Victor Caratini

Spring Training Notes: Caratini, MiLB Action, Eugene Diversifies, and Rotations Are Still Unclear

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By Todd Johnson

25 Man Roster
In a surprise move, Victor Caratini made the Cubs 25 man roster. As a result, Caratini’s inclusion for opening day allows the Cubs the ability to snag up someone else who could get cut in the next couple of days. The 40 man roster stands at 38 with Gimenez going to Iowa.

Much More Action This Week…
Minor League Spring training is at that point where every team is pretty close to playing with the roster that they are going to hope in the season with. However, it saddens me a little bit this year to not have reports about what’s going on from John Arguello. It always seemed like John and Arizona Phil split up the duties of reporting what was going on out in Mesa. This year, Phil is doing what he can and that’s mostly home games for any of the affiliates. Once extended spring training starts, Phil will not be torn between where to go or who to cover. Back to the action…

The big hitting star of the week was none other than Kevonte Mitchell who hit a grand slam. Other players who had good weeks included Vladimir Galindo, Fernando Kelly, PJ Higgins, Austin Filiere, Jhonny Bethencourt (whose bat I really like), Bijan Rademacher,  Luis Hidalgo, and Christopher Morel. On the pitching side, it looks like Jose Paulino might be back to 2016 Jose and Oscar de la Cruz, even though he will start at Myrtle Beach, seems to be unhittable in every outing. Erich Uelmen, Manuel Rodriguez, Jesus Camargo, and Keegan Thompson all were outstanding this week.

The affiliate previews are slowly being built on my end. Iowa and Tennessee are, for the most part, done. Myrtle Beach and South Bend should be finished sometime after breakfast this morning. I am still waiting for the starting pitching rotations to gel and be assigned. Arizona Phil described the dilemmas in this comment the other day on The Cub Reporter.

IOWA: Tseng, Mills, Farrell, Zastryzny, and Underwood have the inside track right now, with Roth and/or Camarena (and perhaps eventually Bass) in the mix as piggy-backers or swing-men. Hedges, Pugliese, and Markey have been used only as relievers so far. Webster, Hultzen, and R. Williams are in the Rehab Throwing Program and almost certainly will be left behind at EXST.

TENNESSEE: Alzolay, Clifton, Hatch, and Robinson virtual locks, with Rucker, Kellogg, and/or K. Miller competing for the 5th slot (the other two could be piggy-backers/swing-men). Morrison, Bloomquist, and Perakslis have been used only as relievers so far but could possibly be piggybackers/swing-man (but not rotation starters).

MYRTLE BEACH: de la Cruz and Paulino are virtual locks, with Hudson, Moreno, Lange, Thomas, Thompson, T. Miller, and/or Swarmer competing for the other three slots and probably two piggy-back/swing-men slots. A couple could get moved-down to South Bend by the end of Minor League Camp. Leal and M. Rondon are in the Rehab Throwing Program and will almost certainly be left behind at EXST.

SOUTH BEND: Albertos, Little, Uelmen, Abbott, Assad, Camargo, and/or B. Clark are competing for five slots, with the additional possibility that a couple of the Myrtle Beach SP candidates could move down to South Bend by the end of Minor League Camp.

That’s a lot of starters competing within the organization for pitching time. That’s a good problem to have. It should all be sorted out by next weekend as my affiliate previews are scheduled to begin rolling out on April 2.

In sad news, pitcher David Garner was suspended 50 games for testing positive for a drug of abuse. He was scheduled to be at Iowa this year.

Eugene’s Rebranding
In one of the coolest things I’ve seen this offseason, the Eugene Emeralds announced that they are taking part in Major League Baseball’s diversity program, “Copadela Diversion.” As a result, every Tuesday home game during the short season team’s schedule (June 19th, July 3rd, July 17th, July 24th, August 14th), the Emeralds will be known as the Monarcas de Eugene. I really like that hat as it has a lot of little bit of history embedded in the logo. The Ems/Monarcas enlisted some former players to break in the new hats.

