Spring Training will start on time this year. This means the Chicago Cubs will face-off versus the Los Angeles Dodgers on February 27th. Chicago will definitely need these games to solve their roster situation. There are several holes on the roster that will need to be filled. Unless they make some late additions to the team, they’ll have to rely on some players to step up into bigger roles. Here are some players that could have a breakout season for the 2021 Chicago Cubs.
1. Adbert Alzolay (SP)
It is finally time for Adbert Alzolay to be handed a spot in the rotation. Chicago lost Jose Quintana, Jon Lester, and Tyler Chatwood to free agency. That along with the Yu Darvish trade, leaves them looking for new answers for starting pitching. Alzolay has had multiple outings with the team already, but is still considered a prospect. It is the perfect time for him to take advantage of his opportunities and play his way onto the Opening Day roster. He could be in store for a productive rookie season.
Alzolay has been with the Cubs organization since 2013. He came over from Venezuela and has been a project for the team ever since. It has taken him some time to work his way up in the minors. The right-hander has the potential to be a solid starter in the MLB, and is more prepared than any other Cubs’ pitching prospect right now. Chicago used him as an emergency option last season. He got the nod in four games, which were usually the back-half of doubleheaders.
In a very small sample size, Alzolay has an ERA of 4.54. However, he managed to lower that to a 2.95 in 21 1/3 innings pitched in 2020. It’d be very surprising to see him left off the roster to begin the season. He would have to really struggle in Spring Training. Brailyn Marquez and Kohl Franklin would be the only other prospects that pose as competition for Alzolay, in a farm system that has struggled to develop solid pitching.
2. Nico Hoerner (2B)
Nico Hoerner’s breakout season was supposed to be 2020. Unfortunately, with a shortened season and a lack of at-bats, he couldn’t really get anything going. Hoerner brought a lot of excitement to the team when he first debuted in 2019. The Cubs hope he can rekindle that energy. He is still a developing player, but it’s not likely that the Cubs send him back to the minors. He will just have to improve with experience at the MLB level.
His usage should be increased because he won’t be sharing time with Jason Kipnis, who has yet to be signed in free agency. This will help him settle into a more comfortable role. Second base has been a weak spot for Chicago, since the departure of Ben Zobrist. It is now Hoerner’s job to bring stability back to the position. He has been held to high expectations after being selected in the first round of the 2018 MLB draft.
Like all young players there has been setbacks, but he has shown some promise at the plate. Hoerner is more of a contact hitter. He will probably feature towards the bottom of the batting order, at least until he manages to consistently get himself into better counts. As a Cub, he has hit .247./.309/.333 in 208 at-bats. Expect for him to get more at-bats than he tallied in his two previous seasons combined. This should give him the opportunity to have a breakout season.
3. Miguel Amaya (C)
Some Cubs fans may not be aware of Miguel Amaya yet, but they will be soon enough. Amaya is one of the organizations’ top prospects. He could be the future at catcher, depending on what happens with Willson Contreras. There has been rumors that Contreras has been included in trade talks. If that is the case, Amaya’s time could come sooner than expected.
The 21-year old catcher is from Panama. He has been in the Cubs system since the age of 17. While he won’t offer the same explosiveness at the plate as Contreras, Amaya does have all the intangibles needed to be a productive backstop. MLB Pipeline projects him to make an appearance this year. This makes sense because most teams try to have three catchers ready to go at all times. As of right now, Chicago only has Contreras and Austin Romine.
It is a long season. It’s very likely that Amaya makes his debut, solely because of Chicago’s lack of depth at the position. Catcher is not a spot that anybody can play. He may get several opportunities to shine, especially if there is any unforeseen trades or injuries. Amaya is a work in progress, but he could come out of nowhere and surprise some people this season.
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