Minor League Baseball is going to happen this year. Regardless of whether the major leagues play or not, the Cubs are going to suit up 180 guys to play stateside in Iowa, Tennessee, South Bend, Myrtle Beach, and Mesa. With spring training less than a month away, here are a few key items I’ll be looking for in the next two months leading up to the season.
1. The Return of the Injured
The Cubs lost several players to injury last year who wound up missing most or all of the season. Many of them were of the pitching variety, but they were a few position players as well. How they bounce back this spring is going to be a key concern as well as how they are used. Will the starting pitchers return to being starters? Will they end up in the bullpen? Will all the position players coming back get in the field right away or will they DH? Finding out just how healthy they are and what the Cubs allow them to do is going to be the main storylines in Mesa.
2. Who Goes Where
Heading into 2022, the Cubs have an abundance of depth at starting pitching and in the outfield. Finding out who is at which affiliate for spring training should give us a preview of the upcoming season.
3. Younger Guys Getting in Big League Games
The Cubs have been known to allow young 19 and 20-year-old prospects to get in the spring training games. Should the lockout end in time for games, it will be interesting to see which prospects the Cubs put in the lineup. Will we get to see Owen Caissie, Kevin Alcântara, and James Triantos see some action?
4. Time Out of Camp
Building off of number 3, Brennen Davis and a few other players should hardly be in minor league camp at all if the lockout ends. Seeing which other players besides Davis log a lot of game days with the major league club should be interesting. Caleb Killian is one name who should see a lot of work as well as Ethan Roberts, Ben Leeper, and Cayne Ueckert. We might even see Brandon Hughes get a some work in with the big league club as well.
5. It Is Time for Something New
There’s always one or two guys who switch positions every year. I always find it fascinating when that happens and this year is no different. We do know that Bryce Windham, after playing a lot of second base last summer, is back at catcher. What other players are going to move around the diamond?
6. Staying Behind
When spring training ends, some players are going to stay in extended spring training as a precautionary measure. I don’t expect that to be position players, but several pitchers who are working their way back from Tommy John or other ailments could stay another month to get some work in the warm Arizona sun.
7. Cristian Hernandez
My interest is really piqued as to where Hernandez is going to end up this year. He will be stateside but will he end up in extended spring training or will he get the big bump all the way to Myrtle Beach? My money is on Myrtle Beach as his hitting coach from the DSL is now in Myrtle Beach.
8. Made and Howard
In the second half of 2021, Kevin Made basically took over the shortstop position at Myrtle Beach and Ed Howard moved to second. Will that continue this year at South Bend? Or, will they split time?
9. Coming North
You can always tell which prospects the Cubs value most by who they bring up from the Dominican to spring training. Most of the players that are going to end up in the Arizona Complex League actually don’t come up until spring training is over and they begin playing in extended spring training. But when it comes to players who the Cubs might think are a little more advanced, they will be in Mesa from the get-go. So, in other words, who is going to be joining Cristian Hernandez in Arizona at the beginning of March from the Dominican? Will we see Pedro Ramirez? Will there be an Anderson Suriel? Can Frank Hernandez get a call? Will there be a lot of pitchers along with utility guy Brayan Altuve and catcher Moises Ballesteros?
10. The Business End
The sad part about spring training is that there are always a few players who are let go during or at the end of camp. It’s never easy and it is sad, but it is going to happen. I’ve always thought that they should let them go before spring training so that they have a better chance to latch on with another team. It’s just a cruel way to do things. Thankfully, there are now more independent leagues than ever and these guys can hopefully get a second chance if their time as Cubs come to an end.