Coming Up Next Week
Justin Montgomery gets profiled tomorrow on Draft Prep Monday, Bryce Montes de Oca get his day in the sun on Tuesday, and I also will talk about a wave of Latin Cubs coming stateside later this week. On Saturday, the “Baseball Cards of Spring” get some love.

Baseball Card of the Week

Photo by Rikk Carlson


Spring Break This Week
For the first time in a couple of years, I don’t have a lot planned for spring break. It is going to be nice to focus mostly on baseball, touching up my affiliate previews, doing a few things in the yard, basement, and garage while adding a few more resources for my unit on the Vikings for my world history classes.

Opening Week Post Schedule
April 1 – Preseason All-Star Team
April 2 – Iowa Preview
April 3 – Tennessee Preview
April 4 – Myrtle Beach Preview
April 5 – South Bend Preview
April 6 – Recap of Opening Night
April 8 – The Weekly Returns with the first Players of the Week

 

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The Backup Catcher Debate: Just a Week Left – For Now

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By Todd Johnson

Every off-season, I rank every position in the Cubs system. This year was no different. Six years ago, catching was a major weakness in the system and now is one of the strongest positions in the organization. This goes for both major and minor league levels. With an All-Star and possible MVP candidate in Willson Contreras, the Cubs are trying find a backup for Contreras for the upcoming season. This spring training has seen prospect Victor Caratini battle with journeyman catcher Chris Gimenez for that spot for this season. With a week to go, there is still uncertainty about who is going to make the club.

When I start to think about who would be best for the spot, my mind starts to wander in a variety of ways. There’s the concept of what is best for the team versus what is best for the individual. Going in that direction, you have to think about whether playing once a rotation would be best for Victor Caratini and his development, or would he need to play two or three times a week. I think Gimenez might actually be more suited to that type of arrangement where he only has to play once every five days.

Then again, come the playoffs, do you want Gimenez exposed in a key situation/game or would you rather have Victor’s bat? This is an important way to look at the position for later in the year. In fact, this dilemma might not be solved until then. Who knows, maybe all three will be on the playoff roster. .

One could look at Victor as a high-value prospect to include in a trade. That he is. But what if something happens (God forbid) to Wilson or Gimenez this year. What does that leave you with. I don’t think Joe Maddon wants to pencil in journeymen every day. Joe’s going to want Victor to play as much as Wilson did. I like the idea of having Caratini around as an insurance plan. However,  when you have that kind of bat with improving defensive skills, someone is going to want to acquire those talents in one player. The Cubs can probably hold them off for another year, but it’s not doing Victor any good just to use him as insurance in the prime of his career.

The Cubs do have some prospects in the minor leagues that might be better suited to be back up catchers in the long run. The problem is they are not ready yet. PJ Higgins will be at Tennessee this summer. He is very good defensively but he is still working to improve his offensive side of the game. Will Remillard might be the best hitting catcher but he missed 2 and 1/2 years after two Tommy John surgeries. He looked great on a rehab assignment in Eugene last fall and has been outstanding catching runners this spring according to the box scores by Arizona Phil at The Cub Reporter. Remillard should be at Myrtle Beach this spring.

In the end, the catcher that everybody’s going to be looking at in two-three years is going to be Miguel Amaya. He’s got a rifle for an arm and a potential power bat. Then again, Amaya’s not destined to be a backup either.

It should be interesting to see what the Cubs do here in the next week for the near future and how they deal with this issue this summer. My guess would be Victor goes down to Iowa, for the time being, until his talents are needed.

In the end, it’s a good problem to have. You know your team is doing well when you spend 626 words discussing the backup catcher and the implications for it years down the road.

Spring Training Notes: Happ Stays Hot and MiLB Camp Gets Going

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By Todd Johnson

There seems to be a lot of good things happening in spring training. Ian Happ has just been tearing it up and looks to be the leading candidate for CF and the leadoff spot. Meanwhile, Albert Almora had a pretty good week this week after getting off to a rough start. This week also saw most hitters getting three at bats a game and some starting pitchers were stretched out to about 50 pitches. For Jon Lester, that happened to be 5 innings in an excellent start on Friday.

