Each day in March, NBC Sports Chicago is previewing one player from the Cubs’ expected 2020 Opening Day roster. With four bullpen roles still up for grabs, let's pivot to 26th man candidate and catcher, Josh Phegley.
The Cubs signed Phegley to a minor league deal in January after third-string catcher Taylor Davis (Baltimore Orioles) departed in free agency. The 32-year-old spent last season as the A’s starting backstop, hitting .232/.282/.411 with 12 home runs, 62 RBIs and an 82 wRC+ in 106 games.
Phegley was hitting .282 with an .845 OPS and 123 wRC+ through May, only to hit .208 with a .585 OPS and 54 wRC+ the rest of the season.
Expectations for this season’s role
Before MLB suspended spring training, Phegley was in the mix for the Cubs’ 26th roster spot. He’s not on the 40-man roster and could open the season in Triple-A.
The Cubs have one of MLB’s best 1-2 punches behind the plate in Willson Contreras and Victor Caratini. The former is the clear-cut starter, while the latter was the Cubs’ best pinch hitter last season.
Why add Phegley to the roster, then? It would allow the Cubs to pinch hit Caratini at any moment in a game. Managers prefer not to burn their No. 2 catchers in earlier innings in case the starter exits the game for some reason.
Phegley would alleviate this concern, though he’s not known for his bat. Outfielder Ian Miller (who stole 35 bases in the minor leagues last season) is another option. Depending on whether or not Nico Hoerner makes the roster, second baseman Jason Kipnis could also be considered.
Carrying a third catcher might not be as valuable as a stolen base threat or veteran bat. It may be the last roster spot, but figuring out who gets the job is an important decision on David Ross’ plate.
The complete roster outlook series:
1. Cubs hoping Kris Bryant stabilizes leadoff spot in 2020
2. Kyle Hendricks is a steady force in the Cubs' rotation
3. Kyle Schwarber is primed for a breakout 2020 season
4. Tyler Chatwood has chance to rewrite the script in 2020
5. David Bote searching for more offensive consistency in 2020
6. One pitch could hold key to Jose Quintana's 2020 success
7. Albert Almora Jr. looking to rebound behind new swing, refreshed mental state
8. Cubs counting on bounce back season from Craig Kimbrel
9. Javier Báez is indispensable, and the best is yet to come
10. New pitch key to Rowan Wick staving off regression
11. New MLB rule gives Victor Caratini chance for bigger role
12. Daniel Descalso can only improve from last season
13. Ian Happ poised to claim starting center field job
14. Jeremy Jeffress can bounce back in Chicago
15. Lineup adjustment could be key to Jason Heyward's success
16. Anthony Rizzo remains an all-around rock for Chicago
17. Kyle Ryan's versatility key in uncertain bullpen
18. Now is not the time to write off Jon Lester
19. Willson Contreras' health is critical to team's success
20. How Alec Mills fits on Opening Day roster
21. Steven Souza Jr. could provide needed boost vs. lefties
22. How COVID-19 hiatus could impact Nico Hoerner's trajectory
23. How Adbert Alzolay can build off 2019 debut