Cole Roederer picture by Todd Johnson
When the South Bend Cubs begin play on April 8, they’re going to have a few familiar faces for the faithful to gaze upon. Cole Roederer, Kohl Franklin, and possibly Riley Thompson could begin the 2022 season in northern Indiana along with Michael McAvene and Josh Burgmann. The affiliate could basically be rehab central for the Cubs’ minor league system. How those five players are treated and used is going to have a huge impact on South Bend and possibly Tennessee later in the summer.
Injuries are probably the worst thing about the minor league system. Some guys are able to come back, pick up where they left off, and continue on their journey to the majors. For other players, it can be a huge bump to get over both mentally and physically. Throw in a pandemic and you have players that will not have played for almost 30 months on April 8. That’s a huge amount of time that has been missed. That’s a lot of competitive games, ABs, and innings pitched missed. When Kohl Franklin last pitched in September 2019, he was just 19. Now he is 22.
When Cole Roederer shows up on opening day, he might be the most motivated player on the field in South Bend. He did not even get to play two weeks of baseball last spring before he was shut down for the year and then underwent Tommy John Surgery. He now looks to be close to being ready out in Mesa now. The Cubs probably have a lot of options on how they could bring him back into an every day role. He could play the outfield every other day and then DH to give his arm a rest. Or he could play one day and then DH for two that first month or so that way his arm is not being taxed as much. We might also see Cole move off centerfield and play some more left until he’s given the green light to play every day. Then again, he might be 100% and ready to go from day one. He sure looks close!
Innings and Usage
Because of the amount of time missed, I’ll be interested to see just exactly how the Cubs handle the aforementioned pitchers and use them every six days. There are more questions than answers at this point. Pitch counts and innings limits will most definitely be the order of the day. It is likely that most of them will start off slowly throwing just a couple of innings a start. They may end up being a piggyback starter for each other considering that South Bend will probably already have some solid pitching with DJ Herz, Jordan Wicks, Daniel Palencia, Richard Gallardo, and Manny Espinoza.
It is not 100% that Franklin, Thompson, McAvene, and Burgmann will be assigned to South Bend. We could see Thompson in Tennessee and maybe Franklin and Burgmann go to Myrtle Beach for a bit of soft landing to start the year. As for where McAvene goes is up in the air, too. I would love to see him in South Bend, but what role he has in 2022 is a bit of a mystery. Is he staying the rotation or will he be heading back to the bullpen where he was very successful in college.
Thankfully, spring training, which begins March 6, should give us the answers and roles we are seeking. How these guys are used in spring training is really going to give us a look into the future. It’s not that South Bend is the ultimate destination for them, but it is a place where it’s often cold in April around the Great Lakes region and northern Midwest. Some of the pitchers might be better off going to Myrtle Beach to begin the year where it’s quite a bit warmer or they could just stay in Arizona for an extra month in extended spring training just to keep their arms/shoulders warm.
The big thing that is happening this spring is the Cubs have a lot of players and only a few spots. Because of last year‘s wave of injuries after the pandemic, they are now walking around with 180 players to basically squeeze into four affiliates. I’m curious as to how all these pieces are going to fit together including how they’re going to be treated as they return from missing two-plus years.