MESA, Ariz. – Another big round of spring training cuts 10 days before the opener brought the Cubs’ Opening Day roster into nearly full focus – with right-hander Neil Ramirez the frontrunner for the 25th roster spot.
“Neil’s pitched really well, and he might actually force us to do something,” manager Joe Maddon said. “But we’re still discussing it. It’s not done yet.”
Ramirez, whose upper-90s fastball and 1.44 ERA as a rookie in 2014 gave way to an injury-plagued 2015, is out of options, which means the Cubs must place him on waivers if he doesn’t make the club.
The 25th roster spot has long been a matter of taking a fifth bench player or an eighth reliever.
That decision appears all but made given the six position players that were assigned to minor-league camp among the nine cuts of non-roster players Friday morning: infielders Kris Negron and Jesus Guzman, and outfielders Matt Murton, John Andreoli, Albert Almora and Juan Perez.
Among healthy position players in camp not already locked into roster spots, that left middle infielder Munenori Kawasaki as a potential roster candidate, but Maddon reiterated Friday that it likely would take an injury for the otherwise impressive Kawasaki to make the team.
Outfielder Matt Szczur, who like Ramirez is out of options, also remains in camp.
The three pitchers cut Friday: Jean Machi, Brandon Gomes and Ryan Williams.
That left 36 players in camp, including injured players such as veteran outfielder Shane Victorino, who has agreed to continue rehab through extended spring. Assuming a successful process and he proves fitness and strength, he may then have to decide whether to accept a Class AAA assignment with an eventual shot at a big-league spot.
Projecting Ramirez as the 25th man, the Opening Day roster would look like this:
Starting pitchers: RHP Jake Arrieta, LHP Jon Lester, RHP John Lackey, RHP Jason Hammel, RHP Kyle Hendricks.
Bullpen: RHP Hector Rondon, RHP Pedro Strop, RHP Justin Grimm, RHP Adam Warren, RHP Trevor Cahill, LHP Travis Wood, LHP Clayton Richard, RHP Neil Ramirez.
Catchers: Miguel Montero, David Ross, Kyle Schwarber (also LF).
Infielders: 1B Anthony Rizzo, 2B Ben Zobrist, 3B Kris Bryant, SS Addison Russell, 2B/3B Tommy La Stella, IF/OF Javy Baez.
Outfielders: RF Jason Heyward, CF Dexter Fowler, LF/RF Jorge Soler.