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Cubs make cuts, tougher ones coming

MESA, Ariz. -- The Chicago Cubs cut 12 from their roster Thursday, including first-round picks Albert Almora and Kyle Schwarber, giving them 40 players left in camp.

Headed to the minor league camp with Almora and Schwarber are pitchers Blake Parker, Joseph Ortiz, Daniel Bard, Anthony Carter, Jorge De Leon, Gonzalez German and Francisley Bueno along with infielder Chris Valaika and outfielders Mike Baxter and Adron Chambers.

None of those cuts are surprising, but now the Cubs' roster gets interesting. An injury to outfielder Chris Denorfia has opened the door for a younger player to make the team, as Denorfia is running at only 40 percent right now due to a hamstring injury, according to manager Joe Maddon.

“Opening day is probably in jeopardy,” Maddon said Thursday. “No sense in rushing.”

Assuming the Cubs keep 12 pitchers, let’s examine what the 13 position players could look like with Denorfia starting the season on the disabled list:

Infield: With Kris Bryant likely starting the year in the minors, Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro, Javier Baez, Mike Olt and Tommy La Stella could all make the opening-day roster.

Maddon loves everything about Baez while acknowledging he needs to be better at the plate. But Maddon also doesn’t want to overlook Baez's defense or the hustle; both were on display in Thursday’s game against the Los Angeles Angels.

Olt is the only natural third baseman, and his performance this spring should give him another chance. His on-base percentage is nearly .400 and he plays stellar defense -- a Maddon must. So that’s five infielders.

Catchers: Miguel Montero, David Ross and Welington Castillo are all slated to be on the opening-day roster. There’s still time for a trade, but the Cubs have been adamant towards keeping three catchers.

This leaves five spots for outfielders.

Outfield: Jorge Soler, Dexter Fowler and Chris Coghlan are safe for sure, as is Arismendy Alcantara, who can also play the infield. Alcantara’s versatility gives Maddon in-game flexibility that is usually rare on a roster with three catchers.

Denorfia likely stint on the disabled list opens the door for Matt Szczur or Junior Lake to make the team, but Ryan Sweeney has a year left on a major league deal paying him $1.5 million with a buyout of $500,000. Szczur and Lake have shown more this spring and have had more at-bats, potentially indicating what the team feels about them compared to Sweeney. Szczur, in particular, is showing a lot more at the plate and claims to have found his stroke recently. He has three home runs and is hitting close to .400 this spring.

Could the Cubs say goodbye to Sweeney in favor of Szczur? It’s definitely possible, but Lake has also garnered praise from Maddon and can play both the infield and outfield. Maddon had him at third base late in the game on Wednesday against the Seattle Mariners.

“There are a lot of guys still in the mix,” Maddon said.

In reality, there are only a few. Remember, Maddon has fresh eyes on players such as Lake and Baez. He’s not as turned off by the swings and misses as others are. Either way, the Cubs have decisions to make in the final week of spring training.