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2020 Cubs: The Infield

As MLB officially kicks off its second attempt at a (pre)season, I decided to take a look at the 60-man roster produced by Theo Epstein and David Ross. Yesterday, I covered the Cubs pitching staff, today, it’s the 2020 Cubs infield and catchers.

The Cubs 60-man roster is currently only holding 50 names, but others will be added. With a total of 22 pitchers in the mix, the rest of the roster is currently down 28 names. A total of 19 remain on the team’s 40-man (now at 39), with the remaining 11 making up the team’s “taxi squad.”

Catchers

Thus far, David Ross is carrying a total of four backstops. There’s no doubt that Willson Contreras will lead the team, but Victor Caratini has also made a strong showing for why he should (and could) be the starter.

The Cubs also have – as the saying goes – something old and something new.

This winter, the Cubs signed Josh Phegley to a one-year deal, perhaps in anticipation of dealing one of their younger catchers. Phegley’s been around the majors since 2013, in a pair of stints with the White Sox (two seasons) and most recently with the Athletics (five seasons).

He’s decent behind the plate, but not terribly impressive when standing at the plate. As a career hitter, Phegley’s managed only to post a .227 average, though he was hitting the hell out of the ball this spring. Fluke? Maybe, but Phegley compiled a slash line of .406/.435/.773 (1.208 OPS) through 22 at bats in March. If Phegley continues to hit that way, he could find himself behind the dish more than he imagined.

In the “new” department, the Cubs are utilizing 27-year-old minor leaguer, PJ Higgins. Higgins was also something to behold this past spring, as he also made consistent contact while at the plate. Higgins is still young and needs time to mature in the catcher’s box, but this kid will be on a 26-man roster sometime soon.

Corner Infielders

Of course, the names Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo appear on the roster and will take the field – barring injury – on Opening Day. Each has been the subject of trade rumors (more so Bryant) for the past eight months.

After losing his service time grievance, Bryant is now in his final season before he earns his “walk-year”. I would be surprised if the Cubs didn’t deal him by year’s end, and I’d expect it to happen by August 31st, this year’s trade deadline. Bryant is a product of Scott Boras, and we all know what happens when the Boras babies earn free agency. “More money, more money, more money.”

Rizzo is in a little bit of a different bind. After signing an extremely team-friendly, eight-year $60.5M deal, the Cubs are now left with options. For next year, the Cubs can elect to pay Rizzo $16.5M, or they can trade him. An extension isn’t likely, as the team hasn’t been able to come to extension terms with most of their players. Finally, they can let him walk as a free agent. Rizzo deserves to be awarded with a nice contract, unfortunately, that’s not usually how the Cubs operate (just ask Brandon Kintzler).

Perhaps none as good as the duo who’s come to be known as “Bryzzo,” but the Cubs do have other options at the corners. Victor Caratini is decent at first base, as is Higgins, who also plays third. David Bote is also an option at third, and Ian Happ can play both corners.

Middle Infielders

Until something substantial changes, you can bet your last dollar that Javier Baez will start at shortstop. Baez swaped spots once Addison Russell’s career came to a crashing halt, and he hasn’t looked back. Troubling, is the fact that the Cubs’ sole mission this winter was to extend Baez, but talks never progressed.

Second base is a little more of a mystery.

The Cubs signed Jason Kipnis this winter, for what reason, I don’t know. Kipnis was a strong player and lends a veteran presence, but his better days are behind him. He batted only .182 this spring, and his 2019 stats weren’t much better (.236).

Then you have David Bote, who signed another team friendly deal last winter. Unless traded, Bote will remain a Cub through the 2024 season. Bote’s glove was good enough to take the field for the first time in 2018, but his bat is what likely bought him the extension. Bote has the ability to play both corner infield spots, as well as third, and when the kid hits, he really hits.

Rookie, Nico Hoerner, came out this winter and said the only way for him to progress, was to play at the Major League level. With Baez at short, Hoerner has spent most of his time playing second, adding his name to the mix of those vying for the spot.

Hoerner shows a ton of promise, and he’s controllable for the foreseeable future. Should things go really south with trying to extend Javy Baez, Nico may be leading the wave of the future.

The last option on the 40-man is Daniel Descalso. Let’s face it, he’s been nothing but terrible since joining the Cubs. Descalso is now almost 36, moves slow and produced a mind-altering batting average of just .173 last year with Chicago. This spring (25 at bats), Danny D. produced a slash line of .160/.250/.160. Why the Cubs didn’t release him this winter, I’ll never know.

That’s it for the middle infielders. Stop back tomorrow, and catch a glimpse of the outfielders who’ve made the roster, followed by a look at the “Taxi Squad.”

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