After a rough first inning Tuesday, Yu Darvish settled down in his Cubs debut and was fantastic in the second inning which resulted in a “Wow!” description from Wilson Contreras to manager Joe Maddon. The Cubs also reassigned a few players back to minor league camp with Adbert Alzolay and Thomas Hatch going to Tennessee after neither saw any action in camp (by design).

There are just a little over 2 and 1/2 weeks until the season begins and I am still a little bit unsure about the two roster spots to be determined. Catcher Chris Gimenez got off to a blazing smart but it seems he has come back to Earth a bit. Fellow catcher Victor Caratini now looks to be catching fire after a homer yesterday. Meanwhile, Dillon Maples seemed poised to breakthrough after last year, but appears to need some a lot more seasoning to get to Chicago after giving up 3 runs last night to push his ERA to 12.60.

One of the highlights of spring for me has been the play of three players who could play utility roles in case of injury later this summer. Ryan Court, Mike Freeman, and David Bote have all put together excellent springs. While Court has the highest average, David Bote has shown to have the most power. Bote’s strength is a bit more than I thought he had at Tennessee. He seems to be evolving every year into a better and better hitter. What makes Bote more attractive as a utility player is that he can play three infield spots very well and he got in 13 games in the outfield last summer. That’s a pretty versatile player to plug in and play.

MiLB News
The minor-league camp now seems to be in full swing. A few things have come trickling back in including some positive news about certain pitchers. According to the message boards at The Cub Reporter, Trevor Clifton seems to be throwing, well, like 2016 Trevor Clifton. In addition, Oscar de la Cruz (who was sent down to Tennessee Thursday) was reaching the mid 90s in his last game with the major league club on Friday. It’s encouraging that Oscar was sitting 92 to 93 and touching 95 after being a couple clicks lower earlier this spring. 

Some prospects got in an exhibition game against the Chinatrust Brothers (from Taiwan) per Arizona Phil. Duncan Robinson got the start and gave up a run in two innings. Trevor Clifton and Michael Rucker also got in two innings apiece. Clifton whiffed 4 while Rucker allowed a 2 run homer. Austin Upshaw went yard and Chris Pieters drove in three runs while Zack Short went 2 for 3 while playing some 3B.

Also, Gioskar Amaya is back from TJS after missing all of 2017. This year, Amaya is not behind the plate and is back at his original position – second base. He switched to catcher after the 2014 season. Now 25, Amaya should be at AA Tennessee to begin the year.

Coming Up Next Week

Tomorrow’s article looks at some guys that are starting to pull away from the Cubs and head towards the top of the draft, some names moving up in range of the Cubs, and some names that are falling down. In addition, I have some info on 2015 draft pick John Cresto from Santa Clara.

Austin Filiere is the next to the last player to be profiled in the “Leveling Up” series this Wednesday. And on Thursday, I have an interesting article coming out on BP Wrigleyville about which affiliate might be the team to watch this summer. 

On a  Personal Note…
My Scholastic Bowl team went 12-6 this year and got the #2 seed for the Conference Tournament to be held Thursday. I will let you know how that goes.

Baseball Card of the Week

Spring Training News and Notes: Baseball Is Back and Glorious!

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By Todd Johnson

Big things are happening…sort of. Games are now being played. College baseball is in full swing and international players are doing showcases. The sights and sounds of spring are everywhere. With that, I enter into my so-called busy season at school. Yesterday, I had 62 students participate in the regional history fair at NIU in DeKalb. 28 of them received a superior rating and now advance to Illinois History Day in Springfield in early May. It was a good day! 

Yesterday, the Cubs announced that they signed pitcher Danny Hultzen. The former first round of Seattle is now 28 but has not pitched since a second arm surgery in 2016. In fact, the left-handed Hultzen has only pitched 10 innings since his first surgery in 2013. The deal is for a minor league contract only.

