Based on reports and barring an unexpected decision by the front office or injury, the Cubs first roster of the season is all but set.
The Cubs’ 12-man pitching staff should consist of Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta, Jason Hammel, Travis Wood, Kyle Hendricks, Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop, Neil Ramirez, Justin Grimm, Jason Motte, Phil Coke and Edwin Jackson. And unless a team steps up and pays Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer what they are asking for Welington Castillo, three of the 13 spots for position players will be used on catchers … Miguel Montero, David Ross and Welington Castillo.
The infield spots will be filled by Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro, Mike Olt and Tommy La Stella. With Arismendy Alcantara in the super-utility role and a starting outfield of Jorge Soler, Dexter Fowler and Chris Coghlan that leaves two spots on the 25-man roster.
Jonathan Herrera is still in the running for one of the two spots. Multiple reports have suggested the Cubs will likely go in a different direction because of the flexibility Alcantara provides Joe Maddon. Alcantara plays the same positions as Herrera, plus center and left field.
With all signs pointing to Chris Denorfia beginning the year on the DL, there are three outfielders in the running for two spots on the active roster … Ryan Sweeney, Matt Szczur and Junior Lake.
A report from ESPN Chicago indicated Ryan Sweeney made the team. But multiple reports Tuesday said Epstein, Hoyer and Maddon were still discussing the three outfielders and a decision had not been made.
Matt Szczur and Junior Lake have made a good impression on Joe Maddon this spring. And both players have shown significant improvement this spring. While spring numbers should be taken for what they are, as is the case with Mike Olt, Szczur and Lake have looked like different players over the last month from where they were last September.
In 20 Cactus League games, Matt Szczur is 15-for-43 with two doubles, two triples, five home runs, five walks and 12 strikeouts (.349/.417/.837) for a 1.254. Junior Lake is 13-for-43 with two doubles, a home run four walks and 16 strikeouts (.302/.354/.419) for a .773 OPS.
Outside of his contract, the fact Ryan Sweeney hits from the left side gives him an advantage over Szczur and Lake. The Cubs are very right-handed and Sweeney can play all three outfield spots.
Matt Szczur and Junior Lake have an option left, so both players will stay in the organization regardless of where they begin the season. The decision could come down to defense.
Defensively, Matt Szczur is better in the outfield than Junior Lake, but Lake can play third base. And Joe Maddon likes that extra flexibility he provides. Szczur takes good routes to balls and has a strong, accurate arm. Lake is still a work in progress in the outfield, but he’s shown improvement this spring from where he was last season, which wasn’t very good at all.
With Joe Maddon placing so much emphasis on defense, and rightfully so, Matt Szczur would seem to fit the team’s immediate needs better than Lake. Maddon will make substitutions in close games to have his best defenders on the field, and Szczur would be a better late-inning replacement for the defensively-challenged Chris Coghlan than any other option currently on the Cubs’ roster.
The Cubs could wait until the last minute to finalize the roster (2:00pm CDT on Sunday) in order to give Chris Denorfia as much time as possible to see if he can play on Opening Night. But there’s really no reason to delay making the decision and possibly wasting an option on another player while hoping that a veteran outfielder is healthy enough to contribute. Hamstring injuries usually don’t improve in cold weather.
Matt Szczur and Junior Lake have played their way onto the roster this spring, but due to things they cannot control, it appears one of them will join Kris Bryant, Javier Baez and Addison Russell in Iowa.