Chicago Cubs: Players to Watch in Spring Training

David Banks - Getty Images North America

David Banks – Getty Images North America

Pitching:

The starting rotation is set, barring injury or some other unforeseen occurrence. Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester, John Lackey, Jason Hammel and Kyle Hendricks. Backing this up for depth, as things stand, are Adam Warren, Trevor Cahill, Travis Wood and Clayton Richard. You can toss Justin Grimm into this mix as well, as he was told to report ready as a starter. This latter might mean nothing, but who knows? My own choice as the sleeper is Warren. I believe he’s yet to realize his potential, and that he could slide up as high as the middle of the rotation before the end of the season.

The bullpen is basically intact, with Hector Rondon closing, Pedro Strop as the set-up man, and Justin Grimm in what General Manager Joe Maddon calls his ‘middle closer’ position. Travis Wood, Trevor Cahill and Clayton Richard rotated in and out of long relief positions, and depending on what happens starting in two weeks, if he doesn’t start, Adam Warren will be the last piece.

There may be something of a battle this spring, either for the bottom couple of slots in the rotation, or for the swing men who will provide depth and long relief. From last year they are missing only Fernando Rodney, Jason Motte and Tommy Hunter, none of which had much impact in 2015, unless you count Motte’s morale boosting hootenannies in the dugout.

Cahill, Wood, and Richard could all have eyes on the starting rotation, and newcomer Adam Warren looks to compete in that arena as well.

The remainder of the pitchers on the 40 man roster is a large group with a variety of skill-sets, hopes, and expectations.  Some saw action in 2015, others have been acquired in trades, and through minor league contracts – a few are prospects being protected from the sniping of other teams. They include:

Andury Acevedo – Signed to a minor league deal and on the 40 man roster.  Had limited Triple-A appearances last year.  A converted infielder who had control problems early on, but seems to be getting them in hand. Uncertain whether he would be ready for a taste of the majors in 2016.

Rex Brothers – picked up from the Colorado Rockies – Brothers is a relief pitcher with good upside and stats, received in a trade for a minor league pitcher, Wander Cabrera. He could work his way into the bullpen with a really good spring training, and dependent on how many arms they hit the season with.

Zac Rosscup – had a few starts for the Cubs in 2015, not a great ERA but he won two and lost one. He was up and down from the minors through the season and could break out this year.

Neil Ramirez – was out most of 2015 with a shoulder problem. When healthy he is a flame-thrower with a fastball reaching 97mph, but the question is one of health. Ramirez could play a part in the 2016 season if his shoulder and arm hold up.

Spencer Patton – acquired in trade from the Texas Rangers – made his major league debut in 2014 but has seen very limited time on the mound, and with mixed results. Patton won the NCAA Gold Glove pitching for Southern Illinois.

Edgar Olmos – has been sliding back and forth between the Baltimore Orioles control, and the Cubs, ultimately landing on the 40 man roster in Chicago. Has had some luck at a minor league level, pitching to a 3.55 era for the Texas Rainiers.

Pierce Johnson – Has had good success pitching in Double-A , had an era of 5.47 over three appearances in the Arizona Fall League. Uncertain what the development path intended is, but he is protected from Rule V by the 40 man roster and should at the least promote to Triple-A this year and be ready if needed.

Eric Jokisch – Has had some seriously good performance in the minor leagues, pitching a no-hitter for the Tennessee Smokies. He was in camp in 2015 as well, but failed to make the roster after posting a 6.00 era, 1.42 WHIP and 7/2 K/BB ration in 12 innings. He could be another sleeper – they thought he might be ready last year, and he has another season under his belt.

Carl Edwards Jr. – Edwards got his first taste of the big leagues in relief last season, and will be making the trip to spring training to see if he’s ready for more permanent assignment.  He has quality stuff and has been a top prospect for some time.

These are the main guys to watch, but just to spice things up, there are a number of other pitchers invited to camp. It’s unclear if any of them will make the type of impact that would slide them onto the roster, but in the interest of completeness, they are:

Stephen Fife – signed as a free agent and coming of Tommy John surgery. A low-velocity ground-ball inducing pitcher with limited MLB experience.

Brandon Gomes – Pitched for the Tamp Bay Rays. Gomes looks like a possible reliever, but has only three pitches and low velocity. Unlikely to crack the rotation.

Jean Machi – Venezuelan pitcher, former closer for the Boston Red Sox, released from the San Francisco Giants. Has been a successful relief pitcher and closer, but with some struggles.

Felix Pena – Has been solid in Triple-A and is probably not too far from making the jump to the major leagues. Unless something remarkable happens, he won’t see action with the Cubs until later in the season at the earliest.

Jonathan Pettibone – A four-pitch starter once projected as a solid middle-to-lower end of the rotation guy who has suffered multiple shoulder injuries. He did not pitch in 2015.

Armando Rivero – Played in the Arizona Fall League and has pitched with the Iowa Cubs. He has a 96 mph fastball, a splitter, and some variations on curveballs that are harder to define. Scouts have suggested he could be a starter, but if he sees action with the Cubs this season it is more likely to be in relief, or in a later season call-up for seasoning.

Drew Rucinski – Former Los Angeles Angels pitcher – limited major league experience with even more limited luck. It’s difficult to know for certain if he’s projected to be a minor-league starter, or reliver, but he seems a long shot to pitch in the starting lineup.

Duane Underwood – Listed as a top prospect, and could see action later in the year in relief if needed, or if they bring him up for seasoning when rosters expand.

Luis Cruz – Signed as a free agent, formerly with the Houston Astros. Cruz has struggled in the upper minor league levels, but will get a chance with the Cubs this spring. Likely to remain in the minor leagues for the foreseeable future.

Jack Leathersich will not be able to pitch until mid-season at least – he’s recovering from Tommy John surgery, but was impressive in relief for the New York Mets, and has a high ceiling if his recovery goes smoothly.

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