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Who makes it to Chicago on Opening Day? Cubs roster projection 1.0

Ryan Avatar
March 10, 2023

Exactly three weeks from today, the Cubs host the Brewers for an Opening Day matchup at 1:20 p.m. at Wrigley Field. Like every year at the end of March, the weather probably won’t be anything special.

But as for which 26 players make the trip to Chicago at the end of spring training for that Opening Day contest? That’ll of course be different from the one that did in 2022.

Not that it matters all that much who makes the Opening Day roster. Cubs manager David Ross said it best himself when speaking to reporters in Mesa, Ariz., last week: “We all put so much emphasis — players especially, and I was in the same boat — on making the Opening Day roster. But there’s a lot of guys in camp that won’t be on the Opening Day roster that are going to help us this year and help us win ballgames.”

Still, everybody wants to know who all will make the active roster out of camp. The Cubs still have a few more weeks until they leave camp, so before then, here’s CHGO’s first draft of what the roster will look like on Opening Day.

Catchers (2): Yan Gomes, Tucker Barnhart

Gomes: He’s not going to replace Willson Contreras on his own, but Cubs pitchers have raved about his catching since last season. The defense he brings exemplifies what the Cubs want in their backstops. He’ll be a big part of the catching group.

Barnhart: He got to learning his new pitching staff as soon as he signed in December. That helped him get familiar with the group before spring training began, which helped the pitchers quickly rave about Barnhart, too. While it won’t be a straight lefty-righty split between him and Gomes, this is how the group will look to start 2023.

Infielders (4): Eric Hosmer, Nico Hoerner, Dansby Swanson, Patrick Wisdom

Hosmer: Looking for a better 2023, Hosmer should start the season first base. President of baseball operations Jed Hoyer basically said as much during the Cubs Convention, and not much has changed since. If the shift restrictions do in fact help him find some more holes on the right side, he could find himself with a bit of a bounce-back year.

Hoerner: Even though he proved he can play strong defense at shortstop, Hoerner moved to second base to make room for Swanson — where he was a Gold Glove finalist in 2020. Hoerner had his own breakout season in 2022 that showed he’s a building block for this team. It would take something unforeseen to stop him from being in Chicago on March 30.

Swanson: He’s the Cubs’ $177 million man for a reason. Coming off an All-Star and Gold Glove season in 2022, Swanson is as big a lock as anyone on the roster to start on Opening Day. He’ll provide elite defense at one of the most important positions on the infield, something the Cubs have built the roster on.

Wisdom: Though he’ll likely also be in the outfield and first-base mix at some point this season, Wisdom should kick off the season starting at third. Of course, he’ll have to show his 2022 defensive showing was the fluke and that he can rebound to his 2021 form at the hot corner. Even still, the Cubs clearly value the power he adds to the lineup.

Outfielders (3): Ian Happ, Cody Bellinger, Trey Mancini

Happ: He is coming off the best season of his career. He’s a team leader, an All-Star and a Gold Glover. Regardless of what the future holds for Happ, both he and the Cubs hope he can match his 2022 production, and that’ll start on Opening Day.

Bellinger: Will he ever reach an MVP level of play again? Nobody knows for sure, but the Cubs are paying him a lot of money to get as close to it as he can this year. And even if he doesn’t, Bellinger brings a steady glove that makes him a lock for Opening Day.

Mancini: Assuming Seiya Suzuki (left oblique strain) starts the year on the IL, Mancini is certainly an option to take his spot in right field for the time being. Mancini has rated negatively in the outfield for most of his career, but this shouldn’t be a long-term thing. It looks like Mancini will get some time there while Suzuki is out.

Utility/Bench (4): Nick Madrigal, Christopher Morel, Edwin Ríos, Zach McKinstry

Madrigal: The idea that Madrigal could be a third baseman seemed unlikely a couple months ago, but the Cubs have been encouraged by his performance this spring. It doesn’t seem like it’ll turn into an everyday role at third, but a little added versatility should keep Madrigal on the active roster to begin the season.

Morel: Could he use a little more seasoning at Triple-A? You can make that argument, for sure. Still, Ross liked Morel’s versatility last season, and Morel figures to have a similar role in 2023. He has to improve overall defensively, but maybe a full offseason to work on specific things can make him a valuable utility man.

