Final Predictions for Every Chicago Cubs Spring Training Position Battle
Last year, the club suffered through a 101-loss season, and as the Cubs continue to rebuild the organization from the ground up, they are again expected to struggle.
As the roster begins to take shape this spring, there are still a handful of spots up for grabs. Here is a look at my predictions for who will win the remaining open spots on the Opening Day roster, as well as who can be considered a roster lock.
*All stats via MLB.com unless otherwise noted.
Starting Pitchers (5)
Relief Pitchers (5)
*SP Matt Garza, SP Scott Baker and 3B Ian Stewart expected to start season on DL.
Bench Spot: C/IF Steve Clevenger
Spring Stats: 12-for-34, 2 2B, 3 RBI, 4 R
Clevenger got off to a hot start last season, going 11-for-22 with five doubles over his first 10 games to kick off the 2012 campaign.
However, a strained oblique landed him on the DL for over a month, and he returned to hit just .164/.229/.220 the rest of the way over 177 at-bats.
Catcher remains his primary position, but the Cubs have given him time at first and third base this spring as they try to make him a more versatile option off the bench.
As a left-handed bat with a solid minor league track record offensively, Clevenger seems like a safe bet to crack the Opening Day roster.
Bench Spot: UT Brent Lillibridge
Spring Stats: 11-for-24, 3 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 8 R
In 2011 he was a 1.3 WAR player for the White Sox (h/t FanGraphs), hitting 13 home runs in 186 at-bats and posting an .845 OPS while playing all over the field.
He's capable of playing anywhere put catcher, and he provides decent speed, with 23 steals over the past two seasons, as well as power potential.
He'll likely be asked to serve primarily as the backup middle infielder, and he'll give the Cubs a solid pinch-hit option as he is 9-for-34 with five doubles and two home runs in his career as a pinch-hitter.
Bench Spot: LF Brian Bogusevic
**Update: Bogusevic was among 11 roster cuts on Friday, so it appears it will be Sappelt who claims the final bench spot after all (h/t Chicago Tribune).
Spring Stats: 14-for-35, 6 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 5 RBI, 5 R
A former first-round pick by the Astros back in 2005, Bogusevic was never able to seize an everyday job during his time in Houston.
In 355 at-bats last season, he hit .203/.297/.299 with seven home runs and 15 steals as the team's fourth outfielder, and that was enough for him to be released this offseason.
The Cubs brought him in on a minor league deal, and he's done nothing but hit this spring as he contends for a fifth outfield spot on the big league club.
The 29-year-old is a good defensive outfielder and gives the team another left-handed bat off the bench, so I think he has the upper hand over Dave Sappelt for a roster spot as of now.
Relief Pitcher: RHP Hector Rondon
Spring Stats: 7 G, 6 IP, 6 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 3 K
The Cubs took Rondon with the No. 2 pick in the Rule 5 draft from the Cleveland Indians, and he'll be looking to get what was once a bright future back on track.
A Futures Game participant back in 2008, Rondon has made just 13 total appearances over the past three seasons as he's battled back from reconstructive elbow surgery back in 2010.
He was the Indians Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2009, and he reached Triple-A at the age of 21 that season while going 11-10 with a 3.38 ERA and 8.4 K/9.
Injuries are obviously a concern moving forward, but he has terrific stuff. If he can continue to round into form he could be a major addition to the bullpen. He's shown enough this spring that the Cubs won't want to give him back to Cleveland.
Relief Pitcher: LHP Hisanori Takahashi
Spring Stats: 5 G, 11 IP, 13 H, 5 ER, 4 BB, 6 K
Signed by the Mets out of Japan as a 35-year-old back in 2010, Takahashi was terrific in a swingman role as a rookie.
He went 10-6 with eight saves and a 3.61 ERA in 53 appearances (12 starts), and that earned him a two-year, $8 million contract from the Angels following the season.
After a solid season in 2011, he had a 5.54 ERA last season and settled on a minor league deal with the Cubs this spring.
Despite a subpar spring, he has a good shot at a roster spot as the team's second left-handed reliever. The only other lefty option the team could go with is Chris Rusin, but it appears they'd prefer to keep him stretched out as a starter in the minors.
Rafael Dolis and Zach Putnam are bullpen options as well, but I think they'll open the season in the minors.