Will Justin Hancock sneak in to Chicago Cubs’ bullpen?

PEORIA, AZ - MARCH 4: JJustin Hancock
PEORIA, AZ - MARCH 4: JJustin Hancock /

While most of their roster is set, the Chicago Cubs could have an unexpected reliever named to the Opening Day squad.

For the Chicago Cubs, will one man’s loss be another man’s gain?

In somewhat surprising news, the Cubs released reliever Justin Grimm Thursday after more than four years with the team. Grimm, 29, was a favorite to grab one of the final spots in the team’s bullpen.

In this sense, Grimm’s release was a surprise, but his numbers this spring show the reasoning behind the move. In four games (4 innings), he allowed four runs on six hits and four walks, surrendering two home runs.

High praise from Maddon

Now, the Cubs must choose another reliever to fill the spot Grimm presumably has left void. According to Patrick Mooney of The Athletic, it could be right-hander Justin Hancock.

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As Mooney notes, the Cubs acquired Hancock, 27, from the San Diego Padres in the Matt Szczur trade. The Padres drafted him in the ninth round of the 2011 draft, but he has yet to pitch in the major leagues.

In 2017, Hancock pitched in Double-A for both the Cubs and Padres as well as in Triple-A for the Cubs. Collectively, he pitched to a 4.91 ERA in 43 games (51 1/3 innings), with opponents hitting .295 against him.

Spring results can matter

Maddon’s comments show that Hancock passes the eye test, but his spring numbers go a step further. In four games (4 1/3 innings), he has a 2.08 ERA, allowing just one run on two hits and two walks. Opponents are hitting just .143 against him.

What makes this situation so ironic is that Grimm, who has been in the MLB since 2012, struggled in spring. Hancock, on the other hand, has flat out dominated despite never appearing in a single MLB game.

Spring training does not necessarily predict regular season results, but it can impact one’s standing on an MLB roster. This is evident in Grimm’s case, as his spring struggles cost him a spot on the Cubs.

Grimm ultimately landed on his feet quickly, signing with the Kansas City Royals Sunday. Hancock’s fate is less clear, though, even with Maddon’s high praise.

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There are several other relievers that could make the team at this point. Based on Maddon’s comments, though, it should not come as a surprise if Hancock is in the Cubs’ bullpen on March 29 in Miami.