With Spring Training fast approaching, MLB.com will take a look at a different aspect of this year's Cubs squad each day this week. Today's topic: Predicting the 25-man roster.
MESA, Ariz. -- The defending World Series champion Cubs don't have any major roster decisions to make this spring, other than to figure out who will lead off and which relievers compose the bullpen.
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Versatility is a plus for manager Joe Maddon, who likes to move players around. Not everyone on the Cubs' roster will be asked to play three different positions in one game, which Kristopher Bryant did twice, but being able to play more than one spot could help in determining who will make the final 25. Expect to see Benjamin Zobrist return to his super utility role, moving from second to the outfield. The Cubs will have a new position player in camp, with the return of Kyle Schwarber, who has been rehabbing in Arizona since the end of November.
Who will make the final 25? Here's a breakdown as the Cubs prepare to open camp.
Catchers:Willson Contreras, Miguel Montero
When the Cubs promoted Contreras in mid-June, they decided to carry three catchers for the rest of the season. It worked, as Contreras was able to play left field and got on-the-job training behind the plate. He'll be the regular catcher and continue to get lessons from Montero, 33, who started 64 games, his lowest total since 2008. Pitchers compiled a 3.18 ERA when Montero was catching and, according to Statcast™, he led Cubs catchers with the highest number of pitches outside of the strike zone that were called strikes (545 pitches out of 8,723).
First base:Anthony Rizzo
This is Rizzo's job. Period. Now the longest-tenured Cubs player, Rizzo, 27, is coming off his first National League Gold Glove Award, first NL Silver Slugger Award, and you can expect more acrobatic catches. He finished fourth in the NL Most Valuable Player Award voting, behind Bryant, and he paced the team with a .341 batting average with runners in scoring position. If Rizzo needs a breather, Bryant or Javier Baez can sub.
Second base: Baez, Zobrist
Baez and Zobrist are projected to share second. Baez batted .318 and provided one highlight reel play after another during the NL Championship Series, sharing MVP honors with pitcher Jonathan Lester. Zobrist, 35, may have started in the outfield during the postseason, but Maddon likes the veteran's presence in the infield as well.
Third base: Bryant
After being named Minor League Player of the Year in 2014, Rookie of the Year in '15 and NL MVP last season, Bryant may be aiming for an NL Gold Glove. It's one of the few trophies he doesn't have. The 25-year-old is coming off a spectacular season and has said he's working on hitting the ball more to right field. Look out, NL pitchers.
Russell turned 23 on Jan. 23. He's so young. In his second season, he set career highs in home runs (21) and RBIs (95), nearly giving the Cubs three players with 100-RBIs seasons. Russell is still learning. The Cubs would like to see him improve on his .238 batting average (he did post a .301 clip in the Minors). But because of how well he plays defense and the fact that he ranked second on the team with RBIs with runners in scoring position (74), the Cubs are very happy with Russell's performance. Baez can back him up.
Utility:Matthew Szczur, Thomas La Stella
Szczur is versatile, well-liked by his teammates for his generosity (he loaned his bat to Rizzo during the postseason and his underwear to Russell) and out of options. Whether he makes the final 25-man roster could come down to whether the Cubs want to carry an extra infielder like La Stella or an outfielder.
Outfield: Schwarber, Albert Almora Jr., Jonathan Jay, Jason Heyward
Schwarber is back after tearing two ligaments in his left knee in the third game of the regular season, and he is projected in left field, while Almora and Jay will share center, and NL Gold Glove Award winner Heyward is in right. Expect the Cubs to be careful with the number of games Schwarber plays so as not to aggravate his knee. Zobrist can start in the outfield, and Maddon may move Bryant out there as well.
Starting pitching: Lester, Jacob Arrieta, Kyle Hendricks, John Lackey, Brett Anderson
Four-fifths of the Cubs' stellar rotation from last season returns in Lester, Hendricks, Arrieta and Lackey. Anderson, a free agent who signed in late January, is coming off back surgery, which limited him to four games last season. His longest outing was five innings on Sept. 22. If Anderson is not ready, lefty Mike Montgomery can start.
Bullpen:Wade Davis, Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop, C.J. Edwards, Justin Grimm, Koji Uehara, Caleb Smith, Montgomery
This is the one area that will undergo the most change for the defending champs. The Cubs have hinted that they will carry 13 pitchers because of how Maddon likes to use his bullpen. Davis is the new closer but a familiar face to Maddon because of their time together in Tampa Bay. Will Smith, a Rule 5 Draft pick, stick? Settling on the right combination will be the main focus in Spring Training.