Note: I just finished writing the Cubs season preview for Banished to the Pen. I'll link to the whole series here when it's published!
We have over a week of spring training games to dig through. Without further ado, notes from the first week-plus of spring.
- Tyler Chatwood remains the favorite for the fifth-starter job, but as José Quintana has yet to pitch in a game due to illness I could see Alec Mills starting the season in the rotation. Alternatively, the Cubs could go with a four-man rotation the first time through.
- Some relievers that have stood out:
- Duane Underwood is out of options and has shown good enough stuff to start the season in the majors as far as I'm concerned.
- Manuel Rodriguez was added to the Cubs’ 40-man roster despite spending all of 2019 at high A-ball as a reliever. This clip should give you an idea as to why:
- Jeremy Jeffress looked pretty good in his first outing of the spring on Friday night. If he could even approximate his 2018 performance he would be a great pickup for the Cubs.
- Ian Miller has hit well (against AA-quality pitching according to Baseball Reference) and shown off his speed. I have no illusions that he'll be a regular outfielder, but he could be promising as a bench option. It's doubtful he'd get the fifth outfielder spot over Albert Almora though, and they profile similarly.
- P.J. Higgins has also impressed with the bat (also against AA-quality pitching), and has shown the ability to play third and first base as well. If the Cubs do want to carry three catchers on their roster, he could be an intriguing option. He may not have the veteran experience of Josh Phegley, but he does provide positional versatility–he can play at third and first base as well. Higgins was an above-average hitter in AA and even better in AAA in 2019.
- Brandon Morrow just can't catch a break. After recovering from a minor chest strain, he'll be out for 10-14 days with a mild calf tear.
- It's good to hear Brad Wieck is okay after undergoing a heart procedure. I hope he takes his time to heal and is able to emerge as one of the club's most trusted relievers this season.
- I still wouldn't be surprised if Daniel Descalso makes the roster out of spring training because of his clubhouse presence and the amount of money owed to him, but the more we hear about Jason Kipnis’ leadership abilities, as well as his ties to quality assurance coach Mike Napoli, the more it seems like he's being pushed out a bit. Kipnis provides more defensive value, too. Descalso's at-bat against Drew Pomeranz on Friday just looked unfair.
- It was exciting to read Sahadev Sharma's article at The Athletic about how the Pitch Lab convinced Rule-5 pick Trevor Megill to add a spike-curve to his pitch mix. It's obviously still a work in progress, but his willingness to make adjustments means that the Cubs might like to keep him around instead of having to offer him back to the Padres.
- Another encouraging dispatch from Sharma following Yu Darvish's Cactus League season debut yesterday revealed that Darvish worked to increase the spin efficiency on his four-seam fastball over the offseason, which could add more vertical rise to the pitch. The spin efficiency on that pitch last season was 71.9%. Because Darvish has elite raw spin on his fastball, increasing the efficiency even slightly could make it much more difficult to hit. That, combined with improved command, could help limit the amount of home runs he allows.
- Is Hernán Pérez a better defensive shortstop than David Bote? If not, I don't see him making the roster. If Javier Báez needs more time off I'm sure the Cubs would reconsider, but I would assume as things stand now that Bote will be the backup shortstop and get the lion's share of playing time at second base until Nico Hoerner is called up. Assuming Pérez’ defense isn't substantially better than Bote's at short, I'd rather see someone with more promise like ex-Fringe-Five favorite Zack Short, Trent Giambrone, or even Carlos Asuaje get that roster spot.
- I'm liking Kris Bryant in the leadoff spot, and I'm appreciating that David Ross made the decision so early in spring. Hopefully this means that Jason Heyward will get a full season outside of the leadoff spot, which seems to disagree with him. This will also hopefully put an end to Albert Almora and Daniel Descalso leading off games.
That's all for this week. Happy Opening Month!