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Inbox: Will Montgomery get chance to start?

Beat reporter Carrie Muskat answers fans' questions
MLB.com @CarrieMuskat

CHICAGO -- Mike Montgomery, Albert Almora Jr., the outfield and pitching prospects are among the topics in the latest Cubs Inbox.

Montgomery has proven to be a reliable starter. Sure, he's good when it comes to the bullpen, but with the Cubs' ever expanding bullpen and farm system, the need for Montgomery to be exclusively in the bullpen is starting to diminish. Do you see Montgomery ever taking a starting role in the upcoming years?
-- Aaron B., Fairport, N.Y.

CHICAGO -- Mike Montgomery, Albert Almora Jr., the outfield and pitching prospects are among the topics in the latest Cubs Inbox.

Montgomery has proven to be a reliable starter. Sure, he's good when it comes to the bullpen, but with the Cubs' ever expanding bullpen and farm system, the need for Montgomery to be exclusively in the bullpen is starting to diminish. Do you see Montgomery ever taking a starting role in the upcoming years?
-- Aaron B., Fairport, N.Y.

Absolutely. And if the Cubs don't add another pitcher this offseason, Montgomery may be starting in April. The lefty was 5-5 with a 4.15 ERA in 14 starts last season and posted a 2.49 ERA in 30 relief appearances. With Brian Duensing returning to the bullpen to join Justin Wilson, the Cubs may feel that's all the left-handed relievers they need. Other lefty options for the 'pen include Dario Alvarez, Randy Rosario and Rob Zastryzny. The Cubs have said Montgomery would get stretched out and start in Spring Training and then go to the bullpen, but the front office may alter those plans if they can't find a fifth starter.

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Last spring, manager Joe Maddon said he believed Montgomery could be a 10-game winner on an annual basis.

"I've told him that -- 10 to 15 [wins] is within his abilities," Maddon said last February. "That comes with fastball command and knowing what to do with his breaking pitches. He's got really high-quality stuff. If he understands how to utilize the other things he's doing, the sky's the limit."

Video: CIN@CHC: Montgomery fans four in scoreless gem

I don't sense a great deal of excitement about the young arms in the Cubs' system. I know they're trying to develop pitching internally, and I'm hoping they begin to have success there. Please give me three names of current Cubs prospects you believe could be in the big league rotation three years from now.
-- Kyle R., San Antonio, Texas

Three years from now, I believe Duane Underwood Jr., Oscar De La Cruz, and Adbert Alzolay could be in the rotation. Underwood, 23, was 13-7 in 25 games (24 starts) with a 4.43 ERA at Double-A Tennessee. Here's Cubs player development director Jaron Madison on Underwood: "He has Major League weapons and has matured a lot this past year."

Video: Top Prospects: Duane Underwood, RHP, Cubs

De La Cruz, 22, ranked No. 1 by MLB Pipeline among the Cubs' Top 30 Prospects, was 4-3 with a 3.46 ERA in 12 starts last season at Class A Advanced Myrtle Beach. No. 3 prospect Alzolay, 22, was 7-1 with a 2.98 ERA at Myrtle Beach and made seven starts at Double-A. By the way, 21 of Chicago's Top 30 Prospects are pitchers.

"I think those waves are coming," Madison said of the Cubs' pitching prospects. "It's just a matter of staying healthy and doing everything we can to develop these guys."

Why isn't Almora seriously considered for the leadoff spot? He has speed and hits for a high average. I've heard he's platooned because he doesn't hit right-handers well, but his stats are better against right-handers than his replacements.
-- Harold H., Greeneville, Tenn.

At this point, everybody is being considered a leadoff candidate. Yes, Almora does have the speed and is a good baserunner. Last season, he batted .342 against lefties compared to .271 against right-handers. I'm not sure which "replacements" you're talking about (Jon Jay batted .289 vs. right-handers, Ian Happ .243), but I know Almora could get more playing time against right-handers this year depending on the final roster makeup and matchups that the stats geeks feel would favor him. He did bat leadoff in 10 games last season, and posted a slash line of .294/.294/.412 with zero walks.

Video: TOR@CHC: Almora Jr. hits a bases-clearing double

Any idea as to what the Cubs' outfield may look like in 2018?
-- Dan W., Germantown, Tenn.

As of today, you've got Almora, Kyle Schwarber, Jason Heyward, Ben Zobrist and Happ in the outfield. What combination will Maddon use? That will depend on several variables, including that day's pitcher, where the Cubs are playing and who's hot. All are versatile, which gives Maddon lots of options.

What is the status of the Cubs' baseball cable TV network?
-- Bud K., Manteno, Ill.

At the Cubs Convention, president of business operations Crane Kenney said they could begin their own television network after the 2019 season when their contracts with NBC Sports Chicago, ABC-7 and WGN-9 end.

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, Albert Almora Jr., Mike Montgomery