Back to spring training…

On Friday, the Cubs began playing games. Most of the players came from Iowa’s roster except for Ian Happ and Kyle Schwarber. On Saturday, most of the everyday position players got some work in with Anthony Rizzo and Willson Contreras hitting home runs. Luke Farrell was most impressive with 2 scoreless innings and 3 strikeouts in relief. It was also good to see Duane Underwood and Oscar de la Cruz each work a scoreless inning.

They’re only three things that need to be decided in Mesa. The first one is whether the Cubs are going to go with Chris Gimenez or Victor Caratini as the backup catcher. If it’s Gimenez, I am not so sure I like that decision. I know what Victor can do and I know that Victor is improving on the defensive side of the ball.

The second decision will be about whether Justin Grimm makes the roster or Dillon Maples. Farrell could even work his way into the conversation. Part of me wants to see Maples make it just because he has incredible nasty stuff. Even though Grimm makes $2.5 million a year, his contract is no longer guaranteed after losing his arbitration case a couple of weeks ago.

As for the “Leadoff Question,” that is not going to be solved for a while. And in all reality, it might be a yearlong thing with a variety of leadoff hitters. Ian Happ got the nod on Friday and Albert Almora stepped up first on Saturday.

International free agency

While the July 2 signing date is still three months away, there was an international showcase held in the Dominican Republic earlier in the week. With new rules in place beginning this year, every team is pretty much on a level playing field as a team cannot go over their bonus pool at all. The Cubs have been linked to a couple of high profile prospects so far.

One is a pitcher and the other is a shortstop and both have been profiled by Ben Badler of Baseball America. Due to proprietary restrictions, I can’t really go into a lot of detail because they are both subscription articles. Still, the Cubs have never really been linked to a high profile pitcher since Jen-Ho Tseng back in 2013. This might be an interesting IFA season, even if the kids are 16.

Earlier this week…

Sometimes I am perplexed by certain prospects rankings and sometimes I am pleasantly surprised. That held true this week when MLB.com’s Pipeline released their top 30 Cubs prospect listI was pleased to see Michael Rucker move all the way up to number 21. He made the backend of the top 30 list near the end of the season in 2017. What I like most about Michael is that he throws strikes. The former BYU standout started out 2017 as a reliever at South Bend and morphed into a starter at Myrtle Beach when Oscar de la Cruz went on the DL. He should be at Tennessee in 2018.

At some point in the next week, John Sickles of Minor League Ball will release his top 175 MiLB prospects. I feel pretty comfortable in saying there will be at least two Cubs on that list. If there’s more, that would be great. However, I just don’t see it happening this spring. Next year that’ll be a different story.

Coming Up on Cubs Central

With History Fair over for a while, I now have 5 Scholastic Bowl meets over the next ten days. So, I have pre written a few profiles and draft pieces. All I have to do is hit the “publish” button. Once the 8th of March gets here, my schedule becomes free and clear to keep up with the everyday happenings in the system.  Tomorrow, I have a draft piece about possible high school pitching prospects. The “Leveling Up” series continues with a look at Jonathan Sierra on Wednesday and Jared Young on Friday. And as usual, “Spring Training News and Notes” will be back next Sunday.

Baseball Card of the Week

The Weekly: The Yu Effect, Prospect Ranking Totals, and Looking for Two Pics

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By Todd Johnson

I am still so excited! I haven’t been this pumped up since November of 2016!

Cubs fans are now just 4 days away from meeting Yu Darvish and him taking part in his first official practice this Thursday. Now, with Yu in the rotation, Mike Montgomery heads back to the pen. It makes me wonder who Dillon Maples has to get past to earn a spot. It also makes me wonder how much this could affect Justin Grimm, who no longer has a guaranteed contract after losing his arbitration case. 

The Cubs starting rotation is now very deep at the major league level. A staff of Hendricks, Quintana, Darvish, Lester, and Chatwood puts the team on par with any staff  in the majors. They aren’t going to go 162-0, but I could see the Cubs winning 95+ games in 2018. A week ago, without Darvish, the Cubs were predicted to win 89 games by Pecota. Darvish has to increase that win total at least 5 or 6 games.

