Four questions the Cubs face heading into spring training originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
The Chicago Cubs are aiming to bounce back from back-to-back disappointing seasons, and after an offseason full of spending and retooling, the team prepares to answer some tough questions as they reunite in Arizona for spring training.
Granted, the team has bolstered its roster in several key areas, including mid-diamond with the signings of Dansby Swanson and Cody Bellinger, but there are still four questions left on the roster that will need to be answered in the coming weeks at Mesa. .
Who Beats Leadoff for the Cubs?
Dexter Fowler’s retirement served as a painful reminder that the Cubs haven’t really been able to consistently put a player first overall since the outfielder left after the 2016 World Series title, and this season will pose a conundrum again. interesting for director David Ross.
The team’s 2022 (qualified) leader in on-base percentage is no longer on the North side, as wide receiver Willson Contreras now fills the backstop position for the St. Louis Cardinals.
The second closest player to Contreras in that category was outfielder Ian Happ, who posted a .342 OBP, good for 20th in the National League.
He would seem like an intriguing candidate for the lead role, but the Cubs might want to drop him a bit in order to take advantage of his consistent power, which could be in short supply for the Cubs at times depending on how they’re structuring their range.
Other contenders for the role are sure to include Seiya Suzuki, who posted a .336 OBP in his rookie season with the Cubs, and Nico Hoerner, a consistent contact hitter who had a .327 OBP last year.
Hoerner could be an attractive table setter at the top of the lineup, with Ross potentially placing second baseman and Swanson in the top two spots of the order.
Who will play third base?
While most positions on the diamond are fairly locked (barring injury of course), there are a few question marks, but none bigger than the one surrounding the question of who will occupy the hot corner for the Cubs.
The uncertainty at the position is best illustrated by the fact that the Cubs reportedly had Nick Madrigal taking reps on the spot, despite the fact that he didn’t play at a position other than second base in the major leagues.
Patrick Wisdom is probably a strong contender for the starting job, but his 14 errors last season could come into play, especially if he hits around .200 again and hits nearly 200 times this coming season.
The Cubs still have Zach McKinstry on the roster, but his putrid hitting performance may not be enough to justify having him in the regular roster, even though he’s quite possibly the best defensive third baseman on the roster. 40 players.
Christopher Morel is also a question mark defensively, but the Cubs will likely move him around the diamond in a utility-type role, so drawing him as a regular starter may not be the answer either.
Is there a place on this list for Nick Madrigal?
Ah, Nick Madrigal, the player the Cubs were hoping to team up with Nico Hoerner to create a solid 1-2 punch from base machines in the middle of the diamond.
His apparent inability to stay on the field last season, appearing in just 59 games for the Cubs, and his struggles while in the lineup, dropping .249/.305/.282 in 228 plate appearances, haven’t exactly inspired confidence, and the team’s addition of Swanson will now move Hoerner to second base, potentially creating a stumbling block for Madrigal as he searches for a spot on the pitch.
Yes, he took reps at third base, but questions about his arm will likely accompany that move until proven otherwise in Cactus League play.
Getting him out as a utility is apparently off the mark, as he hasn’t played a game at a position other than second base since appearing in six innings of a game at shortstop for the White Sox Rookie League team in Arizona.
Unless Madrigal can prove he’s a real third base option, or if Ross decides he needs to put his bat in the lineup as the designated hitter on contact, it may be difficult for Madrigal to find his place on the list.
Who will be in the starting rotation?
The Cubs have made significant progress in building their organizational depth in terms of starting pitching, and some of those advancements could pay off in the 2023 season.
It looks like the rotation spots are locked in for at least four starters, with Drew Smyly, Justin Steele, Marcus Stroman and Jameson Taillon all guaranteed roles in the rotation if they are healthy.
The big competition will be for that fifth place, with Kyle Hendricks likely out of contention early on as he continues to work on a comeback from a shoulder injury.
Adrian Sampson would be a logical contender based on his strong showing at the end of last season, going 4-5 and having a 3.11 ERA in 21 appearances, including 19 starts.
Hayden Wesneski also has a compelling case if he has a solid spring roster, having struck out 33 and posted a 2.18 ERA in six appearances last season for the Cubs.
Keegan Thompson will likely be kept in a bullpen-centric role, but you can never rule out giving the talented right-handed pitcher a start or two.
In all likelihood, Caleb Killian will continue to get regular starts at Iowa as the Cubs seek to maximize his development, and Javier Assad could still get the same treatment after posting a 3.11 ERA in eight starts with the Cubs. last season.
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