Christian Villanueva, Anthony Giansanti
OF: John Andreoli, Mike O’Neill, Albert Almora, Shane Victorino, Juan Carlos Perez, and Bijan Rademacher
Out of the position players, I think that Contreras, Taylor Davis, Almora, and Villanueva have the best chance of helping the Chicago Cubs in 2016. There are going to be injuries along the way, just like there were last year with Miguel Montero and David Ross. If Ross or Montero were injured, Davis or Contreras would return to the minor-leagues when the injured player was healthy.
Contreras’ 2015 season where he won the Southern League batting title stunned everyone. He had been around but had never hit above .273. Then 2015 came and he kept the bat up at a high level in the Arizona Fall League before a minor injury ended his season there. I still think there is some seasoning to do with his defensive skills and the bat should play fine in the hitter happy PCL. He may get a couple of looks in the MLB this year, but he is still one year away.
On the other hand, If Almora gets to the big leagues, I don’t know how they’re going to get him back to the minors because his play probably won’t let them send him back. I think he could be ready to go to Chicago as early as this summer if the bat is hot. On the other hand, his defense would be great in late innings in the playoffs. To do that, Almora would need to be on the 40 man roster by August 31. I don’t know if the Cubs are willing to put him on the 40 man roster just yet.
Possible Pitching Candidates
SP: Ryan Williams, Frank Batista, Jeffrey Antigua, Erick Jokisch, Dallas Beeler, Drew Rucinski, Stephen Fife, Luis Cruz, Felix Pena, and Pierce Johnson
RP: Andury Acevedo, Carl Edwards Jr, Zac Rosscup, Spencer Patton, Armando Rivero, Brandon Gomes, Jean Machi, Scott Barnes, Blake Cooper, Yoanner Negrin, Starling Peralta, Luis Parra, Michael Jensen, Tayler Scott, Gerardo Concepcion, Matt Brazis, Jack Leathersich (Injured – TJS) and PJ Francescon (Suspended).
Aside from signing Jason Heyward, John Lackey, Dexter Fowler, and Ben Zobrist, Theo and Jed’s biggest task this off-season was rebuilding the depth in starting pitching and in the relief corps. I don’t know how they’re going to pick seven or eight relievers to be the bullpen in Iowa, let alone five starters. I do think that two prospects will get a shot at some point this year to start some games in Chicago.
Pierce Johnson would be first on my list. I think he’s done his time and is ready, or as close as he’s going to get to being ready. He still needs to work on his command and walks, and he also needs to pitch innings. Johnson has yet to pitch over 120 innings in his three seasons as a Cub.
Ryan Williams has experience as both a starter in reliever and a body built to pitch 200 innings in a year. That versatility enhances his chances to pitch in Chicago. Williams has already commented that pitching coach Chris Bosio has already made a minor tweak to Williams’ changeup with huge results.
What I like about Williams is his command. He might not be an elite arm in terms of velocity, but he does have great command. And with that command, he gets the job done. Last time I checked, getting the job done is what you really need in the major leagues.
Carl Edwards, Jr. was up for the stretch run last year and that experience alone might get him back to Chicago after spring training. If Edwards can learn how not to walk people, his 95 to 96 mile an hour fastball and devastating curve might play very well this summer and Wrigley Field.
As far as who makes the roster coming out to spring training, I know the seven players I mentioned above will be there along with John Andreoli, Mike O’Neill, Eric Jokisch, and Felix Pena. The other 14 spots are completely up for grabs. If I was a betting man, the only player I would bet to make the roster would be Logan Watkins, who is returning from Achilles tendon surgery. It should be an interesting when the roster is finally released to see who stays in Iowa, who might go back down to Tennessee, or who is released.