Cactus Catchup: Rotation Work and Roster Cuts

Leaving the snow and cold behind, I have spent the past four days in Arizona, soaking up all things Cubs. In between hiking up mountains and celebrating Irish heritage with green beer, I was able to actually squeeze in some baseball. After multiple trips to the minor league backfields and visits to both Camelback Ranch for Cubs/White Sox and Sloan Park for Cubs/Japan, I came away with quite a few observations, as well as a bit of a sunburn.

Putting in work:

Over the past couple days, some of the key starting pitchers have gotten their work in— Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta on the backfields against the minor leaguers (Lester’s outing is highlighted here with Arrieta’s line below) and John Lackey facing Japan at Sloan Park on Saturday. All came away healthy and unfazed by what happened, which is really all you want from veteran pitchers logging a few innings during Spring Training.

Perhaps the most encouraging pitching performance from the past couple of days came from the right arm of Eddie Butler. Pitching last Wednesday, Butler threw four scoreless against the Dodgers, striking out four in the process.

If Butler can put things together, it gives the Cubs some excellent pitching depth for 2017 and an arm to potentially count on in the future.

Another promising outing from the pitchers came from Wade Davis on Saturday. The new Cubs closer threw a 1-2-3 inning against Team Japan, reaching 96 in the process. Davis is one of the best closers in baseball when healthy, so seeing him with that kind of velocity on March 18th is certainly a promising sign.

As for the bats, the Cubs have been a bit homer happy over the past couple of days. The Cubs have gotten home runs from Kyle Schwarber (and it was a BOMB), Anthony Rizzo, Addison Russell, Jacob Hannemann, John Andreoli and David Bote. Jason Heyward looked very good in his couple of at bats on Saturday, striking a couple of balls hard and spraying a line drive to left-center in his third at bat. Another interesting wrinkle this past week has been Schwarber playing right field. Joe Maddon explained that this is simply getting him used to being out there for when the Cubs play in parks where right field might be easier than left field, like PNC in Pittsburgh.

Camp happenings:

The Cubs had a pretty prospect heavy cut this past week. On Friday the Cubs optioned Felix Pena, Pierce Johnson, Victor Caratini and Jacob Hannemann to Iowa, while assigning non-roster invitees Chesny Young, Eloy Jimenez and Mark Zagunis to minor league camp. With a lot of the higher level prospects returned to minor league camp, it was interesting that a guy like Ian Happ was able to stick around in big league camp, but it’s likely just a reward for a strong spring.

The Cubs and all of their fans are currently holding their breath over one of those cuts, top prospect Eloy Jimenez. After injuring himself on a throw last week, Eloy underwent tests on Saturday and the Cubs are currently awaiting the results. It’s worth noting that the Cubs seem to be optimistic, but it’s something to monitor.

While watching games on the backfields, there were a couple little things that I noticed. Dylan Cease looked really good. He’s bigger than when I’ve seen him in the past, he commanded the fastball pretty well and you could easily see why the curveball is seen as a plus pitch, though he lacked consistent feel for it. He even threw a couple of good change-ups. I definitely like Cease more after seeing him on Friday than I did before. Preston Morrison was an interesting guy to watch. He has some serious funk. I doubt it will translate to the upper levels, but he’s certainly a guy to watch. Lastly, I came away impressed with 18-year-old catcher Miguel Amaya. He’s well regarded defensively and it was obvious with a caught stealing as well as a pickoff at third base. In addition to that, he turned around a fastball into the left-center field gap for a double off of Cease.

Game results:
Friday, 3/17: Cubs 7, White Sox 3
Saturday, 3/18: Cubs 6, WBC Japan 4
Saturday, 3/18: Brewers 13, Cubs 7

Sunday, 3/19: Royals 6, Cubs 2

Coming up:
Monday, 3/20: Cubs at Rockies, 3:10 CST
Wednesday, 3/22: Cubs at Reds, 8:05 CST
Thursday, 3/23: Cubs at Diamondbacks, 3:10 CST
Friday, 3/24: Cubs vs. Royals, 3:05 CST

Lead photo courtesy Matt Kartozian—USA Today Sports

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