<
>

Will Olt make Opening Day roster?

3/24/2014
Joe Camporeale/USA TODAY Sports

MESA, Ariz. -- It’s that time in spring training when the roster crunch is on. With less than a week before camp breaks the Chicago Cubs have some decisions to make, none bigger than what to do with third base prospect Mike Olt.

Olt has re-found his swing (.275, 4 HRs, 9 RBIs) this spring, and what looked like an early-season platoon at third between Donnie Murphy and Luis Valbuena has become more complicated. In a good way.

Meanwhile, pitcher Chris Rusin (0.84 WHIP) has given manager Rick Renteria something to think about as the Cubs will need a new fifth starter for a while in April with Jake Arrieta still on the mend.

Assuming the Cubs keep 13 position players and 12 pitchers, here’s how the roster shapes up before any surprises:

Infield

Anthony Rizzo

Darwin Barney

Starlin Castro

Luis Valbuena

Donnie Murphy

Welington Castillo

George Kottaras

Outfield

Nate Schierholtz

Ryan Sweeney

Justin Ruggiano

Junior Lake

Infield/Outfield

Emilio Bonifacio

Position player analysis: The final roster spot should come down to Olt and non-roster invitee Ryan Kalish. Kalish is healthy for the first time in three years and is showing why he was rising prospect with the Boston Red Sox before injuries derailed him. His speed and athleticism, along with his bat (.300), make him intriguing. But he hasn’t played much in the last couple of years so getting some playing time in the minors instead of sitting on the bench in the majors might be ideal for him.

The bottom line is there is no reason Olt shouldn’t be the opening day third baseman. Valbuena can spell him, as well as Barney, when necessary. Murphy can cover for Castro, as the latter might be slow to play right away in cold weather due to his hamstring issue. And when a tough lefty is throwing against the Cubs, Olt can move over to first and Murphy to third to get as many righties in the lineup as possible. Olt needs to start his major league career. He's not 21, he's 25 and he's proven exactly what he needed to this spring -- he's seemingly over his vision problems.

Bonifacio is also an option anywhere, considering he can play both infield and outfield and is a switch hitter. Renteria simply has more -- and potentially better -- options than his predecessor did.

Pitchers:

Jeff Samardzija

Travis Wood

Edwin Jackson

Jason Hammel

Jake Arrieta (DL)

Carlos Villanueva

Alberto Cabrera

Pedro Strop

Hector Rondon

Justin Grimm

James Russell

Wesley Wright

Jose Veras

Pitching Analysis: Who makes up the middle of the bullpen is less important out of spring training, because it’s bound to change -- possibly as soon as the first week. It did last year.

In projecting, a lot depends on who throws in Arrieta’s place. If it’s Villanueva, then the pitching staff is set until Arrieta returns. If it’s Rusin, then someone has to be sent down to the minors.

Grimm and Rondon are two guys with “options”, meaning they can be sent to Triple-A without having to clear waivers, so there’s a good chance one of them would go. Blake Parker, cut on Saturday, is probably “first up” if there is an injury or someone struggles. And flamethrower Arodys Vizcaino is waiting in the wings at Iowa as well.

The next round of cuts should take place after a day/night doubleheader on Tuesday as the final days of spring training are upon us. The crunch is on.