Meet the new Cubs' newest players as spring training nears
Spring training preview: meet the newest Cubs originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
After missing the playoffs in consecutive seasons, the Chicago Cubs were one of the most active teams during the offseason, and they hope the 2023 season will represent a large step forward to the organization.
As the Cubs head to Mesa for spring training, and as you settle onto your couch and dream of warmer summer days, here is a refresher course on the new players that will dot the team’s roster.
With the departure of Willson Contreras in free agency, the Cubs have opted to go in a slightly more defensive direction, signing Barnhart to a two-year deal.
Barnhart, winner of two Gold Gloves during his time in Cincinnati, drove in 16 RBI’s and posted a .287 on-base percentage in 308 plate appearances last season with the Detroit Tigers. He’ll hope that a down year was an aberration, as he previously had posted an OBP of greater than .320 in six of the previous seven seasons before 2021.
Few Cubs players will attract the amount of attention that will surely come Bellinger’s way in 2023, as the former National League MVP will look to bounce back after a series of disappointing seasons.
Bellinger did hit 19 home runs and drive in 68 RBI’s last season, but his slash-line of .210/.265/.389 didn’t exactly light the world on fire for the Dodgers, who opted to non-tender him following the campaign.
The Cubs hope that swing tweaks and a fresh start in Chicago will be enough to get him back to his old ways at the plate, and his Gold Glove-caliber defense in center field is a huge bonus for a team that put a premium on good gloves this offseason.
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The Cubs added a solid arm to their bullpen this offseason when they signed the veteran Boxberger, who posted a sterling 2.95 ERA in 70 appearances with the Milwaukee Brewers last season.
The one thing to keep an eye on with Boxberger was an increase in his WHIP, which went from 1.07 to 1.23 season-over-season. The latter number is more in line with his career performance, but the Cubs will hope that an improved defense will help turn some of the base hits Boxberger gave up in 2022 into outs.
The Cubs made a pair of moves at first base this offseason, starting with the former-Gold Glover and 2015 World Series champion Hosmer.
He certainly isn’t the same player as he was during his heyday in Kansas City, hitting .268 with eight home runs and 44 RBI’s in 380 at-bats last season, but the Cubs are hopeful that he can provide a solid on-base threat with occasional power in a platoon situation, and if he can do that while making the league minimum, the team would undoubtedly be thrilled with their investment.
The Cubs went into the offseason seeking to bolster their depth at first base, especially with the team wanting to play things somewhat cautiously with rapidly-ascending prospect Matt Mervis, and Mancini fit the bill perfectly.
Platooning Mancini with Hosmer seems to be the strategy after signing him to a two-year deal, and the Cubs will hope that his power numbers rebound slightly after a tough stretch with the Houston Astros, which saw Mancini hit just .176 with 49 strikeouts in 165 at-bats.
He did hit 18 home runs last season however, and he’s consistently been a 20-to-25 home run guy throughout his career.
Acquired in a trade with the Rays, Mastrobuoni will likely serve as a middle infield depth option if the team decides to move on from David Bote, but he can also play a bit of outfield, as he did during the Dominican winter league and during his minor league days with the Tampa Bay Rays.
Mastrobuoni got a brief cup of coffee with the Rays last season, going 3-for-16 with a run scored and a stolen base. He did have 16 home runs and 64 RBI’s to go along with 23 stolen bases for the Triple-A Durham Bulls, so there could be an intriguing mix of power and speed in his game.
Picked up off of waivers from the Blue Jays, Merryweather struggled during the 2022 season, with a 6.75 ERA and 23 strikeouts in 26.2 innings of work. His WHIP was a paltry 1.425, and that came mostly on the back of the 31 hits he surrendered in limited outings.
He has shown flashes of strong stuff in his career, but Tommy John surgery and inconsistent production caused the Jays to designate him for assignment.
The crown jewel of the Cubs’ offseason moves, Swanson is coming off an All-Star campaign that also saw him win a Gold Glove at shortstop. He smacked 25 home runs and drove in a career-high 96 RBI’s last season, all while stealing 18 bases and establishing himself as one of the best shortstops in the game.
The Cubs will need Swanson to wear a lot of hats, forming a strong double-play combination with Nico Hoerner while also serving as one of the team’s primary run producers, as he’ll likely slot into the second or third spot in the lineup on most days.
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If there’s one thing the Cubs have a lot of, it’s starting pitching depth, and adding a pitcher of Taillon’s caliber significantly bolstered the skill level of that rotation.
Taillon struck out 151 batters in 177.1 innings last season, with a 3.91 ERA and a 14-5 record for the New York Yankees.
The Cubs will hope that he can prove to be a strong number-two starter on a team that lacks a true ace, and if he can team up with Marcus Stroman and Drew Smyly to provide a veteran presence at the top of the rotation, then it could give some of the club’s top pitching prospects time to adjust to consistent big-league roles.
The Cubs made a few interesting moves on the minor league front this offseason, bringing in Anthony Kay and Jordan Holloway to potentially compete for jobs in the bullpen.
The Cubs also signed catcher Luis Torrens to potentially compete for playing time, and to provide some insurance if Barnhart or Yon Gomes struggles with injury. Sergio Alcántara also makes his return to the Cubs after spending the 2022 season with the Padres and Diamondbacks.
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