While most of the focus in Mesa will be on the conditioning of the stars of the stacked roster of the defending World Series champs (deservedly so), there will be a plethora of prsopects, journeyman veterans, reclamation projects, etc. jostling for the spotlight in their audition with the organization. With that in mind, the front office recently released their full list of non-roster invitations to MLB camp.
As far as I am aware, there is no actual, physical, invitation to a Major League Spring Training camp; however, if there was, I imagine that they'd look something like what I've whipped up above. Coincidentally, it would also make a nice template for a kid's birthday party, as well. I hope everybody on the list got their RSVP in - we don't want to upset Theo Epstein's parents!
So - who made the coveted invitation list? Let's take a look, shall we?
Year in and year out, a group of top prospects get the invitation to Major League camp to show off their progress. While these promising youngsters are all but guaranteed assignments to various levels of the minor leagues; however, ST makes for a great opportunity to see how they stack up against Big Leaguers and be evaluated by the big brass and receive some pointers from the MLB coaching staff.
Look for Ian Happ to begin the year at AA, but the advanced, college bat is expected to move up quickly. Eloy Jimenez has the most exciting bat in the system and is widely considered the team's toop blue-chipper the system, but the 20 year old is still a few years away. Meanwhile, Mark Zagunis could easily be the first outfielder called up, in the event of an injury and, should he prove his health, Ryan Williams could the first pitcher.
Also in this category, but not shown are James Farris, Taylor Davis, Chesny Young and John Andreoli.
Speaking of Minor Leaguers, every year there's a batch of minor league free agents and organizational depth pieces who cross their fingers and hope that this is the year they finally get a chance at sticking in the Bigs. For instance, Daniel Corcino has toiled in the Cincinatti and Los Angeles farm systems since 2008, even earning a brief cuppacoffe with the Reds in 2014. In the same vein, Gerardo Concepcion was a significant international signing out of Cuba in 2012 who nearly washed out of the pros, until a conversion to the bullpen resuscitated his career. Both hope to re-establish themselves in 2017.
Joining them in this category are Andury Acevedo, Seth Frankoff, Jhondaniel Medina and Conor Mullee.
Josmil Pinto has nothing to do with the Cubs, but his "roomate" on that 2014 Topps Heritage Rookie Stars card and Casey Kelly represent the reclamation projects portion of the NRI list. Theo, Jed and Co. have a long history of buying low on guys with good potential, but have their flaws; this is especially so when it comes to pitching depth.
As a lefty, Zac (not Zach) has the breaking ball to become a top-notch LOOGY; but, after a rough 2015 campaign, he missed all of 2016 with a lingering shoulder injury. He's well past the prospect stage - hopefully, his shoulder is all healed up and he gets the chance to prove his worth. Meanwhile, Casey is an arm that has long captivated the mind of GM Jed Hoyer, who acquired him during his time with Boston and San Diego, as well. The righty has the pedigree of a first round draft choice, but Tommy John surgery and inconsistent control have kept him from putting it all together. Perhaps a change of scenery and some "Bosmosis" is all he needs.
Finally, you've got the long sub-section of Major League veterans just hoping to extend their career by another year. These guys have been in the league for a long time, they've bounced around, and they may very well be nearing the end of their career. Just like Jake Taylor and his bad knees in Major League, "here's to at least one more good year in the sun."
These vets are likely ticketed to AAA to serve as depth in case of injury - if they stick around past March, that is. Even fan-favorite, Munenori Kawasaki.
Other names that fit under this definition include Chris Dominguez and Fernando Rodriguez.
Throughout the life of this blog, in the lead-up to Spring Training, I've done a ranking of the non-roster players and their likelihood of moving north with the Big League club. However, coming off of a World Series victory without a lot of player movement means that the 25-man roster is mostly set - there just doesn't appear to be room for any surprise players to make the cut, without a rash of injuries.
If pressed, I would say that, with the fungible nature of relievers and bullpen construction, any of those arms stand the best chance of cracking the 25-man for Opening Day. As far as position players go, as I mentioned earlier, Mark Zagunis would be the first outfielder to get a call if an injury occurs to any of the regulars.
Time will tell if any of these men will be lucky enough to be added to my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection; well, besides the guys who have already made a cameo in the Windy City, anyway.
Also, regardless of whether or not you were lucky enough to be invited to Cubs Spring Training Camp (I think my invitation was lost in the mail), you're all welcome to start getting excited about baseball season's impending arrival.
Just 13 more days!