While the major league club tries to figure out exactly what it is going to be and who is going to fill certain positions, the various affiliates have their own host of storylines that we will be following in Mesa this spring. The primary topic to keep an eye on is which prospects are assigned to each affiliate. The Cubs have about 125 guys to squeeze into 50 spots at South Bend and Myrtle Beach, then another 75-80 competing for spots in Iowa and Tennessee.
Rotation and relief spots are always among the key position battles, but catcher and middle infield are going to be up for grabs at every level. There will be the occasional first base and third-base competitions, but the Cubs have an abundance of players at the aforementioned spots. After drafting more than 20 pitchers for the third time in four years, earning one of the coveted 22 rotation spots this spring is going to be tough.
The second major storyline for this spring is just exactly how the technology labs are going to impact performance. Instructs began in late January and will run through mid-February, leading right into minor league spring training. That was a change from years past, when the Cubs held instructs in the late fall, and it seemed to provide more momentum to several young prospects.
Even though both Brennen Davis and Jack Patterson went to extended spring training, having a longer developmental runway paid big dividends in 2019. Who will be the next young stars to reap similar benefits this season? Let’s look at that and more as we ask 25 questions about the upcoming minor-league spring training.
1. How much time will lefty relievers Ryan Lawlor and Jordan Minch get in big league camp and is this an audition for later in the year?
2. Will Ryan Jensen, Michael McAvene, and Hunter Bigge end up in Myrtle Beach? Could Chase Strumpf basically skip South Bend to start the year?
3. Are last year’s injured pitchers coming back and where are they coming back to?
4. Is PJ Higgins going to be a catcher, infielder, or both?
5. Is Richard Gallardo good enough to debut in the Midwest League at 18 this summer?
6. What did Kohl Franklin change about his repertoire this winter?
7. Is 2020 Jack Patterson going to be the same as 2019 Jack Patterson?
8. Did Cam Sanders really add a slider to his arsenal as planned?
9. Will Cole Roederer be all fields guy or a bit pull heavy?
10. How are Jeremiah Estrada and Duncan Robinson bounce back from TJS, if they’re back at all this year?
11. What kind of shape is Oscar De La Cruz in to start camp?
12. How much time will Brennen Davis get with the big boys in Mesa?
13. Can Riley Thompson pick up where he left off in 2019?
14. How are Tyson Miller and Cory Abbott going to adapt to the ball in Triple-A?
15. Is Keegan Thompson good to go for 2020?
16. Where will Erich Uelmen end up, the bullpen or the rotation?
17. Will Aramis Ademan be like the first half or second half version of last year?
18. Will Ronnier Quintero and Kevin Made be assigned to Mesa or the DSL for their Cubs debut?
19. Which high school draft pick from 2019 — Ethan Hearn, DJ Herz, Tyler Schlaffer, or someone else — is going to break out?
20. How many familiar faces will the Cubs part company with?
21. How healthy is Chris Morel to start the year?
22. Which position players will be assigned to South Bend to start the year?
23. Will all the changes the Cubs made in the structure of the system this winter pay off quickly or over time?
24. Just how good is Bryce Windham’s bat?
25. Is this the year masher Alex Guerra puts it together?
I could keep going, but I am going to stop right here…for now. It is going to be fun to watch the answers to these and other questions materialize over the next 4-6 weeks.