About an hour after the signing, I began shifting my thoughts on the organizational impact this signing has. It puts in place a staff for at least the next two years, depending on when Darvish could opt out of his deal. It buys the Cubs time to develop several young arms. After the 2020 season, Darvish is the only current Cub in the rotation signed to a contract. Lester, Hendricks, Quintana, and Chatwood’s contracts all expire at the end of the 2020 season.

As a result, the Cubs’ young arms can be brought along and developed as assets, as Theo always intends. With so many young arms, the Cubs could have a large stockpile they could use in a deal later down the road while still being able to cherry pick the best of their own to keep. It’s a win-win scenario.

And finally, there is no compensation pick attached to Darvish. Because he was traded mid-season, the Cubs do not lose their second round pick. So, it looks like the Cubs will be picking up a pick should Arrieta sign soon. That would give them 4 picks in the top 75-80 selections.

In Prospect News…

Baseball Prospectus released their Top 101 prospects for 2018 and one Cub made the list. Adbert Alzolay came in at #95. Here is what John Eshleman of BP had to say about Adbert:

Alzolay has a starter’s delivery in a reliever’s body with a change-up that could push him to either role. Currently, the pitch is not playable to turn over MLB rotations, but he could right now get outs from a bullpen with his FB/SL combination, playing to higher end of velo band in short stints. The relative quietness of his delivery given his size, a result of plus athleticism and a strong lower half that stabilizes his delivery. I project change up and command improvement enough to keep Alzolay in an MLB rotation.

While Theo Epstein and the Cubs see Alzolay as a starter for now, Adbert still has some work to do to get there.

MLB Pipeline announced they will release their latest Cubs’ Top 30 Prospect list on Thursday February 22. Over the offseason, I have been keeping track of the prospect rankings and assigning points to where each player has been ranked. Using Baseball America, Fangraphs, John Sickels, Keith Law, Pipeline, and Baseball Prospectus, the leader in points right now is Adbert Alzolay followed by Aramis Ademan. Only one point separates the two. Pitcher Jose Albertos rounds out the top three. Then it is a while until fourth place. Here are the top nine point values so far.
Alzolay -56
Ademan – 55
Albertos -50
Lange – 36
de la Cruz – 30
Little – 27
Caratini – 25
Hatch – 19
Tseng – 12

I did include my Top 21’s top 10 in these results. However, I did not include Caratini as I don’t consider him a prospect. Normally, I usually include Cubs Den’s rankings, but this year Michael Ernst’s did not rank them. Rather he placed them in tiers. Although, Michael did have Jose Albertos as the lone Tier 1 prospect. I don’t think that his ranking them would have changed the list and its point totals and rankings much.

I don’t really think MLB Pipeline’s  list will change many people’s perceptions of either prospect or the Cubs as a whole. It has been a while since the Cubs did not had a clearly defined top prospect, let alone a top 100.

I hope that this summer sees some prospects like Albertos, Ademan, and Lange matriculate up to full season ball and onto prospect lists. Maybe next winter the Cubs could get 3-4 names on a list.

Also in prospect news, Fangraphs released their KOTAH projections. The list is a projection of WAR for the next five years at the MLB level. Two Cubs made the list. Charcer Burks came in at #61 with a projected WAR of 5 and Victor Caratini came in at #35 with a 6.7 WAR projection. I did not see Burks like that, but I like that he is highly thought of after a brilliant first half in 2017.

Just throwing this out there…

I am wanting to do profiles of two prospects but I don’t have pictures of them, yet. One is of Danis Correa, a pitcher who threw in just two games for Mesa after coming over from the DSL. The other is Jesus Tejada, who threw in the DSL the past two summers.

Upcoming Posts

This week, come Wednesday, Fernando Kelli gets profiled in the “Leveling Up” series. I really enjoyed profiling the excitement for the young outfielder. I also have two spring training previews for the major league camp and the minor league camp in the works for this week. The major league post hits Monday, the minors on Friday.

