In just four short days, the Chicago Cubs open up the 2022 campaign at home against the Milwaukee Brewers. But it’s anything but the typical final days of camp this year, thanks to the truncated timeline brought on by the lockout, meaning Jed Hoyer, David Ross and Cubs brass have some tough roster choices to make in the coming days.
Sahadev Sharma over at The Athletic (subscription required) put together a really thorough breakdown of where the roster stands heading into Sunday – but I’ll let you read it for yourself. I just wanted to call attention to the bit regarding the outfield picture, specifically the role of veteran outfielder Jason Heyward.
In short, Sharma says Heyward’s spot on the Opening Day roster is not in jeopardy, despite his woeful showing last year and slow start this spring that’s seen him strike out 10 times in 23 plate appearances. After watching the Angels designate Justin Upton for assignment this weekend, deciding to eat the $28 million left on his deal, more than a few Cubs fans on Twitter were clamoring for Chicago to follow suit with Heyward.
Cubs face a roster crunch, particularly in the outfield right now
The argument for doing so essentially boils down to this. In the outfield, there are a few guys who will break camp with the club. That includes Ian Happ, Seiya Suzuki, who hit his second spring homer on Saturday, Rafael Ortega, Clint Frazier, Michael Hermosillo and Heyward. That’s a lot of guys vying for regular playing time, even with the designated hitter coming to the National League.
Suzuki is your guy in right field – period. Frazier has played out of his mind this spring and could wind up being the steal of the offseason if things go well this year. Coming off a scorching second half, Happ is hoping to put together a consistent 162 games, rather than the half-cold, half-hot showing we got in 2021.
Ortega is your platoon guy who’s going to be in there against righties after he torched them last season and Hermosillo will likely face mostly lefties. Heyward, meanwhile, is going to have to slide from right field – where he’s won five Gold Gloves in his career – over to center to accommodate Suzuki. That might not be a big deal on paper, but defensive metrics have always been much more favorable to him in right than in center.
If I had to guess, I think we’re going to see Suzuki, Heyward and Happ from right to left on Opening Day – with Frazier penciled in as the DH. There will be a big focus on keeping him healthy after multiple years of him battling concussion symptoms – and the DH spot will allow him to do that.
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But if Heyward doesn’t at least show some improvement at the dish, I suspect we’ll see the front office re-visit the idea of cutting him loose at some point this season. For at least a little while longer, though, you’ll see number 22 roaming the outfield for the Cubs.