Picture of Ethan Roberts courtesy of the Tennessee Smokies
With just over a week left in spring training, the Cubs are going to have to make some tough choices when it comes to their bullpen. Some injuries and late starts have changed plans about who could break camp with the team. Ethan Roberts is still technically in camp along with Cayne Ueckert. Both relievers have pitched very well in spring training and neither has given up a run. However, a week is still a lot of time in spring training and Roberts and Ueckert have mainly faced minor league players at the end of the games.
What are the odds that either Roberts or Ueckert could stay with the club when it breaks camp?
As of this morning, it would probably be close to about 20%.
But you never know about these things, especially with expanded rosters in April. The Cubs could end up carrying 15 pitchers on opening day – 5 starters and 10 relievers.
The thought of either pitcher making the team gives you something to think about. Ben Leeper has already been sent back to Iowa. What helps Roberts the most is that he is on 40-man roster and he has all kinds of options left for him to go up and down and back and forth to Des Moines should the occasion arise.
When it comes to Ueckert, he is still a non-roster invitee, but injuries have created a need for his ability to find the strike zone early and often with his upper 90s fastball and that has drawn the attention of the Cubs coaching staff. There’s a slight problem, though, with Ueckert. He’s not on the 40-man roster and a spot would have to be opened up for him to make the club. It’s a small technicality that the Cubs could do in their sleep if they wanted.
After years of not really developing very much pitching, the Cubs now seem to be flooding Chicago with arms and that’s a good problem to have. Justin Steele and Keegan Thompson are already locks to make the roster along with Manny Rodriguez. If Adbert Alzolay had been healthy, that would be four. But if Roberts and/or Ueckert come along for the ride, even if it’s temporary, would be proof of concept to the pitching development program.
It would also show what great scouts the Cubs have to unearth both Roberts and Ueckert.
Ethan was a little bit more well-known because of the College World Series run Tennessee Tech went on in his junior year for which he was a star. But for Ueckert, he had a giant ERA of almost 7.00 his last year at McNeese State and was banished to the bullpen late in the year. Then something clicked. His stuff ticked up and next thing you know he’s the star in the regional for the team and the Cubs took him as a late round pick that summer. At the time he was taken, I thought it was awfully strange initially.
If Roberts and Ueckert are to make the club over the next week, they’re going to have to face major league hitters. It’s one thing to get minor league guys out, but they’re going to have to be put in position in spring training games to face major league hitters and see if they can get them out.
So, as next week plays out, we’re going to see starting pitchers go 4 innings. We’re going to see a couple relievers come in for the fifth and sixth and the closer in the seventh. For Roberts and Ueckert, they want to be in that fifth through seventh inning grouping of pitchers coming into the game if they stand any chance at making the ball club.
If they do not get the call in those frames, then they will head back to Iowa and that will not be the end of the world or even close to it.
To be quite frank, this spring has still been a good experience for both because they’re going to be up at some point this summer. They are just too good. And when they do, that will give the Cubs six homegrown arms on the roster.