Baseball Cards of the Week

 

The Weekly: Keith Law, MLB Pipeline, and NRI Lists Highlight the Week

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By Todd Johnson

Lists, Lists, and More Lists

It was a pretty exciting week as far as lists go. On Monday, Keith Law released his top 100 prospect list. Two Cub prospects, Aramis Ademan and Adbert Alzolay, found their names in the second half of the list. In addition, Jose Albertos later made Law’s “Just Missed List” of 10 prospects outside the top 100. That is a great sign heading into the season for Jose and the Cubs. On Friday, Law ranked the Cubs very low in his annual farm system rankings (subscription required). No shocker there.

Over the past two weeks, MLB Pipeline listed their top 10 prospects at each position in the minors. Catcher Victor Caratini was the only Cub prospect to make any position list and he came in at number 10.

And then last night, MLB Pipeline released their top 100 prospects. I did not expect to see any Cubs make the list as Jim Callis spoke previously that it would be very hard to get a Cub on there. And no Cub made it.

Starting in about a week, MLB Pipeline will be putting out their top 30 prospects for each MLB team. Alzolay looks to be their number one prospect on that list for the Cubs.

Spring Training Invitees

With just two weeks until the beginning of Spring Training, the Cubs began assembling the camp roster this week. In addition to minor league players on the 40 man like Mark Zagunis, Adbert Alzolay, and Duane Underwood, the Cubs invited 19 other non-rostered players to come to camp. They include:

Pitchers: Anthony Bass, Craig Brooks, David Garner, Justin Hancock, Thomas Hatch, Williams Perez, Alberto Baldonado, Daniel Camarena, and Kyle Ryan.

Infielders: Ryan Court, Mike Freeman, Jason Vosler, and Chesny Young.

Outfielders: Jacob Hannemann and Bijan Rademacher.

Catchers: Taylor Davis, Chris Gimenez, Ian Rice, and Ali Solis.

A few names stick out to me in Hatch, Rice, Garner, and Brooks. I am not surprised to see Rice, Garner, and Brooks get invites because they have already played at AA. As for Hatch, I’m gonna look forward to seeing what he can do as he has yet to play at Tennessee. This might be a little crumb for him. I can’t wait to see how Rice does in that setting along with Garner  and Brooks, both who throw in the mid to upper 90s.

Additionally, a few names that were omitted also stand out to me.  Jake Stinnett, Yasiel Balaguert, Charcer Burks, and the newly signed Wynton Bernard did not receive the special invitation. In most years, the NRI is usually just a formality as the Cubs tend to use players from across the system in games. It’s going to be true again this year. Burks should get some playing time and Stinnett will likely pitch for an inning or two just to see how they match up against MLB talent. That might be good for both of their confidence levels.

Coming Up Next Week 

On Tuesday, I have an article coming out for BP Wrigleyville where I talk about 10 things to think about regarding the 2018 draft. On Wednesday, 2017 first-round draft pick Alex Lange gets the “Leveling Up” treatment. The “Position Break Down” series ended last Friday with relievers. So, now I have to come up with some new things to do until Spring Training. One of them involves the year 2021. I may just come right out with one post about that year and what the end of that season means. 

Baseball Card of the Week

State of the Cubs for 2018 – Part 1: A Few Position Players Are in Flux

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By Todd Johnson

When I originally came up with the idea for this post, it was in the middle of September when the Cubs had a 2 game lead over the Cardinals and a 3 game lead over the Brewers. A lot happened since it’s inception.

Looking ahead to 2018, I am most excited to see how new hitting coaches Chili Davis and Andy Haines work with these young hitters to help them adjust to both major trends and minor situations. I also look forward to personnel changes as Theo Epstein is not an executive who will sit still after how 2017 ended. He will do whatever it takes.

When I look back at the 2017 regular season, I’m going to remember a group of players that looked tired. From pitching to hitting, they appeared worn out after playing deep into October in 2015 and 2016, followed by a party that never seemed to stop from November 2 to Opening Day 2017. I think it’s just part of being a champion and the Cubs never got past it.

