MESA, Ariz. -- Manager Joe Maddon joked that this Spring Training will be more about the coaches than the players as new staff members Jim Hickey, Chili Davis and Brian Butterfield match faces to names and learn the roster. But there are roster decisions to be made as well and
MESA, Ariz. -- Manager Joe Maddon joked that this Spring Training will be more about the coaches than the players as new staff members Jim Hickey, Chili Davis and Brian Butterfield match faces to names and learn the roster. But there are roster decisions to be made as well and some players to keep an eye on.
The Cubs begin Cactus League play on Friday when they travel to Phoenix to face their National League Central rivals, the Brewers. Left-hander Michael Roth, 28, a non-roster invitee who has pitched with the Angels and Rangers, will start Friday while right-hander Eddie Butler, 26, will start in the Cubs' first home game at Sloan Park on Saturday against the Rangers.
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It's been a seamless transition for the new coaches so far.
"There's an immediate comfort level," Maddon said. "Part of it is with these guys, their ego doesn't get in the way."
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While the position players are set and will use the spring games to prepare for the season, there are a few players battling for a spot on the 25-man roster. Here are some names to keep an eye on.
Even though Willson Contreras would start all 162 games if given the chance, the Cubs need a backup catcher. Caratini made a good first impression in his brief time with the big league team last season, and he moved to Arizona this offseason to train at the team complex. The question the Cubs face is whether to have Caratini play once or twice a week in the big leagues or every day with Triple-A Iowa. What's better for his development? Maddon does like to use everyone on the roster, but he also doesn't want to hurt a player's development by having him on the bench too much. Caratini, 24, batted .342 in 83 games at Iowa last season. The other option in camp is veteran Chris Gimenez, a non-roster invitee.
On Tuesday, Alvarez had his first live batting-practice session, and Maddon made a point of running over to see the left-hander pitch. Alvarez, 29, has pitched in relief for the Mets, Braves and Rangers, totaling 48 innings over 56 games. The Cubs are expected to carry eight relievers and Alvarez is a dark-horse candidate to make that list. The reason? His slider. Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein noted how nasty a pitch it was after the team signed the lefty.
The Cubs appear to have plenty of outfielders with Jason Heyward, Albert Almora Jr., Kyle Schwarber, Ian Happ and Benjamin Zobrist. However, Bourjos has a reputation for being a solid defensive player and has speed. Those are two qualities Maddon likes. A right-handed hitter, Bourjos, 30, batted .223 in 100 games with the Rays last season. He's also played for the Angels, Cardinals and Phillies, and has played almost exclusively in center field. In 2013, he was considered one of the top center fielders in the game. Could that be enough to make the Cubs? It'd be a nice homecoming for Bourjos, who was born in Park Ridge, Ill.
Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat.