Cubs Storylines To Watch As Spring Training 2.0 Starts

Will Kris Bryant bat leadoff for the Cubs?

Bruce Levine
June 24, 2020 - 12:17 pm
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(670 The Score) The last time the Cubs played a game was on March 12, after which the coronavirus pandemic shut down the MLB season. 

The hiatus put the questions the Cubs were looking to address before Opening Day on hold. Now as players prepare to report to spring training 2.0 in their home cities by July 1, those topics will come back into focus.

Let's take a look at some of the storylines to follow as the Cubs get back to work soon.

Who will lead off?

This topic dominated the conversation at spring training for the Cubs in late February and early March. Third baseman Kris Bryant was asked by first-year manager David Ross and the front office if he would accept the role, and as you'd expect, Bryant welcomed the challenge with verve. Whether he fills the leadoff role on a full-time basis in 2020 will depend on the results and the team's roster flexibility. Bryant has a career .385 on-base percentage but has led off just seven times in five MLB seasons.

Outfielder Ian Happ had a strong spring before the hiatus. He has a .340 on-base percentage across three MLB seasons and could be another option atop the order. Beyond them, minor league outfielder Ian Miller could factor into the mix as well with expanded rosters and the taxi squad available. Miller made a strong impression on the Cubs front office in spring training and has a .340 on-base percentage and 243 stolen bases across seven minor league seasons. 

Who will be the Cubs' designated hitter?

The DH has been implemented in the National League for the first time ever. Kyle Schwarber would be one logical answer to fill the role given that his defensive range has been considered a weakness, but he has also transformed himself into a decent left fielder with a strong, accurate arm. Schwarber had a strong 2019, with 38 homers, 92 RBIs and an .871 OPS in 155 games. His bat will need to be in the lineup every day.

Knowing Ross, he'll likely use the DH role as a semi-off day for his everyday position players. Catcher Willson Contreras can fill the role here and there while Victor Caratini's bat gets into the lineup more. Outfielder Steven Souza Jr. is a candidate to be used there too.

Who wins the second base job?

Back at Cubs camp in early March, conversation persisted that 23-year-old infielder Nico Hoerner would report to Triple-A Iowa to focus on his development to open the season, paving the way for veteran Jason Kipnis to start at second base. That line of thinking may have changed with the minor league season called off. 

Hoerner impressed in his call-up to the Cubs late in 2019, hitting .282 and playing strong defense in 20 games. He'll certainly factor into the Cubs' equation, if not on the everyday roster then as part of the taxi squad waiting to fill any role needed. 

David Bote and Daniel Descalso will also vie for playing time at second base as well. 

Who will be the Opening Day starter?

Left-hander Jon Lester has started for the Cubs on Opening Day in four of the past five seasons, but that dynamic appears to have changed in 2020.

Before the pandemic halted the season, Ross was days away from officially naming right-hander Yu Darvish the Opening Day starter. Darvish was pitching well in spring after authoring a splendid second half of 2019, when he posted a 2.76 ERA and 0.81 WHIP with 118 strikeouts in 13 starts after the All-Star break. 

Most important for Darvish in 2019 was that he made 31 starters on the season. The Cubs will need him to lead the way and stay healthy again. 

Right-hander Kyle Hendricks is another possibility to start on Opening Day, but Darvish is the front-runner as the choice unless the Cubs take an unconventional approach and use an opener to limit heavy workloads early on.

Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine​.