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Why Cody Bellinger’s Signing Puts Pressure on Three Cubs Rookies

Whether it can be characterized as excitement, affirmation, or relief, the Chicago Cubs signing of Cody Bellinger earlier this week had an interesting effect on how some positions will look this Spring. Bellinger already poses a strong bat and is a feared run producer in the Cubs lineup. His .881 OPS and team-leading 26 home runs will be valued throughout the season. Add to this his plus defensive ability at not one but two defensive positions, centerfield and first base. Therefore, it should be easy for Craig Counsel to pencil him in the defensive lineup every day, barring any injury issues.

Wherever Bellinger doesn’t play, there will be some platooning with other young players on the roster. At least half of the positions are set based on career statistics. Barring injury, Dansby Swanson, Nico Hoerner, Ian Happ, and Seiya Suzuki will play 150 games this season. With the addition of Bellinger, how will the lineup and roster look now that “Belli” is back? Even more interesting is that the intrigue might be about who hits the best: Pete Crow-Armstrong, Matt Mervis, or Michael Busch. Let’s look at the latest projections with Opening Day in Arlington just over five weeks away.


Bellinger’s contract was such a win/win for the Cubs because it would still allow flexibility in developing one of the prizes of their farm system, Pete Crow-Armstrong. Spring training will allow PCA to impress and show he can be more than just a defensive replacement. Already, Crow-Armstrong has shown in his young career that he could immediately be a Gold Glove winner in center field. The Cubs are hoping that his bat will catch up to his glove and legs.

If PCA doesn’t pan out during this month, Mike Tauchman proved last season that he can play a suitable centerfield in games when Bellinger is at first base. It seems likely that Bellinger will split games evenly between the two positions. If this holds, Tauchman should still get over 200 at-bats between his time in centerfield and on days when Happ or Suzuki needs a day off. But if PCA hits in Arizona, it could preclude Bellinger from more at-bats while playing first base.

First Base

Speaking of first base, the Cubs are even more unproven there than in centerfield. Behind Bellinger is a cast of players with potential but only a little to show for it on the major league level. Matt Mervis, Patrick Wisdom, Michael Busch, and even Christopher Morel could see time at first. However, these options have yet to be able to hit the ball consistently during their major league time. Last year, those four had a combined 0.6 WAR, with Morel at a 1.2 WAR. Bellinger’s bat and glove are the best options at first.

The question this Spring is how much rope Matt Mervis and Michael Busch will get at first. Busch is 1-2 in four games, and Mervis is 1-6. Yes, it is early, but I’m sure Craig Counsell, Jed Hoyer, and the rest of the Cubs brass would love to see one of these prospects get hot and force the club to give them more at-bats once the season starts. There’s no doubt Bellinger remains the best option at first base. But who plays when Bellinger is in center field? That’s what the Cubs hope to answer before they visit Arlington on March 28.

Main Photo Credits: Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports


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