As the Chicago Cubs entered spring training, there were a several story lines to be followed. There were the young prospects participating in camp. Javier Baez and Kris Bryant specifically. Non-roster invitees getting the opportunity to showcase their talents. Then the questions surrounding the starting rotation. Who would fill in the starting rotation? Would Jeff Samardzija even be a Cub when the season opened?
Then there’s the moving parts for the rest of the roster. Several “wild cards” were in camp. Mike Olt, Ryan Kalish, Justin Ruggiano, and Chris Coghlan . A new back-up catcher in George Kottaras was brought in to replace Dioner Navarro who left for free agency.
Now that the dust has settled and Opening Day is near, we have answers. Some of them a bit surprising.
The Cubs young prospects did not disappoint, as Baez and Bryant both had a great camp. While both showed what they will bring, it was also apparent both have work to do, and the Cubs are sticking to their plan with the plethora of talent in the minor league system.
Starlin Castro missed most of the spring games with a hamstring injury, although he did see some action. Rizzo and Barney showed improvement throughout the spring, offering hope that they both can have better seasons offensively.
Mike Olt entered camp the man on the outside for a roster spot. Luis Valbuena and Donnie Murphy looked to be the two to vie for the starting job. A nagging shoulder injury kept Olt from playing third base early on, but he showed why he was once one of the Rangers top prospects at the plate. Donnie Murphy was then released, giving the impression the Cubs were impressed with Olt’s spring performance. It seems the vision issues that had plagued him last season have been overcome, and he earned himself a spot on the opening day roster. The late signing of Emilio Bonifacio also gives the Cubs a solid utility player to add to an already versatile roster.
John Baker, a veteran entered camp as the third catcher behind Wellington Castillo and George Kottaras. But Baker showed enough in his ability to handle the pitching staff that the Cubs decided to part ways with Kottaras and earned Baker a spot on the 25-man roster.
The Cubs pitching staff, surprisingly a bright spot last season, rounded out about as expected. Carlos Villanueva continued to do what he does best, which is whatever is asked of him, and earned the fifth spot in the rotation beating out Chris Rusin. Free agent pick-up Jason Hammel slides into the fourth spot, joining Samardzija, Travis Wood, and Edwin Jackson.
The Cubs bullpen was one of the last issues the Cubs needed to address as spring training came to a close. Jose Veras will be set-up by Pedro Stroup as the Cubs hope to have a strong back-end with those two closing out games. James Russell will stay in his familiar role, and will be joined in the pen by Wesley Wright, Hector Rondon, Justin Grimm, and surprise addition Brian Schlitter.
There were several questions about this Cubs team following two horrendous seasons. Many questions are yet to be answered, and in a National League Central that fielded three playoff teams in 2013, it will be an uphill battle. The St. Louis Cardinals look better than last year while the Cincinnati Reds are quite the opposite and in Pittsburgh the Pirates are in foreign territory with playoff expectations. The Cubs’ roster appears to be able to compete and if players do not perform there is lots of talent in the farm system for them to pull from.