Have you ever had a really good idea, either an aha! moment or something you worked hard to develop, only to find that someone else had already done it better? I specifically avoid going to Twitter or reading other Cubs and MLB sites prior to writing for fear of dashing my hopes or because I don’t want to allow outside influences to color my own opinions.
When it comes to the 60-man roster the Cubs have to set by 3pm ET Sunday, however, there’s not exactly a ton of wiggle room. That said, I have to tip my cap to Bryan Smith of Bleacher Nation for putting out a comprehensive breakdown of the 60 players he believes should be named to the initial MLB and taxi squad rosters.
If it were just up to me and my armchair, I think this is how I’d organize things. pic.twitter.com/W3Ntm5R3XY
— Cubs Prospects – Bryan Smith (@cubprospects) June 27, 2020
I replied to him at the time that I think my list would be identical, or at least incredibly similar, but I still felt compelled to break it down for myself and then look at how things could shift once the MLB roster cuts down. For those who haven’t been following the rules for this year, they’ll start with 30 players in Chicago and 30 more at their low-A facility in South Bend. The MLB roster will drop to 28 after two weeks and the standard 26 after four weeks.
In case you’ve been under a rock or are just experiencing Quarantine Brain, yes, there are now 26 men on the regular roster. That expansion was already in place for this season and beyond, so the new accommodations are about easing teams back into play following an abbreviated summer training.
The MLB roster isn’t really much of a puzzle since the Cubs are pretty well set in that regard with maybe one or two exceptions due to the loss of the minor league season. Where things really get interesting is on the taxi squad, which essentially gives teams 20 extra spots to give their top prospects at the lower levels more time to develop against better competition.
We’re talking about recent draft picks and other big names who aren’t yet on the 40-man roster and who otherwise would be stuck continuing with informal solo or small group workouts. While team facilities in Arizona and Florida will eventually open back up to other prospects, the unique rules of this season mean possibly seeing some fresh faces well before their respective times would have otherwise come.
First things first, let’s get to the MLB roster (LHRP):
Rotation: Tyler Chatwood, Yu Darvish, Kyle Hendricks, Jon Lester, José Quintana,
Bullpen: Jeremy Jeffress, Craig Kimbrel, Dillon Maples, Trevor Megill, Alec Mills, Kyle Ryan, Casey Sadler, Rowan Wick, Brad Wieck, Dan Winkler, Duane Underwood Jr.
Infield: Javy Báez, David Bote, Kris Bryant, Nico Hoerner, Jason Kipnis, Anthony Rizzo
Outfield: Albert Almora Jr., Ian Happ, Jason Heyward, Ian Miller, Kyle Schwarber, Steven Souza Jr.
Catcher: Victor Caratini, Willson Contreras
The only difference I had here from Smith is Dan Winkler instead of Adbert Alzolay, who could open the season in the “minors” as a backup starter. While I believe he can have more impact out of the bullpen, the Cubs might want to carry a veteran righty like Winkler and to give a shot to Rule 5 pick Megill before bringing Alzolay up again.
Also of note is that there are only two catchers on this list, which might seem a little odd when you consider that Josh Phegley was a strong candidate to make the 26-man roster out of camp. Carrying 16 pitchers out of the gate squeezes the position-player pool just a bit and the ability to carry up to three taxi players on the road means Phegley is likely among that backup group for the time being.
Because they’ll eventually have to cut down to 13 pitchers, that’s where we’re going to see the most flux. Relievers will naturally be responsible for most of that, perhaps via a streaming process that sees churn to keep as many fresh arms as possible in Chicago. Winkler, Megill, Underwood, and Maples are all on that early bubble.
Whatever happens, I want to see Miller stay with the big club and get a chance to impact games with his legs. While I have a personal affinity for Miller and can’t deny my naked bias here, I’ve been saying for a while that I love how he brings something different to the table.
You may also notice that Daniel Descalso is missing from this group. That’s not an oversight. Hoerner was probably going to open the season in the minors under normal conditions, but the sprint of a season leaves the Cubs with no choice but to roster him and move on from Descalso.
A final note on this is that I’d prefer to see Mills in the rotation with Chatwood working as more of a piggyback starter or high-leverage middle reliever. We saw last year how his velocity played up in that role and having that kind of pitcher could be even more important this season. There’s also the possibility of a trade to shave a little payroll, in which case Chatwood is a likely candidate.
In any case, let’s move on to the Taxi squad:
Starters: Cory Abbott, Alzolay, Tony Danza, Danny DeVito, Ryan Jensen, Brailyn Marquez, Tyson Miller, Colin Rea, Justin Steele, Keegan Thompson
Relievers: Rex Brothers, Burl Carraway, Jharel Cotton, Marilu Henner, Danny Hultzen, Dakota Mekkes, James Norwood, Jack Patterson, Manny Rodriguez, Michael Rucker, Ryan Tepera
Infielders: Robel García, Trent Giambrone, Christopher Lloyd, Alfonso Rivas, Hernán Pérez, Zack Short, Chase Strumpf
Outfielders: Brennen Davis, Andy Kaufman, Cole Roederer, Mark Zagunis
Catchers: Miguel Amaya, P.J. Higgins, Phegley
I should note here that I didn’t dig very deep when it comes to 40-man designations and whatnot, so please save any well-actually commentary for another time. Or, you know, go ahead and comment below since that’s what said section is there for. This layout varies a bit from how Smith presented it, largely because I believe he classified pitchers by how the Cubs would use them in Chicago.
As such, I’ve got Marquez and Steele as starters rather than relievers even though they’d almost certainly operate out of the ‘pen should it come to that. Carraway is really interesting here and I believe he’s got as good a chance as any of the pitchers on this list to throw some meaningful innings in a Cubs uniform this season. Alzolay is another, but he’s more of a known commodity at this point.
Perhaps my biggest struggle with this group was Rex Brothers, who was pitching well this spring and might have actually broken camp with the team had the season continued. Wieck wouldn’t have been ready following a heart ablation procedure early in spring and the Cubs are short on lefty relievers, so Brothers made sense. He still does, in fact, and could earn a spot over Maples or Winkler.
The big thing to remember about this taxi squad is that the primary goal isn’t necessarily to supply the big league club with players. I mean, yes, that’s going to be necessary, but a majority of the players in this group are here almost exclusively for developmental purposes. As great as Davis may end up being, having to rely on him for meaningful production this season would mean something has gone terribly wrong at the MLB level.
As a quick aside before closing, I went back and forth on the esoteric Taxi joke and decided to keep it in there because I figured enough of my demographic would get it to make it worthwhile.