Hey, Chicago, what do ya say? We’ve gotta figure out who the Cubs will bring with them to Opening Day.
Well folks, it’s a cold April 1 and people are getting pranked all over for April Fools’ Day, but here at the CHGO office, we’re preparing for a completely different holiday coming in just six days. The long wait is over, and baseball is finally almost back with the Cubs hosting the Brewers to kick off the regular season on April 7.
So now is the time to predict what manager David Ross is going to do with the Opening Day roster, which was confirmed on Thursday to be 28 players deep with no limit on the number of pitchers each team can carry. No, there won’t be a Carlos Correa or a Trevor Story to include on the following list (go ahead and groan, Cubs fans), but there are still a few questions about how the active roster will look that likely won’t be cleared up until early next week.
Without further delay, here’s a best guess at which 28 players will be at Wrigley Field when Ross and Co. finalize Chicago’s active roster for next Thursday’s opener against Milwaukee.
Starting pitchers (5): Kyle Hendricks, Marcus Stroman, Alec Mills, Justin Steele, Drew Smyly
Ross hadn’t previously committed to a six-man rotation despite acknowledging how much the Cubs will have to monitor pitchers’ workloads early in the season, and with Thursday’s news that Wade Miley will be shut down from throwing for the next 10 days, you have to think the traditional five-man rotation is pretty much locked in.
That isn’t to say each starter will throw seven-plus innings out of the gate or that others won’t get a spot start, but for Opening Day and the next few games after, Hendricks, Stroman, Steele, Smyly and Mills will be the five starters Ross rolls out there.
Hendricks and Stroman were no-doubt-about-it locks for the rotation, and early on in spring training, Ross said that his plan was to give Mills a shot at being a starter. On Tuesday, Ross confirmed that Smyly would be in the rotation, while also noting that “there’s a strong chance” Steele joins the other four. Now, with Miley likely facing an injured list stint to start the season, the remaining five should be the ones listed as active roster starters six days from now.
Relief pitchers (10): Keegan Thompson, David Robertson, Rowan Wick, Manuel Rodríguez, Chris Martin, Jesse Chavez, Daniel Norris, Mychal Givens, Scott Effross, Ethan Roberts
This section is going to be just as fluid as the starting rotation, given that there are a couple of arms here that could make spot starts here and there. Thompson is one of them and he could easily be named a starter on Opening Day, but for now, it seems like Ross wants to use him as sort of a “piggyback” option while the arms in the rotation continue to build up carefully.
Norris, Givens, Robertson, Martin and Chavez (non-roster invitee) were all brought in this offseason and will provide some veteran depth, and Norris could certainly join Thompson as multi-inning relief options. Without a traditional closer, Wick is in the mix for a late-inning role, and Rodríguez (fastball that can hit 100 mph) and Effross (sidearmer) offer something different out of the ‘pen.
Roberts is the biggest guess on this list, because before the Miley news, it looked like there wasn’t enough room on the roster. Also, along with Roberts, arms like Adrian Sampson, Jonathan Holder, (both non-roster invitees) and Michael Rucker could be in the mix. But Roberts has impressed coaches this spring — Ross recently said he “looks like a back-end arm right now” — and with an agreement between MLB and the MLBPA that options before May 2 won’t count against the new “five max per season” CBA rule (for this year only), Roberts could be the last arm to join the ‘pen.
Catchers (2): Willson Contreras, Yan Gomes
Isn’t this one obvious? Contreras hasn’t been shipped out of town, so he’ll be the Opening Day starter, and Gomes was signed to back him up and help save his knees. It would certainly be helpful if Gomes stays healthy and the Cubs don’t have another carousel of backup catchers, but for Opening Day at least, these two will make up the catcher group.
Infielders (5): Frank Schwindel, Nick Madrigal, Patrick Wisdom, Jonathan Villar, Nico Hoerner
On Opening Day, it’ll likely be Schwindel, Madrigal, Hoerner and Wisdom around the infield, though with Corbin Burnes on the bump for the Brewers, Villar — who’s played all over the infield through his career and will serve as a utility man this season — could very easily be inserted into the lineup in Wisdom’s place to get a left-handed bat at the plate. The big question mark surrounded shortstop, with new addition Andrelton Simmons staking a claim to be the starting shortstop.
However, Simmons has been dealing with shoulder soreness and has been limited to a few light throwing sessions this whole week. It seems unlikely that he’ll be ready to go by Opening Day, which makes Hoerner the obvious choice to start the season at that spot.
Alfonso Rivas could also be a surprise candidate for the infield group, as he provides another left-handed bat and depth at first behind Schwindel, but it appears he’ll be on the outside looking in on April 7.
Outfielders (6): Ian Happ, Clint Frazier, Jason Heyward, Michael Hermosillo, Rafael Ortega, Seiya Suzuki
My original draft of this article had the Cubs bringing just five outfielders to Opening Day: Happ, Frazier, Heyward, Hermosillo and Suzuki. With Chicago expected to carry 15 pitchers and seemingly not ready to part with Heyward, Ortega felt like the odd man out of the picture.
But now, if Simmons and Miley do indeed start the season on the IL, Ortega should be one of the players picked to join the active roster in their place. Where he’ll fit is still a question that will need to be answered, because with Heyward moving over to center to make room for Suzuki, it will probably be a battle between him, Ortega and Hermosillo for at-bats. In left, Happ has been recovering from February elbow surgery and could get more DH opportunities while Frazier spells him in the field to start the year.
Injured list (2): Wade Miley, Andrelton Simmons
The implications of Miley and Simmons being on the IL have already been discussed above, but just for reference, here’s the latest news on both to come out of Cubs camp:
Miley, expected to be No. 3 starter, seems to be the most likely of the two to go on the IL and thus likely to spend the longest amount time out of action. Simmons could still ramp up and be ready to go, but Ross said Friday that “it’s not looking good.”
The two players should have large roles in the Cubs’ season moving forward, but at as far as Opening Day is concerned, it would be a surprise to see either on the 28-man roster.