During a spring training that will attract national media attention and generate even more World Series hype, Cubs prospects Albert Almora and Duane Underwood will get a chance to showcase their skills in Arizona.
On Friday, the Cubs revealed the 18 non-roster players who have been invited to big-league camp, a group headlined by Almora, the first player drafted here by the Theo Epstein administration, and Underwood, perhaps the organization’s best pitching prospect.
Pitchers and catchers officially report to Mesa on Feb. 19, with the first full-squad workout scheduled for Feb. 24, and sky-high expectations surrounding this team after winning 97 games, two playoff rounds and the offseason ($272 million committed to Gold Glove outfielder Jason Heyward, super-utility guy Ben Zobrist and veteran pitcher John Lackey).
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The Cubs already have a full 40-man roster – which would be another consideration if they wanted to make another move this winter – and an established clubhouse that doesn’t figure to create many heated job battles in March.
But in terms of depth, the Cubs invited nine more pitchers: right-handers Stephen Fife; Brandon Gomes; Jean Machi; Felix Pena; Jonathan Pettibone; Armando Rivero; and Drew Rucinski; and lefties Luis Cruz and Jack Leathersich.
The Cubs will also get looks at: catchers Taylor Davis and Tim Federowicz; infielders Jesus Guzman, Munenori Kawasaki and Kristopher Negron; and outfielders John Andreoli and Juan Perez.
Underwood – a second-round pick out of Pope High School in Marietta, Georgia, in 2012 – dealt with right elbow inflammation last season but still went 6-3 with a 2.58 ERA in 14 starts for advanced Class-A Myrtle Beach.
The Cubs drafted Almora with the sixth overall pick that year and even team officials have to remind themselves about a normal development path after watching first-round picks Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber rocket through the farm system and become foundation pieces for a playoff contender.
Unlike those college hitters, Almora came out of Mater Academy in South Florida and will turn 22 in April. He hit .272 with six homers, 46 RBI and a .727 OPS in 106 games with Double-A Tennessee last season and is viewed as a superb defender in center field.
Complete spring roster: