The Cubs announced Friday that they have invited 19 non-roster players to big league spring training, which opens when pitchers and catchers report on Wednesday, February 14 at Sloan Park in Mesa, AZ. The team’s first full-squad workout will take place five days later, though many players have been at the facility for a while now.
There are 11 pitchers among the NRIs: right-handers Colten Brewer, Chris Clarke, Carl Edwards Jr., Sam McWilliams, Ethan Roberts, Cam Sanders, and Riley Thompson; then lefties Edwin Escobar, Richard Lovelady, Thomas Pannone, and Brad Wieck. Several familiar names in that mix, with Wieck standing out because he hasn’t pitched professionally since 2021.
A cancer scare and recurring heart issues kept Wieck from fulfilling his potential as a towering lefty with a big fastball, but maybe he’ll finally be able to put it all together. And who did the Cubs trade to the Padres in 2019 to acquire Wieck? That’s right, it was none other than Carl’s Jr. The Stringbean Slinger struggled for several seasons, but did well in Washington after learning to trust his changeup.
As for the new guys, I really like what I’ve seen from Lovelady in a brief sample and I think the Cubs are high on Escobar. Both players have flashed potential in the past and have been limited by injuries or other performance issues, though bullpens are filled with dudes getting third and fourth chances.
I’m also pulling hard for Roberts, who’s one of the best dudes around and was the feel-good story of the early season when he broke camp with the big club in 2022. He has busted his ass to get back from elbow reconstruction and has the kind of bulldog mentality and nasty stuff you love to see.
As for the position players, the Cubs have invited infielders David Bote, Matt Shaw, and Chase Strumpf. Owen Caissie is the only non-roster outfielder, but there are four catchers: Jorge Alfaro, Pablo Aliendo, Joe Hudson, and Bryce Windham.
Bote has been a forgotten man unless you read the Facebook comments every time the Cubs have issues at third base. Cassie and Shaw should be fun to watch, just don’t expect even standout performances to be rewarded with a roster spot. The same goes for any of the catchers unless there’s an injury to one of the two primary backstops.
The bullpen is going to be the group to keep an eye on, particularly when you factor in the guys on the 40-man who are in limbo when it comes to the rotation. This could end up being a really strong unit under the tutelage of Craig Counsell, who has proven he knows a thing or two about managing pitching staffs.