The Cubs Storylines of the Spring series continues with a look at the pitchers in big league camp.
Three, if not four, of the five starting spots are set as Spring Training begins for the Cubs. As long as everyone stays healthy Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta and Jason Hammel should be slotted in as the top three starters in Joe Maddon’s Opening Day rotation. The fourth spot appears to be Kyle Hendricks’ to lose which could leave quite the competition for the fifth spot and at least two reliever roles.
Joe Maddon has not addressed how many pitchers will make up his Opening Day staff. Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer said several times throughout the winter the team would have a 12-man staff this season instead of 13 pitchers on the active roster like the Cubs had for a majority of the 2014 campaign.
Like many of his Spring Training teammates, this is an important camp for Travis Wood.
Wood spent the winter in the rumor mill as it’s believed the front office fielded calls throughout the off-season about his availability … and could still be trying to move him. Wood is now a full season removed from representing the Cubs in the Mid-Summer Classic and could be the biggest benefactor of anyone on the staff with the Miguel Montero–David Ross catching tandem.
Travis Wood said his issues last year were more mechanical than anything else. He was expected to spend the winter working the flaws that he and Chris Bosio found at the end of last season. Wood appears to have the upper-hand at one of the backend of the rotation spots that is if Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer do not hear an offer the Cubs can’t refuse.
Edwin Jackson begins camp pitching for a job on the Cubs staff, and it’s very unlikely he will have an all-fastball outing this spring without Joe Maddon and Chris Bosio knowing about it.
Consistency has always been Jackson’s biggest issue. And while he’s not been good over the course of his two years with the Cubs, he has shown from time-to-time how good he can actually be on a big league mound.
Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer are on record stating Jackson will be pitching for a role on the team. Neither Epstein nor Hoyer has closed the door on Jackson being part of the Cubs’ rotation or the bullpen. Jackson will be stretched out and used as a starter at least at the beginning of the exhibition season. But with the improved talent base, Jackson is no longer guaranteed a spot on the roster. If he struggles and performs like he has the last two springs, it would not be a surprise to see the front office let him go and admit once again signing Edwin Jackson was a mistake.
Backend of Rotation
Until a report from Carrie Muskat indicated the Cubs could begin the season with Travis Wood and Edwin Jackson in the fourth and fifth spots in the rotation, it was believed the fourth spot in the rotation was Kyle Hendricks’ to lose.
As long as Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta and Jason Hammel avoid injuries this spring and just get their work in, Kyle Hendricks should slot in behind Hammel in Maddon’s rotation.
The competition for the fifth spot is believed to be between Travis Wood, Edwin Jackson, Tsuyoshi Wada, Jacob Turner and Felix Doubront with Dallas Beeler and Eric Jokisch ticketed for starting jobs with the Iowa Cubs.
Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer said that one or two of the four lefties competing for the fifth spot in the rotation could end up in the bullpen. Wood would appear to have the upper hand which could send Wada and Doubront to the pen. But with Jacob Turner and Felix Doubront out of options, both late-season pickups figure to get every opportunity possible to make the team out of Spring Training.
If injuries do not impact the depth the front office has built, trades late in the spring should be on the horizon simply due to the limited flexibility that the Cubs have with several of the pitchers.
One of the top pitching prospects will spend time in big league camp for the first time. C.J. Edwards was added to the 40-man roster during the off-season and will benefit from the experience he gains working with Chris Bosio and throwing to Major League hitters early in the Cactus League schedule.
Edwards should be fun to watch early in camp before he’s optioned to the minors. Edwards is ticketed for Double-A Tennessee to start the season and if all goes as planned a promotion to Iowa should happen within the first six weeks of the year.
The Cubs had a very good backend of the bullpen last year once the young arms settled into roles and started throwing strikes. With that said, a relief pitcher’s performance from year-to-year is very unpredictable, which is just one of the many reasons a contract longer than two years to a reliever seldom benefits the team.
