Cubs

Predicting what the Cubs' Opening Day bullpen will look like

carl_edwards_jr_cubs_bullpen_prediction_slide.jpg
AP

Predicting what the Cubs' Opening Day bullpen will look like

We're still five weeks away from Cubs pitchers and catchers reporting to Arizona, but it's never too early for 2018 season predictions.

What else is there to do for baseball fans right now? The "hot" stove season has been boring as hell.

On the latest NBC Sports Chicago Hot Stove Facebook Live (complete video below), we broke down what the Cubs' bullpen may look like when they break camp and head to Miami for an Opening Day tilt with the Marlins:

Brandon Morrow
Carl Edwards Jr.
Pedro Strop
Justin Wilson
Steve Cishek
Mike Montgomery
Justin Grimm
TBD

A lot to unpack here, but let's start with the closer spot. 

Theo Epstein's front office would love for their team's relievers to have defined roles because they understand the bullpen is made up of a bunch of humans and humans typically prefer to know when they're going to be used and prepare in accordance with that.

Joe Maddon, however, is notorious for running with a "closer by committee" where he plays the matchups.

The Cubs don't have a surefire ninth-inning option like they have the last year-and-a-half with Aroldis Chapman and Wade Davis, so it will be interesting to see how the debate between front office and coaching staff turns out.

But Morrow is the guy signed to be the closer (as of right now), though there is some concern about his ability to stay healthy — he's averaged only 18 appearances a season since 2013. 

The Cubs believe Edwards is a closer in waiting while Wilson was one of the top stoppers in the game for the first four months of the 2017 season while in Detroit. 

Strop could also close if needed, but represents one of the top setup men in baseball, even though he draws some hate from meatball Cubs fans. He's been remarkably consistent, posting a 2.72 ERA in five seasons with the Cubs and never finishing a campaign with an ERA over 2.91. 

Cishek also brings closing experience, but can slot in in pretty much any role in the bullpen.

Montgomery is slated as a starter right now given the Cubs don't have a surefire fifth guy in the rotation and even if they sign a guy, Montgomery will absolutely get some starts at some point. But he's also the long man in the bullpen and will fill a swingman role.

From there, things are a bit iffy. The Cubs figure to carry eight guys in the bullpen because they have so many versatile position players that they need fewer bench bats than the average team. 

Justin Grimm used to be a mainstay in the Cubs bullpen, but he struggled to the tune of a 5.53 ERA and 1.34 WHIP. From 2014-16, however, Grimm posted a 3.36 ERA and 10.6 K/9 in 203 games in a Cubs uniform. Assuming he can rekindle that form, Grimm may once again be counted on as one of Maddon's middle innings closers.

The final spot in the bullpen may well go to Dillon Maples if the young flamethrower shows up and has a great camp. 

Eddie Butler could also be in the mix if the Cubs want another longman to join Montgomery in the 'pen. But with 2.5 months until Opening Day, the Cubs could also acquire another reliever — via trade, free agency or claiming a guy off the scrap heap/waiver wire.

Hot Stove - Predicting the Cubs Bullpen/Sox Prospects Up in 2018

What will the Cubs' Opening Day bullpen look like? Which White Sox prospects will be up in 2018? Hot Stove is BACK and we want to hear your thoughts!

Posted by NBC Sports Chicago on Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Anthony Rizzo is ready to be the leading man 

lead.jpg
USA TODAY

Anthony Rizzo is ready to be the leading man 

When discussing his unconventional lineup choices, Joe Maddon had this to say, "It's almost a backwards way of doing this right now that I'm finding fascinating.....So I'm just gonna let it play for just a little bit and see where it takes us."

And it is hard to blame Maddon for letting his experiment ride out longer.

Via our Chris Kamka, Rizzo has hit in the leadoff spot seven times this season. In those seven plate appearances he has a single, double, triple (July 21), home run, walk, hit by pitch and a groundout. Rizzo’s numbers as a leadoff hitter are staggering:

And it appears the Cubs agree.

After their 7-2 win over the St. Louis Cardinals on Saturday, Ben Zobrist joked that Rizzo is the “self proclaimed greatest leadoff hitter...”. And while on paper, having Zobrist bat fourth in the order and Rizzo lead off seems contradictory, the move has definitely energized the offense. Immediately following all the lineup shuffling, the Cubs reeled off four straight wins before the Cardinals 18-run, 18-hit explosion, but even in that game Rizzo did draw a base by HBP.

And sure enough, in Saturday’s game, there was Rizzo, dominating to the tune of three walks and a triple. There is no telling if Maddon will continue to keep him in the leadoff spot. The move was originally made to help Rizzo get his groove back, which if Saturday’s win was any indication, he has.

But with Jason Heyward having a great offensive season, Jesse Chavez looking good in his Cubs debut (two clean innings with one strikeout) and Baez continuing his MVP-like play, Cubs fans should be as optimistic as one certain fan at Wrigley Field.

Cubs infielder Ryan Court had a special night in Iowa

ryan_court_1.jpg
USA TODAY

Cubs infielder Ryan Court had a special night in Iowa

The farm system doesn't have the big names it once did, as the majority of the top prospects have graduated to the Major League roster, but that doesn't mean the minor league clubs aren't having fun. 

Take 29-year-old Ryan Court, a minor league infielder who has bounced around from Arizona and Boston's systems and found a home this year with the Cubs triple-A affiliate in Des Moines, IA. Court has had a solid season in Iowa, slashing .272/.347/.410 in 74 games, but might have had his finest game as I-Cub Friday night against the New Orleans Baby Cakes. 

Court came up in the 8th inning last night needing just a triple to hit for the cycle, but his club was on the verge of taking the lead in the after scoring three runs prior to his at-bat.

With Bote on 1st, the game tied at 8 runs apiece, Court placed a ball in front of the right fielder who overplayed the ball and allowed Bote to score from first and Court to scamper to third to complete the cycle. 

The I-Cubs would tack on another run to polish off a 5-run 8th inning and take home the win in a 10-8 victory over the Baby Cakes, and according to Des Moines Register's Tommy Birch, it was the first time in two decades an Iowa player has hit for the cycle. 

It's unlikely Ryan Court will make his way to the big leagues with the Cubs already carrying plenty of infielders, but for one night he played the hero and got his team the win, finishing the night 4-5 with 2 RBI, 4 runs scored and one massive smile on his face.