CHICAGO -- With Chicago Cubs pitchers and catchers set to report on Friday for spring training, every day this week we’ll examine the roster and answer questions as they begin their quest for a championship. Today’s topic is position battles. There should be some good ones.
The bullpen: This is where the fiercest competition for jobs will take place this spring, as the Cubs potentially have more capable arms than available spots in the bullpen. Assuming all are healthy, incumbents Travis Wood, Trevor Cahill, Clayton Richard, Justin Grimm, Pedro Strop, Hector Rondon and newcomer Adam Warren are favorites to make the team. Unless the Cubs take eight relievers north with them, that leaves Rex Brothers, Neil Ramirez and C.J. Edwards, among others, on the outside looking in. There’s nothing that says one of them couldn’t unseat one of the above names, but the way last season ended these seven might have the upper hand -- at least at the outset of spring training. If Edwards is stretched out he could always open the season starting at Triple-A Iowa, as well. Ramirez is somewhat of an X factor, as a return to 2014 form could have him leapfrogging others.
Fifth starter: The Cubs have given no indication either Jason Hammel or Kyle Hendricks is in jeopardy of losing a starting spot in the rotation, but the fact of the matter is Warren and Cahill as well as several other pitchers would like a chance to start. The Cubs will stretch out up to 10 of them this spring, so if one of the incumbents does falter there’ll be someone ready to take his spot. This is no surprise. Any back-end-of-the-rotation starter will tell you his job is almost never safe as spring begins. It’s the nature of competition.
Right field: There aren’t many -- if any -- open spots among the starting eight, but it’s possible Chris Coghlan and Jorge Soler will battle for playing time in right. The simple solution is a straight platoon, as Coghlan’s OPS against right-handed pitching was .831 last year and is 155 points higher off righties than lefties for his career. In reality Soler will probably play against many righties, but with his well-documented cold-weather issues at the plate there’s a good chance we’ll see more of Coghlan in April than you might think.
25th man: After doing the math for a very deep team, the Cubs basically have one opening on their 25-man roster for a position player. Given Javier Baez’s newfound ability to play the outfield along with Kris Bryant and Coghlan’s versatility to play both infield and outfield, the Cubs have some flexibility with that final spot and could choose either an infielder or an outfielder. The early favorite might be holdover Matt Szczur. Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer recently intimated Szczur’s ability to play lock-down defense in the outfield might be the edge he needs to stick. Remember, the team doesn’t have a natural center fielder on the roster without Szczur, who’s played 434 professional games there. Plus, their corner outfielders are still developing defensively. Szczur would be used often as a late-inning replacement. Arismendy Alcantara is another possibility as he’s a switch-hitter and a versatile defender, as well.