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Projecting the Chicago Cubs' 2014 Opening Day Roster

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Projecting the Chicago Cubs' 2014 Opening Day Roster
Andrew Nelles/Associated Press
Starlin Castro will look to bounce back from his weak 2013 campaign.

Several players have their roster spots already locked up in Chicago, while others will be fighting hard in spring training to join the Cubs in Pittsburgh on Opening Day. Here's a look at some of the obvious and not-so-obvious roster selections to look for.

 

Starting Rotation

Jeff Samardzija: Clearly, Samardzija will make the Cubs team. He will be the team's Opening Day starter, according to president of baseball operations Theo Epstein, per The SportsXchange.

Travis Wood: Despite all of the noise surrounding Samardzija, Wood was actually the Cubs' most effective pitcher in 2013, posting a 3.11 ERA. He was also the Cubs' only All-Star a season ago.

Edwin Jackson: Even with his woes a season ago, Jackson figures to slide into the third starter spot because he still has good stuff and eats up innings. However, the journeyman will have to improve drastically to justify his $12 million annual salary.

Jake Arrieta: Once a promising young star for the Orioles, Arrieta's struggles in Baltimore pushed them to trade him and Pedro Strop to the Cubs last season for pitcher Scott Feldman. In nine games in Chicago, Arrieta went 4-2 with a 3.66 ERA. Still young, he could prove to be a steal in that trade and fits nicely as a fourth starter.

Jason Hammel: As long as he stays healthy, Hammel's decent track record should be enough to earn him the fifth starter spot. That being said, if he struggles in spring training, then youngster Chris Rusin could sweep the job out from under his feet.

 

Bullpen

Hector Rondon: This may be Rondon's best chance to prove to the Cubs that he belongs at the big league level. As a 25-year-old rookie, he posted a 4.77 ERA in 2013. He is very much on the bubble, but the fact that the club needs to see what they have in him long term may help his cause.

Justin Grimm: Pitching in just nine innings for the Cubs last season after being sent over from the Rangers, Grimm made an impression that he belongs in the bullpen. At just 25 years old, he is intriguing as a long-term solution in the pen.

Blake Parker: One of the more pleasant surprises for the Cubs last season was Parker, who pitched effectively out of the bullpen. He posted an impressive 2.72 ERA across 46.1 innings.

Arodys Vizcaino: A relatively unknown player to the average fan, Vizcaino has the chance to be a surprise at Wrigley Field this season. Before undergoing Tommy John surgery in the spring of 2012, he was the Braves' No. 2 prospect and was dealt to the Cubs in the Paul Maholm trade at the 2012 trade deadline. Vizcaino throws gas; his fastball averages 96 mph.

James Russell: One of the most dependable bullpen arms that the Cubs have had over the last few years, this lefty is a lock to make the team. He should continue to be effective throughout this season.

Wesley Wright: Signed as a free agent this offseason, Wright figures to make a major contribution to the Cubs bullpen this season. He gives the pen more flexibility, as he and Russell provide a one-two punch of lefties. 

Pedro Strop (Setup Man): Acquired from the Orioles in the same trade that netted Arrieta, Strop proved to be a beneficiary of a change of scenery last year. He was so impressive a season ago that if the team hadn't signed Jose Veras, it's likely that Strop would have been the team's closer this season.

Jose Veras (Closer): A relatively surprising free-agent signing, Veras makes the Cubs bullpen appear 10 times better going into 2014 than last season. His experience in the closer role gives him the advantage over a young Strop.

 

Starting Lineup

Welington Castillo (Catcher): Even though he batted just .272 a season ago, Castillo got on base more often than most Cubs did. Despite his average, he had an on-base percentage of .349. While he will never be a superstar in the major leagues, he projects as a very solid backstop for years to come, especially as his defense improves.

Anthony Rizzo (First Base): Along with Starlin Castro, Rizzo is a cornerstone of the Cubs as they move forward with their youth movement. While he struggled at times a season ago, he has 30-plus home run ability and will be in a Chicago uniform long term.

Darwin Barney (Second Base): If second base prospect Arismendy Alcantara really impresses in spring training, this could get interesting. Despite his stellar fielding, Barney hit just .208 a season ago, and the Cubs know they need an upgrade offensively at the position. Alcantara may be able to provide that; he hit 15 home runs, drove in 69 and stole 31 bases last year in Double-A.

Mike Olt (Third Base): Olt has the inside track at the starting third base job this season for a couple of reasons. First of all, he has major league experience, so management shouldn't be worried that he's being rushed. Second, the Cubs don't have much time to wait and see what they have in him. With infielders like Javier Baez, Kris Bryant and Alcantara coming up through the minor leagues, the team needs to have a clearer picture of what the roster will look like in 2015 and beyond.

Starlin Castro (Shortstop): His struggles last season were well-documented, but as young as he is, Castro gets a pass on one bad season. It was essentially the first season of his professional career that he could classify as a failure, and he will be better for it in the long run. Going back to his old hitting approach should help him have a bounce-back season.

Junior Lake (Left Field): As a prospect who came up a little bit earlier than the rest, Lake impressed in more than a third of a season at the big league level in 2013. He batted .284 and showed flashes of power, clubbing six home runs and driving in 16 runs. Even though he has above-average speed, he stole just four bases in 2013, so look for that number to jump this season.

Ryan Sweeney (Center Field): While it seems like he's been around the league forever, Sweeney is just 28 years old. His performance a season ago and his veteran presence are enough to keep him in the fold in 2014. In the future, he can either mentor Chicago's many young outfielders or move forward as a bench player.

Nate Schierholtz (Right Field): Previously in his career, Schierholtz hadn't had the opportunity to be a full-time starter. Last season, he got that opportunity in Chicago and took full advantage of it. He hit 21 home runs and drove in 68 runs while also totaling 32 doubles. With several top prospects on track to make their debuts soon, he appears like he could be dangled in front of teams at the trade deadline.

 

Bench

Luis Valbuena (2B/3B): Since joining the Cubs, Valbuena has been a solid contributor, but his days as a starter may be over. As long as Olt plays well in spring training, Valbuena figures to be a solid utility man for the Cubs this season at either second or third base.

George Kottaras (Catcher): He was signed acquired from the Royals this offseason after hitting .180 in limited action a season ago in Kansas City. Kottaras surely wasn't brought in for his offensive prowess, but he will provide a veteran presence in the clubhouse and a day off every now and then for starter Castillo. 

Donnie Murphy (Utility): A season ago, Murphy randomly broke out for the Cubs. In just 129 at-bats, he clubbed 11 home runs. While it's unlikely he will duplicate that production over the course of an entire season, having some power on the bench in pinch-hitting situations never hurts. The fact that he can move around the infield defensively also makes him valuable as a role player off the bench.

Justin Ruggiano (Outfield): After agreeing to a one-year, $2 million deal with the Cubs, Ruggiano better be on the big league squad when they break camp in April. While he will never hit for a high average, his 18 home runs in 424 at-bats a season ago exemplify the power value that he provides off the bench. Expect him to contribute both as a fourth outfielder and as the club's go-to pinch hitter.

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