By Todd Johnson
Spring Training begins today for the defending World Series Champion Chicago Cubs. Over the next 6 weeks, the Cubs will be assembling a 25 man roster and getting peeks at players and prospects who could help them throughout the 2017 season and beyond. For the first few hours, there will be lots of smiling and laughing, but sooner than later, the Cubs will get down to work.
There will be competition for starting spots in the rotation. The bullpen arms will be assessed as well as the bench players. Jason Heyward will get to hit against live pitching with his new swing. Things will even get down to a microscopic look at Kyle Schwarber’s knee. These should be the key stories of Spring Training 2017.
Starting Pitching – This could be a very interesting spring training when it comes to starting pitching. On the surface, it would appear that the Cubs are looking for third through six starters for this and next year. With Arrieta and Lackey set to leave after this season, the Cubs get a sneak peek at arms like Eddie Butler and Alec Mills. Then again, this year takes precedence. While Mike Montgomery could be slated for the fifth spot, he is going to have a lot of competition including Brett Anderson. Throw in a possible sixth starter for later in the summer and you have a lot of arms doing a lot of things for the next six weeks.
Last night I saw this “gem of a tweet.”
@CubsDen Eddie Butler said Bosio told him to go back to his old windup. He found his movement on his pitches today in a bullpen…
— Ryan Cox (@CoxRyan89) February 13, 2017
I am so glad Chris Bosio is the pitching coach of the Cubs. Now, I cannot wait to see Eddie pitch. If he gets back to his 2014 repertoire, look out!
Bullpen – With the way the bullpen unraveled in the playoffs due to injuries, Theo went out and got several arms this winter. Not all will make the 25 man roster, but like the starting pitching spot, there will be lots of competition and depth. I think Davis, Edwards, Grimm, Strop, and Rondon are locks, that still leaves 2-3 arms depending on how many starters you keep. With Travis Wood now in Kansas City, that opens the door for Rob Zastryzny to make the club out of spring training.
Bench spots – I think this storyline will involve Tommy LaStella and Matt Szczur as the key players to watch this spring. I think John Jay is definitely in, but I am interested to see how Chesny Young does as his bat is close to ready. However, Chesny doesn’t hit left-handed, LaStella’s saving grace. The Cubs could also add a third catcher based on the next paragraph.
Schwarber’s knee – Cubs Insider had some nice video and pictures of Schwarber getting a head start over the past week. We also discussed how his knee might not be ready to catch yet. As a result, This could necessitate a need for a third catcher. The Cubs could go out and get one or they could use Cael Brockmeyer, Victor Caratini, or Taylor Davis to fill in for a while.
Jason Heyward – It will be all about his rebuilt swing does in games. If it works, he could really lengthen the lineup.
Albert Almora/John Jay – I am not quite sure how this is going to work and if there’s gonna be some set rotation. What I do like is that both can play all three outfield spots on defense. I think the biggest effect will be how it affects Matt Szczur.
Other Unknowns: Injuries, Trades, Iowa
Outside of Schwarber’s knee last year, the Cubs were very lucky when it came to injuries. The Cubs have built up a lot of pitching depth and they already have plenty of position player depth built in through versatility and the minor league prospects.
I still think we will see another prospect for prospect trade this spring as the Cubs will use their position depth, especially in the outfield, to acquire another SP who likely could be in AA or AAA.
Iowa should be well stocked with arms as a result of this offseason. In acquiring all these arms, it will be interesting to see how prospects Ryan Williams, Trevor Clifton, Duane Underwood, and Zach Hedges navigate through the depth this spring.
So, without further adieu….