Assad's Classic ascension earns him bullpen role

Cubs solidify bench depth, award Torrens, Mastrobuoni roster spots

March 27th, 2023

MESA, Ariz. -- Leaving to pitch in the World Baseball Classic had the potential to hurt 's chances of competing for an Opening Day roster spot. The rookie's stint with Team Mexico wound up strengthening his case.

On Monday, Cubs manager David Ross announced that Assad would be a part of the Opening Day bullpen as a multi-inning reliever. The North Siders saw Assad pitch without fear down the stretch last season, but he showed more poise and improvement this preseason.

"He's pretty unflappable," Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said. "He certainly earned the job. And I think in some ways he earned the job, in part, with how he threw in the WBC. That certainly opened everyone's eyes and made it clear that, in short bursts like that, he can be really effective."

Between Cactus League play and the Classic this spring, Assad turned in a 1.42 ERA with 12 strikeouts and three walks in 12 2/3 innings. He came out of the bullpen for Mexico and had impressive showings against the United States and Puerto Rico.

Assad was initially in the hunt for the lone opening in the Cubs' rotation -- a job that went to -- but his performance this spring put him on the radar for a relief job. Ross began envisioning the righty in a bridge role between the starters and late-inning arms.

"What he was doing in the WBC in that environment," Ross said, "coming out of the 'pen, for me, it reminded me a lot of  and what he did for us last year during the season."

Torrens, Mastrobuoni win bench jobs
The makeup of Chicago's planned bench came into focus on Sunday, when Hoyer noted that both catcher and utility man were informed they would be part of the Opening Day roster.

Torrens will serve as a third catcher behind veterans and , while offering power off the bench for pinch-hitting and more depth as a backup infielder. The 26-year-old catcher has played in parts of five MLB seasons with the Padres and Mariners, with his best season coming in 2021 (15 homers and 102 OPS+).

There was language in Torrens' non-roster deal that made it probable that the Cubs would lose him to another team if he was not added to the roster.

"He's an interesting guy," Hoyer said. "That's obviously why we're keeping him. ... The way he can catch and throw, the power he has, there's a lot of reasons to like him."

The Cubs acquired the 27-year-old Mastrobuoni in a Nov. 15 trade with the Rays. He can play second, short and third, and also has experience in the outfield. The lefty-hitting Mastrobuoni hit .300/.377/.469 with 16 homers, 32 doubles and 23 steals in Triple-A last year.

"I just love the baseball player," Ross said. "The consistency of the at-bat. I talk a lot about calmness with these guys and approach and plate discipline. He's got a lot of those things that make for a really good, versatile player."

Morel heading to Triple-A Iowa
The lengthy list of offseason additions left auditioning for a bench job this spring. The Cubs decided that the 23-year-old Morel will benefit from playing regularly with Triple-A Iowa to start the season, rather than being used sporadically as a utility man. Morel was optioned on Monday.

"He's the nicest kid in the world. He's super upbeat, respectful," Hoyer said. "It was just like, 'Hey, you're just not going to play every day here, and that's not the best thing for your development. And when we do call on you, we want you to play. So, go get a lot of at-bats and when we need you and you're playing great, we'll bring you up.'

"I just think for the role that he was likely to be in for us, it didn't make a lot of sense."

Opening Day bullpen notes
• Besides Assad, is expected to be in the Cubs' bullpen. The rest of the cast projects to include veterans and , along with and .

Thompson also projects to be in the bullpen, but the Cubs have closely been monitoring his drop in velocity this spring.

• There is a strong chance that lefty (left knee inflammation) opens the season on the injured list. If that is the case, non-roster righty , who was effective against lefties last year, could be in line for a job.

• Righty  cleared waivers and was sent outright to Triple-A Iowa on Monday. That vacates a spot on the 40-man roster for the Cubs.