Chicago Cubs: Top things to keep an eye on heading into 2019 season

(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /
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Chicago Cubs
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There will be no shortage of storylines to focus on as the Chicago Cubs look to not only return to the top of the division but deep into October this year.

In today’s age, very much a bullpen-oriented era, it was smart for Theo Epstein and Co. to ink several low-cost, low-risk relievers despite the ownership’s repeated emphasis on not shelling out tons of money on key free agents. Needless to say, it wasn’t the exciting offsesaon Chicago Cubs fans had anticipated.

Among the new faces joining the Cubs this season are former All-Star Brad Brach, lefty Kyle Ryan, who has been impressive within the Detroit Tigers’ Triple-A affiliate, Chicagoland native and two-time World Series Champion George Kontos and righty Tony Barnette, who enjoyed a solid 2018 season with a 2.39 ERA as a member of the Texas Rangers.

We’re not done there, either. Veteran southpaw Xavier Cedeno, coming off a 2.43 ERA between time with the White Sox and Brewers joins the mix. One of baseball’s best stories, 37-year-old former top pick, Luke Hagerty, is topping 99 mph on the radar gun and attempting to make a comeback a la The Rookie.

While Brach is certainly the most notable arm added, he will inhabit an already crowded bullpen.  However, with a number of injuries and inconsistencies that bleed into the new season, it’s never a bad thing to have interchangeable options.

With Brandon Morrow sidelined, Brach likely joins Pedro Strop, Steve Cishek, Brandon Kintzler, Mike Montgomery and Carl Edwards Jr. as locks in the bullpen while several others will fight to earn a spot.

Edwards, who was once described as the future closer of the Cubs, has a knack of fading away during the most important times of the year and perhaps has fallen out of favor with the organization in terms of reliability.  To combat this, the right-hander has worked to change his delivery, mimicking Kenley Jansen‘s in-delivery hesitation, in hopes gives him better command of the zone.

Brian Duensing, Randy Rosario, Alec Mills, James Norwood and Dillion Maples will all most likely see service time as fill-ins over the course of the season. In fact, those are just a few of the names we’ll see toe the rubber this summer given Triple-A Iowa’s tremendous pitching depth. But there’s a notable name we haven’t touched on yet who may prove to be the biggest dark horse this year.