Now that the 2017 postseason is over, it’s time to look at the State of the Cubs for 2018. This is going be done in three parts. The first part examines the position players and the second part will analyze the current pitching staff and future needs/possibilities. The final part dissects the needs of the bullpen.

“The strength of this team for the next three to four years will be our young position players. “ – Theo Epstein…probably…

From Rizzo to Bryant to Russell to Contreras to Baez to Schwarber to Happ to Almora, it is an extremely young core that should be much improved, motivated, and rested as a result of how 2017 ended. The Cubs could trade one of them, if they needed, to help acquire another starting pitcher or even an outfielder.  That type of trade should probably be a last resort. The Cubs have plenty of prospects to deal and over $50 million in cap space to go get someone, or two, in free agency.

With Miami’s financial troubles, the Cubs could even add to their young core by using some of their assets to acquire one of Miami’s exciting young and proven outfielders (I prefer Yelich and Ozuna for defensive purposes).

There are, however, a couple of concerns for everyday players in Ben Zobrist and Jason Heyward. Zobrist still has two years left on his contract while Heyward can opt out after 2018. I doubt if Heyward would unless he has a monster 2018 season. Based on the last two years, that idea does not look possible. Then again, maybe the Cubs can see if Chili Davis or Any Haines can make something happen. If Heyward was shipped out in a trade, the Cubs might have to send a substantial sum of cash to make that deal work, depending on where he goes.

As for Zobrist, I’m not sure how this is going to play out. I am of the mind that if Ben thought he couldn’t perform at a certain level, that he would retire. I think he reeks of that type of integrity, but he also might accept just a bench role which I think might be better for him. Playing two to three times a week and pinch hitting almost every day might be more productive than trying to play four or five. And I think he would succeed in being ready every day as a pinch-hitter. At some point, that transition has to be made and he has to be on board with it. Zobrist is not getting any younger.

Joe Maddon likes to carry three catchers. Victor Caratini could be one of them in 2018. Joe, however, would lean towards having veterans in those spots even if Caratini is ready. After his debut last year, though, Caratini is close to being ready. I see Caratini’s future tied to the two new starting pitchers the Cubs need for 2018 and where they come from. If it is through free agency or a trade, Caratini should begin the year in AAA. The problem is his bat might force the issue of bringing him up.

That leaves only 2 other bench players.

Tommy La Stella is one option and I don’t know if the Cubs can ask John Jay to come back. They might not be able to afford him after he proved  he can be a valuable asset to a team. The Cubs are not going to try and bring up any minor league hitting prospect at this stage either. Instead, they should go with a veteran in that role off the bench.

As I look back at the 2017 season, I think Ian Happ’s ascension messed things up in a good way. What most impressed me about Happ was the improvement he showed in the outfield. I didn’t foresee him playing centerfield at all in the majors. He looked a little rough the first month but it’s gotten better every month since. And, there still is plenty of room for growth.

In having a spectacular rookie season, probably a year early, Happ made other players expendable. The question becomes: Who do you trade? The answer is pretty simple on the surface – the one who does not have the most long-term potential to help the Cubs win a World Series. Then you can start throwing in defensive or offensive values/metrics and it becomes a mess of whether it’s Russell, Almora, Schwarber, or maybe even Happ that is used to acquire pitching.

The Cubs major-league position player portion of the roster is built for the long-haul. For now, the best option might be to fill-in with some veterans on a year-to-year basis although getting Yelich, Stanton, or Ozuna would be a coup.

Then again, The Cubs may just try to get one more year out of everyone before next year’s booming free agent crop, but I doubt it.

Ultimately, a few roster changes will coincide with the coaching changes. The changes could include just a couple of position players getting new addresses, but the results could be major.

Theo is not going to be complacent. He is not going to sit on his laurels. He is going to re-assemble another team to win it all. That’s his goal. It should be fun watching him go at it this winter.

So, as a result, be prepared for anything this offseason.

And I mean anything.