Most of the regulars had a rest day in the Cactus League opener, but came back to put in their first few innings of the spring on Saturday afternoon.
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) February 24, 2018
Even GameDay is in spring training mode so I don’t know what Eddie Butler‘s pitch count was, but I imagine it was hitting 40 or 50 when he was pulled in the second inning. The lone run that scored off him was because of a passed ball by Willson Contreras, but Contreras did nab a would-be base-stealer. Javier Baez also had a pretty exciting triple and a sensational defensive play, so the defensive game has not taken a step back. The Cubs would make several more nifty defensive plays in the game.
Butler’s audition is not only for a continued presence with the Cubs, but perhaps to set up a potential trade in spring training to another team that could use him. Barring that, given that Butler is very unlikely to break camp with the big league team, the Cubs could try to pass him through waivers (Butler is out of options) and keep him in the system as rotation depth. Having Mike Montgomery as a quality sixth starter option is good, but one or two injuries could really test the Cubs’ depth, and an effective Butler (who hopefully sticks around and improves at Iowa before a likely call-up) would certainly alleviate that pressure.
Albert Almora did get his shot as a leadoff hitter today, and was one of the few regulars who didn’t record a base hit. I imagine Almora is an unpopular choice as a leadoff guy, but after the first inning, it’s not like he will lead off that many innings anyway (unless the Cubs fortuitously bat around a few times, which would be cool). So I’m cool with whatever the Cubs decide. As for the rest of the offense:
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) February 24, 2018
Two guys competing for the backup catcher’s spot, Victor Caratini and Chris Gimenez, made their mark on the game in different ways. Caratini showed that he could at least back up first base capably once Anthony Rizzo left the game, and Gimenez got in his at-bats as the designated hitter, leaving after an infield single in the sixth inning to help the Cubs tack on. I suppose this will depend on whether the Cubs can sneak a few relievers (or maybe Butler) through to Iowa and therefore get Gimenez on the active roster, or if they want Caratini to just get the experience at the big league level and keep Gimenez in Iowa as emergency depth.
Dillon Maples pitched an inning and made his early case for being on the taxi squad. Alec Mills also got an inning and did pretty well after a leadoff walk, as yet another swingman option besides Butler. We can surmise that the roster is pretty set, though, as Joe Maddon himself even suggested:
Joe Maddon admits the Cubs 25 man roster is near set even at this point in the spring, which is a long way from his early days with the Rays. Every position was seemingly up for grabs: "It was like a casting call."https://t.co/W3SDXfhNkb
— Jesse Rogers (@ESPNChiCubs) February 22, 2018
But again, depth is good. The Cubs have two off days in the spring, one on March 12 and another one on March 20, so I imagine roster cuts will align with those dates. That doesn’t leave much time or at-bats/innings for the fringe guys to make their cases, especially if the Cubs have already pretty much made up their minds.
This is spring training, so everything comes with a huge grain of salt and the usual small sample size warnings. However, everyone got their work in, stayed healthy, and we had fun. Even the backups played well on both sides of the ball, so nothing to complain about today. Meanwhile, in “what could have been”…
Shohei Ohtani allowed a run while recording two strikeouts and a foul popout in his first inning. His fastball ranged from 93-97 mph. He threw some nasty secondary pitches, including a particularly nice 69-mph curveball.
— Pedro Moura (@pedromoura) February 24, 2018
It’s one of those annoying things that happens to every team that doesn’t have that player, and I’m sure we’ll also get some pangs for the prospects that were traded away. But this Cubs team is good, and that’s fun to keep in mind. Winning a game, even a practice one, is fun as well. I’m also jealous of every single one of you who got to do this while I stay in Chicago due to work and lack of funds.
— Bruce Miles (@BruceMiles2112) February 24, 2018