Opening Day roster projection: How the Cubs could navigate injuries, short spring training

The Cubs open the season against the Brewers on April 7 at Wrigley Field.

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Cubs catcher Willson Contreras and the rest of his team are less than a week away from opening day.

Cubs catcher Willson Contreras and the rest of his team are less than a week away from opening day.

John Antonoff/Sun-Times

MESA, Ariz. — The Cubs played the Brewers in one of a pair of split-squad games on Friday, less than a week before they face the Brewers at Wrigley Field for Opening Day. 

In the other game, veteran Kyle Hendricks took the mound against the Diamondbacks. Though manager David Ross hasn’t yet named his Opening Day starter, Hendricks appears to be the favorite, especially after the Cubs scheduled right-hander Marcus Stroman’s next start for a minor-league game Sunday. That lines up Stroman to start the Cubs’ -second game on a regular five-day schedule. 

With bits and pieces of an Opening Day preview playing out around Arizona, it’s a good time for a Sun-Times Opening Day -roster projection. 

“The 7th is an important day from a player’s perspective when you get to be a part of Opening Day,” Ross said. “I don’t take that for granted and understand all that, being on the team and breaking camp. 

“But there’s also a sense of, we have six months of baseball to play and a unique spring training and unique offseason that we need to be aware of.”

This year, readiness will be a bigger -factor than in seasons past. So, keeping in mind that injuries, performance, or a late trade in the last week of the spring could upend this prediction, here’s one way the Cubs could use their 28 active roster spots to open the -season:

Starting pitchers (5)

RHP Kyle Hendricks

RHP Marcus Stroman

LHP Justin Steele

RHP Alec Mills

LHP Drew Smyly

• Lefty Wade Miley is expected to begin the season on the injured list — the Cubs have shut him down from throwing for 10 days because of elbow inflammation. When he returns, they could move Mills, who has experience in a swingman role, or even Steele into the bullpen as a multi-inning reliever.

Relievers (10)

RHP Keegan Thompson 

LHP Daniel Norris 

RHP Jesse Chavez (non-roster invite) 

RHP Michael Rucker 

RHP Scott Effross

RHP Mychal Givens

RHP Manuel Rodríguez

RHP Rowan Wick

RHP Chris Martin

RHP David Robertson

• The Cubs, along with every team in Major League Baseball, get two extra roster spots to begin the season. With the short spring, and starters not having as much time to build up to their normal workloads, those spots will likely go to pitchers. Thompson, Norris, Chavez and Rucker have all logged multi-inning outings this spring, which will come in especially handy early on.

Catchers (2)

Willson Contreras

Yan Gomes

• After using eight backup catchers last season, the Cubs are poised to enter the season with a consistent backup for Contreras. Between Gomes’ signing just before the lockout, and the designated hitter coming to the National League, the Cubs have options to keep Contreras’ legs fresh.

Infielders (5)

1B Frank Schwindel

2B Nick Madrigal

SS/2B/OF  Nico Hoerner

3B Patrick Wisdom

3B/2B/SS Jonathan Villar

• It’s looking less likely by the day that shortstop Andrelton Simmons (right-shoulder soreness) will be ready for Opening Day. Not carrying six infielders would pose a risk, one that was crystal clear when the Cubs held Madrigal out of the lineup Friday, citing leg fatigue and a precautionary approach. So, it might not be the most likely situation. Versatile Ildemaro Vargas would be a strong choice to add infield depth. But if the Cubs did put five infielders on their Opening Day roster, the move would free up a spot for another outfielder.

Outfielders (6)

LF Ian Happ

CF Jason Heyward

RF Seiya Suzuki

OF Clint Frazier

OF Michael Hermosillo

OF Rafael Ortega

• Suzuki, Heyward and Happ are in position to claim spots on the Opening Day roster. Depending on how Happ’s recovery from an elbow procedure in February continues to go, the Cubs could also use the DH spot to lighten his load on the field. That leaves a tight competition for the remaining spots. The Cubs will have to decide whether to prioritize infield depth or keep their full outfield group.

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