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Cubs Season Preview: Roster Updates, Positional Breakdowns, Predictions

With Opening Day just around the corner, dive into the Cubs 2022 season preview complete with predictions and a roster breakdown.

Seiya Suzuki Chicago Cubs Season Preview Predictions Roster
Photo: MLBastian/Twitter

With the 2022 MLB season only two days away, there’s still speculation about who will make the Chicago Cubs Opening Day roster and how the lineup will look. How does it all shake out? Without an inside source, it’s difficult to say, but I’m going to take a crack at it. This season, teams will start the year with 28-man rosters to help offset limited preparation time and Spring Training action due to the lockout.

Let’s start by looking at position groups and breaking it down by lineup order, rotation order, and bullpen assignments. Finally, I’ll provide a record prediction, including where I think the Cubs will finish in the NL Central standings.

Pitchers (14)

Kyle Hendricks, Marcus Stroman, Justin Steele, Drew Smyly, Alec Mills, Keegan Thompson, Daniel Norris, Ethan Roberts, Chris Martin, Jesse Chavez, Mychal Givens, Scott Effross, David Robertson, Rowan Wick

Cubs Starting Rotation

  1. Kyle Hendricks
  2. Justin Steele
  3. Marcus Stroman
  4. Drew Smyly 
  5. Alec Mills

Look more at the names, not the numbers. Manager David Ross announced Kyle Hendricks as the Opening Day starter out of respect for the veteran. Steele will start the Cubs’ second game against Milwaukee to break up the lefties and avoid going from Steele to Smyly in consecutive games.

Hendricks is hoping for a bounce-back season. Stroman, the Cubs’ biggest free-agent signing of the offseason, is the team’s No. 1 starter, albeit the No. 3 on paper. Mills hasn’t been officially announced as the No. 5 option. He is still battling with Keegan Thompson, but I think Mills will win the job with Thompson slotting into a long reliever/sixth starter (as needed) role.

Bullpen

  • Keegan Thompson – LR
  • Jesse Chavez – LR/MR
  • Daniel Norris (LHP) – LR/MR
  • Chris Martin – MR
  • Mychal Givens – MR/SU
  • Ethan Roberts – MR/SU
  • Scott Effross – MR/SU
  • David Robertson – SU/CL
  • Rowan Wick – SU/CL

The entire relief corps looks questionable to those unfamiliar with the Chicago Cubs’ recent success in finding hidden gems and developing bullpen arms. However, if there’s a glaring hole, it’s the lack of lefty arms. Daniel Norris will serve as the lone southpaw to begin the season.

This spring, Jesse Chavez has been lights-out, forcing the Cubs to select his contract from Triple-A Iowa. On Monday, David Ross told Ethan Roberts he made the Opening Day roster. That leaves Michael Rucker’s outlook uncertain. My guess is he’ll be the odd man out, and the Cubs will run with 14 pitchers to start the season. With an off-day shortly following Opening Day, the Cubs can call him up if necessary later on.

The closer situation is anyone’s guess. The Cubs have three options with previous experience between Givens, Robertson, and Wick. My gut says Wick still has the inside track to the job, but the Cubs made a conscious effort to bring in multiple options. The Cubs skipper hasn’t announced a closer and will likely use a committee approach to start the year. Even without experience as MLB closers, I could see Effross or Roberts grabbing hold of the role.

Catchers (2)

  • Willson Contreras
  • Yan Gomes

Contreras is the leader of this team. He’ll be in the lineup for the majority of games. Having a stable veteran like Gomes allows the Cubs to DH Contreras occasionally to keep his bat in the lineup and his legs fresh. Providing Contreras the proper rest that every catcher needs was something the Cubs couldn’t do last year given their volatile backup catcher situation.

Infielders (6)

  • Frank Schwindel
  • Nick Madrigal
  • Nico Hoerner
  • Patrick Wisdom
  • Jonathan Villar
  • Alfonso Rivas

The infield is a cluster of “what will they do this year” players, much like every position on the Chicago Cubs. Will Schwindel build off what he did in the second half of 2021? Can Wisdom continue to hit bombs while improving his overall hitting and cutting down on the strikeouts? Can Hoerner stay healthy and play a strong defensive shortstop? Villar will be shifted all over the infield. How does Simmons factor into this? If Hoerner proves he can play shortstop regularly, Simmons becomes a defensive replacement upon his return from shoulder soreness.

The only stable, seemingly locked-in part of the infield is Madrigal. Then again, can Madrigal stay healthy? He should play second base almost every day. On his occasional days off, Hoerner or Villar will slide over to the keystone position. Rivas has torn it up in the spring, and he’s a better defensive first baseman than Schwindel. Perhaps the Cubs will play him more and DH Schwindel?

Outfielders (6)

  • Seiya Suzuki
  • Ian Happ
  • Clint Frazier
  • Jason Heyward
  • Rafael Ortega
  • Michael Hermosillo

The outfield is a chaotic situation. On the one hand, half of the fanbase wants Heyward designated for assignment to get a good look at what the Cubs have with some other options. Unfortunately, the Cubs would be eating a lot of money to cut ties with Heyward, making him a lock to make the Opening Day roster. However, how much playing time will he get?

Ortega was clutch and effective down the stretch in 2021. Unfortunately, he’s on the brink of losing his job or, at the very least, playing time. He is out of minor-league options, endured a rough spring, and there are plenty of replacement options (unlike the second half of last season). Hermosillo is intriguing. Although, he is also out of options, so the Cubs need to include him on the roster or risk losing him.

