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Projecting the Cubs’ Opening Day 26-man roster

The Cubs have a week to decide who will break camp with the team to face the Pirates on April 1.

John Antonoff/Chicago Sun-Times

The Cubs have a week to decide who’s going to break camp with the team before heading to Wrigley Field to face the Pirates next Thursday. There haven’t been many roster battles during camp, and there are a few that likely will be resolved over the final days of spring training.

The roster that starts the season is never the one that finishes it and with injuries, trades, promotions and demotions, there shouldn’t be too much made of who’s on and who’s not — especially coming off a shortened 60-game season. Here’s the Cubs’ projected 26-man Opening Day roster:

Starters (5): Kyle Hendricks, Jake Arrieta, Zach Davies, Trevor Williams, Alec Mills

The Cubs’ starting rotation came into spring training with several question marks about who would start behind Opening Day starter Kyle Hendricks and how they would perform with a few of the team’s starters coming off less than stellar seasons.

The rotation not only has gotten through the spring healthy, but the group also has pitched well. While the team brought Jake Arrieta along slowly to begin camp, the veteran right-hander has gotten better with each start and has shown the ability to get outs with a different repertoire than during his first stint in Chicago.

The Cubs will have an extra minor-league option on right-hander Adbert Alzolay, and while the team’s roster is not yet set, they could manage Alzolay’s innings in the first month of the season by starting him at the team’s alternate site. Alzolay will be on the roster when the season ends, but starting on the Opening Day roster is beginning to look remote.

Relievers (8): Craig Kimbrel, Andrew Chafin, Jason Adam, Ryan Tepera, Dan Winkler, Brandon Workman, Shelby Miller, Brad Wieck

The bullpen was a strength for the Cubs late in the 2020 season. With some additions to a group that is basically the same, the hope is that they can be even better.

Brandon Workman is one of those additions, and with Rowan Wick expected to begin the season on the injured list, Workman will be called upon to be the Cubs’ primary high-leverage guy from the right side.

Shelby Miller arguably has had the best spring of any player in Cubs camp, and after opting out of last season, the 30-year-old has pitched well enough to potentially earn a spot in the pen as the team’s swingman. Miller has a 1.00 ERA in nine innings this spring with five walks and 12 strikeouts.

Catchers (2): Willson Contreras, PJ Higgins

This one is a no-brainer. Willson Contreras will be the Cubs’ Opening Day catcher in 2021 and get back to being one of MLB’s premier catchers.

What is in question is who will be Contreras’ backup to start the season. The Cubs signed Austin Romine to be the team’s primary backup, but after sustaining a right knee sprain that has held him out of game action since March 6, minor-leaguer PJ Higgins likely will get his first shot at playing in the big leagues.

Infielders (6): Anthony Rizzo, Nico Hoerner, Javy Baez, Kris Bryant, David Bote, Eric Sogard

The biggest storyline this spring outside of the impending free agency of Javy Baez, Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant has been the battle for the second-base job. Nico Hoerner appeared to have the inside track after his hot start, but David Bote’s torrid stretch in the second half of the spring made it a true competition.

Both have likely done enough with the bat and the glove to make the Opening Day roster. The Cubs added Eric Sogard late in camp to provide depth, but with an offensive profile as a high-contact player with versatility, Sogard makes sense as an option off the bench.

Outfielders (5): Jason Heyward, Ian Happ, Joc Pederson, Jake Marisnick, Cameron Maybin

Joc Pederson has looked like he’s had something to prove all spring. Pederson has hit five homers with a robust 1.225 OPS in 15 games, and after signing with the Cubs late in the offseason, there are probably several teams wishing they would have given the left fielder a call.

Pederson will line up with Ian Happ and Jason Heyward in the outfield, and while his career splits against left-handers are rough, the Cubs are giving him an opportunity to face both right- and left-handers.

Jake Marisnick has shaken off a calf injury from earlier this spring and played well in limited action. He’ll take over as the Cubs’ fourth outfielder this season. Cameron Maybin joined the Cubs late last season, and the team values the leadership he brings in the clubhouse and on the field. Not having the universal designated hitter will provide Maybin with several opportunities for at-bats during the season.