Ríos: Left-handed power was something the Cubs lacked last year. Despite his inability to stick with the Dodgers, the Cubs were impressed with Ríos’ slugging ability. He’s already hit two homers and is slugging .750 in 16 spring at-bats, and this could be a case where a strong spring does lead to an Opening Day roster spot.

McKinstry: His lefty bat and the fact he’s out of minor league options helps his case, but the biggest thing getting McKinstry on the Opening Day roster is his defense. He can capably back up the middle infield spots, and he’s likely in the third-base mix, too. That versatility should get McKinstry to Chicago to start the year.

Rotation (5): Marcus Stroman, Justin Steele, Jameson Taillon, Drew Smyly, Adrian Sampson

Stroman: When he was finally healthy and properly built up in the second half of 2022, Stroman was impressive. Though he’s set to pitch for Team Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic, he’s actually probably in line to get the start for the Cubs on Opening Day.

Steele: He established himself as a big leaguer starter last year. He’s said his goal is to reach 180 innings and 30 starts in 2023, but even if that doesn’t happen, Steele will begin the season with a key role in the rotation.

Taillon: He was the Cubs’ big free-agent pitcher addition. It wouldn’t be a surprise if he has the best season of all the starters. With real potential to end up as the Cubs’ No. 1 starter, there’s no way he isn’t on the Opening Day roster.

Smyly: The Cubs made the right move to bring Smyly back this offseason. He was a steady starter for them last year, and he wanted to stay in Chicago. He won’t be counted on to be the No. 1 starter, but he’s expected to provide some consistency to the rotation.

Sampson: With a spot on the Opening Day roster all but off the table for Kyle Hendricks — who’s still recovering from a capsular tear in his right shoulder — Sampson gets the nod. He was arguably the Cubs’ best starter down the stretch in 2022. He hasn’t had much success on the mound to begin Cactus League play, but unless he’s still struggling a couple weeks from now, he likely gets another shot in the rotation.

Bullpen (8): Keegan Thompson, Adbert Alzolay, Brad Boxberger, Michael Fulmer, Brandon Hughes, Julian Merryweather, Rowan Wick, Mark Leiter Jr.

Thompson: Ross has made it clear that he views Thompson as one of his main bullpen arm. That’s good news, since Thompson was dominant as a reliever in 2022. He may return to a starting role at some point in the future, but he’s proven how valuable he is out of the ‘pen.

Alzolay: In the same boat as Thompson, Alzolay is primed to start the year in the bullpen. He’s had plenty of success in that role the last couple years, and as the multi-inning relief spot continues to evolve, Alzolay’s value likely comes best as a reliever.

Boxberger: He was a big part of a solid Brewers bullpen over the last two seasons, and he has plenty of late-inning relief experience. Boxberger is a veteran, high-leverage reliever the Cubs will count on in 2023.

Fulmer: Though he didn’t officially sign until a few days into spring, Fulmer figures to play a significant role in the bullpen. He’s put together two solid seasons since becoming a full-time reliever. The Cubs will rely on him in a similar (if not even more significant) role to Boxberger’s.

Hughes: He proved himself to be a reliable bullpen arm for Ross last season, so much so that he ended up with the second-most appearances on the pitching staff. It remains to be seen if he becomes a closer-level reliever, but he should be a high-leverage arm.

Merryweather: Working in his favor is the fact he’s on the 40-man roster, he’s out of minor league options (per FanGraphs) and he touches high 90s consistently. Claimed off waivers from the Blue Jays in January, a strong spring would keep him in the Opening Day conversation.

Wick: He was the Cubs’ most-used reliever in 2022, but he wasn’t consistently effective. The Cubs aren’t giving up on him, but they seem to have solid relief depth in the organization. Wick will need a better 2023 to stay in the picture long term.

Leiter: It would take some roster maneuvering to get him on the 40-man, but Leiter had solid numbers out of the bullpen in 2022. He also has splits that resemble a left-hander’s, so if Hughes is the only true southpaw on the roster, Leiter could be useful in what would be lefty-on-lefty matchups.

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