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Cubs' 25-man projection for Opening Day

Roster outlook for 2018 features more depth, especially pitching
MLB.com @CarrieMuskat

MESA, Ariz. -- When the Cubs began Spring Training, it was easy to guess at what the final 25-man Opening Day roster would be. So, what have we learned since the first prediction?

Manager Joe Maddon has named not only his Opening Day starter -- Jon Lester -- but how the rotation will line up for the beginning of the season. Kyle Hendricks will follow Lester, then newcomer Yu Darvish, Jose Quintana and Tyler Chatwood.

MESA, Ariz. -- When the Cubs began Spring Training, it was easy to guess at what the final 25-man Opening Day roster would be. So, what have we learned since the first prediction?

Manager Joe Maddon has named not only his Opening Day starter -- Jon Lester -- but how the rotation will line up for the beginning of the season. Kyle Hendricks will follow Lester, then newcomer Yu Darvish, Jose Quintana and Tyler Chatwood.

Cubs Spring Training info

What's become evident this spring is that there is more depth, especially regarding the pitching.

"This is probably the best group of other pitchers that we've had in camp -- younger pitchers, guys we've picked up from other groups," Maddon said on Sunday. "It's much greater competition, better arms, guys who you see could help us this year more easily than in the past."

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

That list includes Randy Rosario, Justin Hancock, Alberto Baldonado and Duane Underwood Jr.. In Maddon's early years with the Cubs, he couldn't list four pitchers who might contribute.

"I like what we've done -- not a little but a lot," Maddon said.

This spring, the focus has been more on the new coaches getting to know the players. What will the Cubs' 25-man roster look like on Opening Day? Here's an updated projection:

Catcher (2): Who will back up Willson Contreras? It will depend on whether the Cubs want Victor Caratini to get more at-bats at Triple-A Iowa or believe he can continue to develop in a part-time role in the big leagues. Chris Gimenez got a vote of confidence from Lester after the veteran catcher caught the lefty on Friday. Said Maddon on Gimenez: "He's very bright and willing to share his opinion. He's not afraid, he knows how to play well when he's not playing often. Not everybody can [do that]. He communicates really well with his pitchers, he communicates well with everybody. On the other hand, Caratini is looking really good, too, behind the plate and at the plate."

First base (1): The only question here is who will play first when Anthony Rizzo takes a day off. It's tough to get Rizzo to rest -- his goal is to play 162 games -- but he also has seen the benefits when he does get a breather. Ben Zobrist will likely get some playing time at first this spring.

Video: LAA@CHC: La Stella, Rizzo connect to nab Cowart

Second base (2): Zobrist was slowed this spring by a back problem and missed the first 11 games, so Javier Baez has gotten the most playing time there and most likely will do so during the regular season. But Baez had to come out of a game March 8 when he felt a pull in his left hamstring. An MRI showed minimal damage, and the Cubs will be careful. It will be something to keep an eye on.

Video: LAD@CHC: Zobrist on spring debut, Bryant excited

Third base (1): This is Kris Bryant's fourth season, and his spot. The biggest change for Bryant this spring has been working with new infield coach Brian Butterfield, and so far, so good. Bryant just doesn't get to the ballpark as early as Butterfield, who is in camp at 3 a.m. each day.

Shortstop (1): Addison Russell made back-to-back solid plays behind Lester in the lefty's last start Friday, and has looked sharp this spring. Maddon wants to keep Russell in RBI spots in the batting order. Baez is the backup.

Video: Russell on improving in 2018, helping the Cubs win

Utility (2): Versatility is key to winning a spot on Maddon's roster. Ian Happ has shined in center field but can also sub at second base if needed. Happ most likely will share time in center with Albert Almora Jr. The left-handed option on the bench will be Tommy La Stella, who batted a career-high .288 last season. La Stella also can back up Bryant at third.

Outfield (3): Happ and Almora Jr. are expected to share center field with five-time Gold Glove Award winner Jason Heyward in right. The Cubs have seen progress by Heyward this spring as he continues to work on his swing, now with new hitting coach Chili Davis. Heyward has hit a couple balls to left-center. Kyle Schwarber and Zobrist are expected to share left field. A svelte Schwarber needs to avoid the slow start he had last season, which prompted the Cubs to send him to the Minor Leagues in June.

Video: CHC@CLE: Almora Jr. skies a three-run homer to left

Starting pitching (5): The rotation is the envy of most teams. The Cubs have three pitchers who were Opening Day starters last year in Lester, Darvish and Quintana. Hendricks could get that assignment on quite a few teams. And how many teams would like Chatwood as their No. 5 guy? All have looked sharp this spring. The goal is to keep them healthy.

Video: CWS@CHC: Hendricks strikes out seven in four innings

Bullpen (8): Maddon likes to use the word "thick" to describe his bullpen. You could also say it's deep and talented. Right-hander Brandon Morrow is the new closer, the fourth in the last four years, and if he can't go, Maddon feels he has several options, including Pedro Strop, Carl Edwards Jr., Steve Cishek, and Justin Wilson. The Cubs will carry eight relievers, and Justin Grimm, Brian Duensing and Mike Montgomery are on the list.

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat.

Chicago Cubs, Kris Bryant, Willson Contreras, Yu Darvish, Kyle Hendricks, Albert Almora Jr., Jon Lester, Anthony Rizzo, Kyle Schwarber, Ben Zobrist