Best- and worst-case scenarios for the Cubs' offensive depth chart in 2019
Best- and worst-case scenarios for the Cubs' offensive depth chart in 2019
For the positional side, the team that takes the field on Opening Day will strongly resemble the one that crumbled under its brutal second half schedule last year.
Spring training is underway for the Cubs in Mesa, Arizona, and despite Bryce Harper, Craig Kimbrel and a handful of others still waiting to sign with new teams for the 2019 season, it appears as though their roster is set. That's disappointing for a lot of fans, but it doesn't mean the Cubs can't win with the group of players they already have. For the positional side, the team that takes the field on Opening Day will strongly resemble the one that crumbled under its brutal second half schedule last year. But let's look at each spot on the field and the best- and worst-case scenarios. ## Catcher As of right now, the depth chart at catcher is Willson Contreras, Victor Caratini, Taylor Davis, and little-known addition Francisco Arcia. By the end of spring training, this should have changed to some degree. Ideally, the Cubs will add a [veteran catcher](https://cubbiescrib.com/2019/01/11/chicago-cubs-martin-maldonado/) to backup Contreras, who caught 1109 2/3 innings in 2018 – essentially an average of 6.8 innings per game, if he had played in all 163 games. That's a ton of time crouching behind the plate, and it had a massive effect on Contreras in the second half of the season. Contreras hit .279/.369/.449 over his first 82 games played in 2018 and then .200/.291/.294 in 56 second half games. If the Cubs don't add a veteran backup, they could be banking on Caratini to show serious improvement this season. Otherwise, Arcia could leapfrog both Davis and Caratini on the depth chart and steal the backup job. Davis is a bat-first guy, just turned 29 years old, and is probably at risk of losing his 40-man roster spot. __Best-case scenario:__ Arcia wins the job, the Cubs deal Caratini, and Contreras is able to rest enough to have a great 2019 season. __Worst-case scenario:__ Joe Maddon stubbornly sticks with Caratini as the backup and runs Contreras into the ground. ## First Base Anthony Rizzo is the first baseman. There really isn't much else to say about the depth chart at this position, other than the fact that Caratini, Ian Happ, and Ben Zobrist can take some time there, as they did in 2018. But Rizzo is the man at first for the Cubs, and he'll be entrenched there for the eighth-straight season. Rizzo had a poor April last season thanks to an annual back problem and a stint on the DL, hitting .154 with a .448 OPS. But from May 1 through the end of the year he was back to normal, posting a slash line of .303/.393/.512 and 24 home runs. Rizzo is going to turn 30 years old this year, so that's something to keep an eye on, but expect that he'll do his usual thing. __Best-case scenario:__ Rizzo hits over 30 homers, drives in over 100 runs, wins a Gold Glove, and has an OPS+ near his career mark of 128. __Worst-case scenario:__ Rizzo's back issues flare up again in 2019, as they've seemingly gotten worse and worse each season. He misses a major chunk of time and his offensive production falls off significantly. __More Cubs:__ [Chicago favored to win NL Central](https://www.betchicago.com/nl-central-odds-cubs-favorite-cardinals-brewers) ## Second Base Going into 2018, it was very clear that Javier Baez was your regular second baseman. The problems with Addison Russell necessitated Baez playing a large chunk of time at shortstop, and by and large people are happy with Baez at that position. So at least to start the year, it appears the Cubs will go with a group of guys at second. Zobrist will get some time there, as will newcomer Daniel Descalso and last year's ninth inning hero, David Bote. Ian Happ moved to the outfield full-time last year but now will [get a look](https://www.nbcsports.com/chicago/cubs/ian-happ-trying-force-his-way-cubs-second-base-picture-zobrist-descalso-baez-almora) at second base again this spring, so he's an option now too. If Russell is on the Cubs roster at some point and playing regularly, Baez will likely move back over and make the majority of the starts on the right side of the infield. Keep an eye out for infielder Zack Short, who could make his way to the big leagues this season. __Best-case scenario:__ Happ proves capable at second base and Bote fills in admirably at several infield spots, helping the Cubs keep Zobrist rested and allowing them to dump Russell eventually. __Worst-case scenario:__ The position is essentially a black hole until Russell's suspension is over and then Baez moves back over from short. ## Shortstop Again, Baez will be your shortstop on Opening Day – barring injury, of course. Backing him up will be Bote, and if they needed to go to another player at that spot it might actually be Kris Bryant. It's not that Bryant is a serious candidate to play the position, it's more that he's the best of the rest. Descalso played two innings at shortstop with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2017 but not a single inning in 2018. The aforementioned Short should be at Triple-A this season, and the 23-year-old was voted the best defensive shortstop in the Southern League at Double-A last season. He may not be a future Gold Glover at the position, but he's above-average. He has a .380 OBP in 1,329 plate appearances as a minor leaguer and he has some pop in his bat, so there's a chance he gets some time at shortstop in the big leagues this season. __Best-case scenario:__ Baez, who came to spring training visibly more muscular, is even better in 2019 after finishing in second-place for the NL MVP award in 2018. He sticks at shortstop and the Cubs piece together a regular second baseman. __Worst-case scenario:__ Russell returns to the field after his suspension and continues his downward trend offensively. His OPS+ was 94 in 2016, then 84 in 2017, and 74 in 2018. ## Third Base Bryant's shoulder is 100 percent healthy, according to the man himself. That's really important. If you've forgotten, Bryant was the NL Rookie of the Year in 2015, the NL MVP in 2016, and he fielded the final out of the 2016 World Series. If the Cubs have their 27-year-old superstar back in the middle of their lineup, they're going to score runs at a higher rate this season. Behind Bryant, Descalso, Bote and probably even Happ will get some time on defense. Caratini played some at third base last season, but if you see that again this year things have probably gone to hell. __Best-case scenario:__ Bryant is back to his MVP form, which means starting somewhere around 130-140 games at third base and hitting 30-plus homers with an OPS+ over 140. __Worst-case scenario:__ Bryant's shoulder is irreparably damaged, and he hits 15 homers with a 110 OPS+ in-between trips to the injured list to rest. ## The Outfield It's a bit hard to believe that the Cubs' outfield projects almost exactly the same in 2019 as it looked in 2018, given the context heading into the offseason. Whether the front office landed Harper or not, there were expectations that a shakeup was coming. It didn't, and now the majority of the time will be taken by the four-man rotation of Jason Heyward, Albert Almora Jr., Kyle Schwarber, and Happ. Zobrist will get some time in the outfield too, and Bryant will probably continue to make the occasional start at a corner spot. Heyward will get the regular time in right field and sometimes he'll play in center. Almora is a great defensive center fielder, but he needs to upgrade his hitting against right-handed pitchers to get more regular playing time. And if Happ gets more PT at second, that could be good for everyone involved. __Best-case scenario:__ Heyward's hitting continues to trend upward, Almora improves against right-handed pitchers, Schwarber improves against left-handed pitchers, and the Cubs' outfield is one of the best in the game. __Worst-case scenario:__ Heyward takes another step backward on both offense and defense, Almora and Schwarber don't really improve, and the outfield is basically a replay of the 2018 season. __More MLB:__ [Home run leader odds](https://www.betchicago.com/2019-home-run-title-odds-projections)2019-02-20T20:24:52.257Z2019-02-20T13:00-07:00