Ah, the non-roster invitee—it's one of spring's most interesting creatures.
Some are prospects getting a look. Others are journeymen castoffs destined to fall by the wayside. Inevitably, though, a few will crack the 25-man roster.
The Chicago Cubs are an especially complete team, which means the chances of one, let alone several, NRIs making an impact are slim.
Slim isn't the same as none, however, and mid-February is all about optimism in baseball land.
Here, then, are three Cubs non-roster candidates from this complete list (via MLB.com) with a puncher's chance of heading to Wrigley Field for Opening Day with the defending champions.
RHP Maikel Cleto
The Cubs are planning to carry an eight-man bullpen into the season, per Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times.
"We're going to try to build up a ton of depth," president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said, per Wittenmyer. "We're going to try to build up a really talented, deep bullpen with a lot of different options that we can use in close games."
Seven of those spots should be filled as follows:
- RHP Wade Davis
- RHP Koji Uehara
- RHP Hector Rondon
- RHP Pedro Strop
- RHP Carl Edwards Jr.
- RHP Justin Grimm
- LHP Mike Montgomery
That leaves one slot open, barring injury or a spring meltdown, both of which are on the table.
The safe money is on lefty Brian Duensing. This is where an NRI could slip into the picture, however.
That includes 27-year-old righty Maikel Cleto, who owns an unsightly 6.60 ERA in 45 big league frames but has averaged 11.6 strikeouts per nine innings during the same span.
LHP Manny Parra
Staying with the bullpen, the Cubs could look to add a southpaw to their predominantly right-handed relief corps.
His numbers aren't overwhelming, and he turned 34 in October.
On the flip side, he's got extensive experience in the NL Central. In 2013, Ben Horrow of Beyond the Box Score said he "epitomizes the LOOGY, a left-handed pitcher who specializes in getting lefty hitters out..."
As deep as the Cubs pen is, it's a role that may need filling.
INF Jemile Weeks
As with the bullpen, there's likely only one bench spot up for grabs.
The front-runners are infielder Tommy La Stella and outfielder Matt Szczur, but someone else could muscle into the frame with a superlative spring.
La Stella, remember, took umbrage with his late-July demotion last season and might be a trade candidate, despite his insistence to the contrary.
Szczur, meanwhile, has played exclusively in the outfield, where the Cubs have ample coverage, and owns a ho-hum .673 OPS in 187 big league games.
That might crack the door for Jemile Weeks.
The 12th overall pick in the 2008 draft, Weeks hit .140 in 57 plate appearances for the San Diego Padres last season.
He's also logged innings at second base, third base, shortstop and in the outfield, a plus for Cubs manager Joe Maddon's mix-and-match machinations.
Most likely, Weeks will serve as minor league depth behind infielders Addison Russell and Javier Baez.
Or, he could realize the vision he spelled out in September with San Diego.
"I would like to be looked at as someone who is a very important piece—a key role player," Weeks said at the time, per Jeff Sanders of the San Diego Union-Tribune.
That's the dream of every non-roster invitee. Occasionally, those dreams come true.
All statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
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