I think the guaranteed players who will start on Opening Day are Suzuki and Happ. Suzuki will handle right field, and Happ can play either center or left field. Suzuki is the favorite on most sportsbooks to win NL Rookie of the Year. Happ will most likely play left field or DH to start the year because of the offseason cleanup procedure he underwent on his throwing elbow.

That leaves us with newly acquired Clint Frazier. By all accounts, Frazier is finally healthy after dealing with concussions, which had lingering effects on his play and daily life. Frazier no longer has to deal with an organization with outdated hair restrictions and media accusing him of asking for Mickey Mantle’s number.

His bat speed, elite chase rate, and performance in Spring Training could set him up for a more regular role in the Cubs’ lineup. Furthermore, he’s only 27 years old and a former first-round selection drafted five picks after Kris Bryant in 2013. Frazier should get plenty of opportunities to prove worthy of a regular job.

Chicago Cubs 2022 Lineup Predictions

Opening Day Lineup vs. RHP Corbin Burnes

  1. 2B Nick Madrigal
  2. RF Seiya Suzuki
  3. C Willson Contreras
  4. 1B Frank Schwindel
  5. DH Ian Happ
  6. LF Clint Frazier
  7. CF Jason Heyward
  8. 3B Patrick Wisdom
  9. SS Nico Hoerner

Bench: Yan Gomes, Alfonso Rivas, Jonathan Villar, Rafael Ortega, Michael Hermosillo

Lineup vs. LHP

  1. 2B Nick Madrigal
  2. RF Seiya Suzuki
  3. C Willson Contreras
  4. DH Frank Schwindel
  5. 1B Patrick Wisdom
  6. LF Clint Frazier
  7. 3B Jonathan Villar
  8. SS Nico Hoerner
  9. CF Michael Hermosillo

Bench: Alfonso Rivas, Ian Happ, Yan Gomes, Rafael Ortega, Jason Heyward

To clarify, these are not the lineups I would make. They reflect predictions as to what I think will happen. After seeing the lineup David Ross deployed against the White Sox for Monday’s Spring Training tilt on Monday, maybe this won’t be the lineup. Ortega and Villar could easily replace Frazier, Wisdom, or Heyward. If that’s the case, Ortega could be hitting leadoff vs. righties with Madrigal in the two-hole.

Injured List

10-Day IL

  • LHP Wade Miley
  • INF Andrelton Simmons

Andrelton Simmons is closest to returning. While dealing with right shoulder soreness, he has been able to log at-bats as a DH. That said, he should begin the season on the IL.

Miley was slow to get going this spring. He is dealing with left elbow inflammation, and his return to action is still to be determined. Upon his return, he’ll be in the starting rotation mix.

60-Day IL

  • RHP Adbert Alzolay
  • RHP Codi Heuer
  • LHP Brad Wieck
  • INF David Bote

The 60-day injured list is a foggier situation. Alzolay was another pitcher the Chicago Cubs were hopeful about grabbing a rotation spot. However, he’ll start the year on the shelf with a shoulder injury, similar to the one he suffered as a minor leaguer in 2018. His timetable for return is uncertain at this time, but it sounds like sometime in June at the earliest.

Heuer will miss the entire season after undergoing Tommy John surgery during the offseason. Wieck has looked downright nasty when healthy. In 17 innings pitched last year, Wieck didn’t allow a run and struck out 28 batters. However, he’s been unable to stay healthy the past two seasons. After only 15 games, Wieck underwent a second heart procedure in as many years due to an irregular heartbeat. Now, he’s dealing with a left elbow strain.

David Bote will be out until at least early June because of offseason shoulder surgery.

Season Prediction

78-84 Record, Third Place in NL Central

There will surely be Chicago Cubs fans that fall on either side of this prediction. Some will call me insane for predicting as many as 78 wins, and others will call me a bad Cubs fan for predicting them to finish with a losing record. The best part is I don’t care. This prediction is as unbiased as it gets. Seriously. I want them to win the division. I want them to win the World Series every year. I’m rooting for them to smash this record to pieces and make me look like a fool.

Landing on 78 wins was tough. Most sportsbooks have the Cubs’ win total over/under set at 75.5. I believe “big money” is betting the under. Therefore, something tells me the books know the Cubs have the potential to slap this total over. I was able to find it at 73.5, and I bet the over at that number.

There are so many uncertainties with this club. Although I predict 78 wins, I’m hesitant to bet over 75.5. Even with the addition of Marcus Stroman, the starting pitching staff remains average at best. Guys like Justin Steele and eventually Caleb Kilian (if he were to get called up) could change that narrative. But as it stands now, the Cubs will lean on the bullpen and contact hitting to win ballgames.

What I’m looking forward to the most is guessing each game’s lineup before it’s released. Get ready. There will be many variations of different lineups this season, and I can’t wait to pick my favorite one by the season’s end. If everything clicks, the Cubs could sneak into a wild card spot now that the playoffs have expanded. But if the season falls off the rails, there will be individual players to watch and evaluate as they develop. Either way, it should be a fun season on the North Side.

The core is no longer, but Chicago Cubs baseball doesn’t have to be boring like that team in St. Louis. Get excited, Cubs fans. They might surprise us. Let’s enjoy the ride.

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