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Where the Cubs' roster battles currently stand

@MLBastian
March 17, 2020

Canceling Spring Training has also put a series of roster competitions on hold for the Cubs. Here is a look at where things stand with the North Siders' roster battles and what to expect when baseball activities resume. Fifth starter Candidates: Tyler Chatwood, Alec Mills Favorite: Chatwood Early in camp,

Canceling Spring Training has also put a series of roster competitions on hold for the Cubs. Here is a look at where things stand with the North Siders' roster battles and what to expect when baseball activities resume.

Fifth starter
Candidates: Tyler Chatwood, Alec Mills
Favorite: Chatwood

Early in camp, Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy made it known that Chatwood was positioned well to claim the lone vacancy at the back of the rotation. Nothing changed throughout camp, even with both Chatwood and Mills impressing on the mound. Recently, Cubs manager David Ross noted that Chatwood remained in the lead for that job, noting that Mills (out of Minor League options) would move to the bullpen in that scenario.

Four bullpen spots
Candidates: Rex Brothers, Dillon Maples, Trevor Megill, Mills, Brandon Morrow, Casey Sadler, Ryan Tepera, Duane Underwood Jr., Brad Wieck, Dan Winkler
Favorites: Mills, Sadler, Tepera, Winkler

The delayed start to the season could help Wieck catch up to the rest of the relievers, following a heart procedure in late February. Still, every precaution will be taken on that front, so it's too early to suggest he is fully back in the projected bullpen picture. Morrow has also dealt with a few injury setbacks this spring, which means it would be surprising if he opened the season in the Majors.

Ross has raved about what he has seen from Tepera and Winkler, adding that their big league experience helps their cause. Sadler has also turned heads in camp, making him a leading contender for a job. Mills, Sadler and Underwood are each out of Minor League options. Megill is in camp as a Rule 5 Draft pick, which has to be taken into consideration as well.

Right now, the four virtual locks for jobs include Jeremy Jeffress, Craig Kimbrel, Kyle Ryan and Rowan Wick.

Center field
Candidates: Albert Almora Jr., Ian Happ
Favorite: Happ

Almora arrived to camp with an adjusted swing and clear head after a trying 2019. He posted an .840 OPS in 29 Cactus League at-bats. Happ, who dealt with a demotion to Triple-A Iowa last year, also looked solid in the batter's box this spring (1.315 OPS in 27 at-bats). Happ's switch-hitting ability and offensive ceiling give him an edge, with Almora perhaps being a better fit as a part-time starter or defensive option off the bench.

There is a chance that Almora and Happ are placed in some sort of timeshare in center based on matchups. Then again, Jason Heyward can man center, if needed, and Ross has given Steven Souza Jr. a test run in center this spring, too. If Happ wins the regular role, the Cubs could also elect to have Almora get regular at-bats at Triple-A to start the season.

Second base
Candidates: David Bote, Daniel Descalso, Nico Hoerner, Jason Kipnis
Favorite: Unclear

The question that needs to be answered here still is whether the Cubs want to hand the keys to a regular MLB job over to the 22-year-old Hoerner, their top prospect according to MLB Pipeline. If the team feels he is better served by fine-tuning some developmental tasks at Triple-A at the front end of the season, then a combination of Bote and Kipnis to begin 2020 might be the way to go. Descalso is also in this mix, but his fit might be more in a bench capacity.

26th man
Candidates: Almora, Bote, Descalso, Kipnis, Ian Miller, Josh Phegley, Souza
Favorite: Unclear

Ross has made it clear that the final bench job will be directly impacted by the decisions at second base and in center field. Once there is more clarity in those areas, the bench jobs will be easier to slot in. Depending on how that shakes out, Ross' choices will include a solid defender in the outfield (Almora), a utility man (Bote and/or Descalso), a platoon bat with some pop for the outfield (Souza) or infield (Kipnis), an impact baserunning threat (Miller) or a third catcher (Phegley).

Jordan Bastian covers the Cubs for MLB.com. He previously covered the Indians from 2011-18 and the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian.