Pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training on Wednesday, February 14th, and the Chicago Cubs have some decisions to make. There are several position battles to watch as the Cubs get their first reps before the regular season starts in late March.
Spring Training, for some players, is a time to refine their skills and get back into the swing of things. It could also be a time to try out a new skill set someone might have acquired in the offseason (i.e. speed and stealing bases, or a different position). However, for others, Spring Training is a chance to earn their spot on the field for the big league club. The Cubs will have plenty of positional battles heading into Spring Training, and it will be interesting to see how things turn out.
The three main Cubs positional battles to watch in Spring Training are going to happen at first base, third base, and starting pitching.
Cubs Position Battles to Watch in Spring Training
Positions Set in Stone
Before we get to the battles at first base, third base, and the fifth starter spot, it is worth mentioning the positions that will not get any changes. Dansby Swanson and Nico Hoerner will continue to man the middle of the infield. Back-to-back Gold Glove winner Ian Happ will stay in left field. Seiya Suzuki will be the starting right fielder. Finally, Yan Gomes and Miguel Amaya will be the two players behind the dish. The bullpen is also an area the Cubs are comfortable keeping as is.
Now, as mentioned, the three battles the Cubs will be keeping the closest eye on will be first base, third base, and starting pitching. However, center field is a question mark as well. Pete Crow-Armstrong and Mike Tauchman will both be in the running for that starting spot, but the Cubs will most likely go with experience over potential to begin the season.
Cubs First Base Position Battle
According to the depth chart, the Cubs’ only first baseman is Patrick Wisdom. That is not something you should pay attention to. In fact, Wisdom is most likely not going to be in the running to start at first base on Opening Day. The two players to watch in the battle at first base are Michael Busch and Matt Mervis.
The Cubs traded for Michael Busch earlier in the offseason, and it was one of the better moves they made. Busch can play several different positions, but the corner infield spots are his best. He is listed as a third baseman, but he should get the opportunity at first base in Spring Training. Busch made his debut in 2023, but it was a struggle for him. He hit below .200 and struck out 37.5 percent of his at-bats. His Triple-A stats in 2023 were elite, though. He hit .323, slugged .618, launched 27 home runs, and drove in 90 runs. Busch’s potential is what excites the Cubs, and if he plays even close to the way he did in Triple-A, he will be very valuable to the lineup.
Mervis has a lot of hype surrounding him because of his play at the minor-league level. He is definitely someone who will suit up for the Cubs at some point this season, as well. The question is whether or not it will be right out of Spring Training. Mervis has the power potential to hit 30 home runs in the MLB, he just did not show it in 2023. In the minors, Mervis has hit 67 home runs in 302 career games. He has some great raw power, and if he can showcase it in Spring Training, he will be the starter at first base to begin the year.
Cubs Third Base Position Battle
A third baseman was what the Cubs really needed, but they failed to address it in the offseason. However, Michael Busch is a player who can man the hot corner if need be. The real battle will be between Nick Madrigal and Christopher Morel. Wisdom and Luis Vasquez could get an opportunity as well.
— Rich Biesterfeld (@biest22) February 6, 2024
Between Madrigal and Morel, Morel has the better bat. He hit 26 home runs in 107 games last season and finished with an .821 OPS. Morel’s downside is his strikeouts. He had 133 strikeouts last season, which is not good. Madrigal, on the other hand, hit .263 with just 24 strikeouts in 92 games. However, his power output was below par, to say the least. If the battle comes down to the bat Craig Counsell would rather have in the lineup, the answer is Christopher Morel.
In the field, Morel is a super-utility player. He can play anywhere. However, his glove is a little worse than Madrigal’s. Morel has a career .911 fielding percentage at third base for the Cubs while Madrigal had a .977 fielding percentage at the hot corner in 2023, his first year at the position. Defensively, Madrigal is the safer option.
Cubs Starting Pitching Position Battle
The Cubs improved their starting pitching this offseason by adding Shota Imanaga. Their first four spots in the rotation are pretty set because of this. Justin Steele, Kyle Hendricks, Jameson Taillon, and Imanaga are going to be those four. This leaves the fifth spot up for grabs, and there are two pitchers the Cubs should keep an eye on in Spring Training when deciding: Javier Assad and Jordan Wicks.
Assad has appeared in 41 games for the Cubs, including 18 starts. He has a career 3.06 ERA, 1.286 WHIP, and .234 oBA. On paper, Assad does a good job of keeping runners off base and keeping opposing teams from scoring. In his 18 career starts, Assad has allowed more than three earned runs just three times. However, Assad needs to cut down on the walks if he wants to win the fifth spot in the Cubs’ starting rotation.
Wicks made his debut last season, and he quickly made a name for himself. Wicks was 4-1 with a 4.41 ERA and 1.269 WHIP in seven starts in 2023. However, those numbers do not tell the full story. His xERA was 4.07, and he did a great job keeping hitters off the barrel. He induces a lot of weak contact. However, he does not get enough whiffs to be as good as he wants to be in the long term. If Wicks can find a way to miss more bats, he will be in line to win that fifth starter spot.
Photo Credit: © Allan Henry-USA TODAY Sports