Much of the early roster talk here in February has centered around the starting rotation. The recent talk unfortunately has been related to injury, specifically Matt Garza and Scott Baker. But overall, the wonderings involved how the rotation would shake out considering the depth at the position. The openings up for competition will be limited to the fourth and fifth slots of the starting staff, pending Garza’s health status by Opening Day.
With intrasquad games set to be underway starting today, now is a good time to start looking at the other position openings that manager Dale Sveum and staff will need to shake out come April. Sticking with the pitching corps, the openings in the Cubs bullpen are just as limited as the rotation. Depending on how many pitchers the North Siders will break camp with (twelve or thirteen), in theory there can be anywhere between three to four spots up for grabs. The caveat is that one or two of the spots could be handed to the losers of the back of the rotation battle. Carlos Villanueva was the early candidate to be the long man in the pen assuming no injuries to the rotation, and despite having an option left to be sent to the minors, Travis Wood could be used as a second lefty out of the pen should he not be a part of the starting five.
February 12, 2013; Mesa, AZ, USA; Chicago Cubs pitcher and catchers work out during spring training camp at Finch Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports
Keeping with the back of the envelope math here, that would leave one to two spots available. Shawn Camp, new signing Kyuji Fujikawa, James Russell, and closer Carlos Marmol figure to be the names already penciled into Sveum’s short list. Brooks Raley and Chris Rusin are a pair of lefties that got a couple spot starts last season who could also get a look as the second southpaw out of the pen. Michael Bowden and Rafael Dolis are a two young arms that have had a few appearances with the Cubs, including last season, that would warrant keeping an eye on as candidates for the 2013 bullpen. The wild card is Hector Rondon, the Rule 5 selection this past December that will need to be kept on the Major League 25 man roster for the entire season if the Cubs do not wish to offer him back to his original team.
The list of non roster invitee pitching hopefuls is highlighted by a few familiar names: Casey Coleman, Blake Parker, and Jaye Chapman. I am sure the majority of you groaned when you read Coleman, but Chapman is a player that handled himself well during his stint with the Cubs last season. The right hander was part of the return in the deal that sent Reed Johnson and Paul Maholm to Atlanta. Chapman was let go this off season to make room on the 40 man roster, but Chicago picked him back up after he was not claimed by any of the other teams. Parker also had a cup of coffee with the Cubs last season and will be looking to force his way onto the roster for 2013. A few names to note include Jensen Lewis, Zach “Waiver Wire” Putnam, and Hisanori Takahashi.
Part of the fun of keeping up with Spring Training action is watching the names being thrown against the wall and seeing which stick. Sveum and Company will have plenty of options to consider as they begin to mold the shape of their pen going forward.