Going into camp there appeared to be only two spots open in the bullpen if the Cubs begin the season with a seven-man pen as expected. Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop, Neil Ramirez, Jason Motte and Justin Grimm should be locks unless there are injuries or really bad performances.
If the Cubs decide to begin the season with a pair of lefties, Joe Maddon will have options to choose from in Zac Rosscup, Joseph Ortiz and the recently acquired Drake Britton plus either Felix Doubront or Tsuyoshi Wada, if neither one of the southpaws begin the season in the rotation.
Jacob Turner and Edwin Jackson could have an impact on how the Opening Day bullpen is built if the front office decides to keep both pitchers in the organization if they’re unable to crack the starting rotation.
Two relievers that spent quite a bit of time with the Cubs last year appear to be on the outside looking in at beginning the year on the active roster. RHP Blake Parker and RHP Brian Schlitter both have one minor league option left, and would have to clear optional assignment waivers before the team could stash them in Iowa to start the season.
The front office has built bullpen depth, if injuries do not reduce the options it will be interesting to see how the pen looks on April 5 and which pitchers are still in the organization.
Jason Motte and Daniel Bard
Jason Motte and Daniel Bard had a lot of success at the highest level. Both pitchers say they are fully recovered from injuries that derailed their careers. If Motte and Bard are healthy and perform in the spring, they will have an impact on the way the Opening Day roster is constructed.
Motte is expected to be in the pen and face his former team on Opening Night, but Bard is a wild card. He’s in camp on a minor league deal and without knowing the language in his contract, if he’s able to throw strikes and is close to the pitcher he used to be, Bard could bump one of the young arms to the minors that still has options left in order to not lose him to another team.
The front office has given Joe Maddon and Chris Bosio options for the rotation and bullpen. And if Bard is the Daniel Bard of old he could add to what is already expected to be a very good relief corps.
Non-Roster Invitees – Pitchers
Due to the improved talent in the organization, Chris Bosio will have three of the top pitching prospects in camp on non-roster invitations. RHP Armando Rivero and RHP Corey Black figure to play predominant roles in the backend of the Cubs pen at some point in the future. Rivero could make his big league debut during the upcoming season if he picks up where he left off last year. Rivero has a big arm, swing and miss stuff and profiles nicely in the backend of a pen. He’s likely ticketed for Iowa to start the year unless injuries and ineffectiveness bump him up the depth chart. Rivero is not on the 40-man roster, so he would be reassigned to the minors, not optioned out.
Corey Black was a starter last year and the Cubs have not said what his role will be moving forward. Black, like Rivero, has the stuff to dominate late in games at the big league level. It will be interesting to see if the Cubs stretch him out this spring or start prepping him as a reliever.
Depending on the publication, Pierce Johnson is either the best starting pitching prospect in the system or right behind C.J. Edwards on the depth chart. It is an important season for Johnson as he tries to shake off the injury bug and throw quality strikes on a consistent basis. The front office could chose to send him back to Double-A to start the season just for a refresher course before promoting him to Triple-A Iowa. Johnson will be used for multiple innings when he appears in Cactus League games before he is eventually reassigned to minor league camp.
RHP Anthony Carter, LHP Francisley Bueno, RHP Jorge De Leon, RHP Donn Roach, RHP Gonzalez Germen and LHP Hunter Cervenka are also in camp on non-roster invitations and are longshots to make the team out of Spring Training.
The Cubs have some interesting arms on the NRI list, but unless there is a rash of injuries most of the pitchers that signed minor league contracts in the off-season will begin the year with Triple-A Iowa.
2015 Cubs Spring Training Previews
- Cubs Baseball Begins, Pitchers and Catchers Report to Spring Training
- Starting Pitchers
- Relief Pitchers
- First Base
Cubs Storylines of the Spring
The position players that are not already in camp have to be in Mesa on Tuesday. The first full squad workout is Wednesday and the Cubs begin Cactus League play in just 12 days. Up next in the Storylines of the Spring reports, the catching corps.