I’m so sick of waiting on the owners and MLBPA to figure it out. Right now, we should be talking about so many storylines surrounding the Chicago Cubs at Spring Training 2022. But thanks to the powers that be, we’re at the point where the regular season is probably going to be postponed (I hope to God I’m wrong). So with that being said, in an imaginary world where the owners and players have agreed on a deal (they’re all best friends now and players report to camp tomorrow), here are six Cubs I’m watching closely this spring.
For a guy that had only pitched in 10 games entering his third season last year, Adbert Alzolay was solid. Coming off the COVID-shortened season in which he only threw 21 innings, Alzolay’s first full campaign consisted of 125 innings pitched. Yes, some of those innings came from the bullpen, but I see Alzolay establishing himself as a full-time starter this year, and maybe even making the case as the No. 2 in the rotation.
Here’s an interesting fact: Alzolay had eight starts last year where he made it to at least the sixth inning, and only one start where he gave up more than four earned runs. So far in his career, he’s been below the MLB average in opponent batting average, opponent on-base percentage, and base on balls percentage, as well as being above MLB average in strikeout percentage. If Alzolay develops into a pitcher that consistently throws at least six innings per start, that could only mean he’s competing late into ball games, and success for the Cubs.
If you’re going to base Brailyn Marquez’s ability on his 2020 campaign, get the hell out of here. Did he show signs of control issues? Yes, but it was only one outing, let alone his career debut, and he’s only 23 years old! The sky is the limit for this guy.
Is he going to be a starter or a bullpen guy? That remains to be seen. Personally, I would like to see him develop into a strong reliable arm in the back of the Cubs bullpen, especially with that beautiful, mouth-watering fastball of his. But if the organization decides to use him as a starter, then that would be awesome as well.
Will we see him start 2022 on the MLB roster? Probably not, especially with his limited experience to date. Hell, we may not see him at all in 2022, but it would be nice to see him facing MLB-caliber hitters at Spring Training.
I am particularly excited to see Nick Madrigal debut on the North Side this season. Due to his injury-shortened 2021 campaign, I think Cubs fans sometimes forget he was in the deal with Codi Heuer when Craig Kimbrel went to the White Sox.
We haven’t seen Madrigal play a full season yet, but so far in his career (83 games), he’s put up a slash line of .317/.358/.406. Not too shabby for a guy that will only be 25 when the season starts.
The issue with Madrigal is that he will more than likely be limited to playing strictly second base. So if he wants to stay in the everyday lineup, he’s going to have to stay consistent offensively. But so far, that doesn’t seem like a problem for him. It would surely be nice to see how he’s getting back into the swing of things at Spring Training.
David Bote really hasn’t lit up the stat sheet since signing an extension in 2019, but a lot of that is because of injuries. Say what you want about last year, but a separated shoulder and a sprained ankle definitely did not help. I know a lot of fans would disagree with me, but I think Bote could be a key role player for the Cubs in 2022 if he can stay healthy.
Either way, there’s going to be pressure from fans for him to produce. Is he going to hit .300 with 30 home runs? Probably not, but with his utility, if he can hit around .250 with 20 home runs and play good defense, I don’t see why he couldn’t play a big role for the Cubs this year. And at the end of the day, as long as he’s healthy, who knows, perhaps the Cubs could use him as a trade piece at the deadline.
When Craig Kimbrel struggled in 2020, Rowan Wick really stepped up in a big way for the Cubs bullpen. In fact, you could argue that Wick was the Cubs’ best reliever in 2019 and 2020.
Coming off an oblique injury that kept him out for the majority of the 2021 season, I think this is the year Wick solidifies himself as the closer. In three seasons with the Cubs, Wick has posted a 3.18 ERA with 84 strikeouts and 36 walks in 74 innings pitched. If he can bring his walk percentage down just a little bit, Rowan Wick could very well be pitching in the All-Star game this summer, at the very least.
Codi Heuer doesn’t have a ton of MLB experience under his belt, but it’s hard not to love his potential. In 25 games with the Cubs last year, Heuer posted a 3.14 ERA with 17 strikeouts, 13 walks, and two saves. He also held hitters to just a .206 batting average following the trade that brought him to the North Side.
Heuer has had issues in the past with throwing his sinker, which resulted in a lot of hard contact. But with the offseason addition of sinker-ball pitcher Marcus Stroman, who knows, maybe the two get together, work on it, and figure something out? Either way, I’m excited to see what Heuer brings to the bullpen in 2022. If all goes well, he seems like a prime candidate to take on the eighth-inning role.
Any normal Cubs season starts in Mesa. Unfortunately, the past few years have been anything but normal due to the COVID-19 pandemic and MLB’s ongoing lockout. Here’s to hoping we see these North Siders and their teammates back in action at Spring Training soon.
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