With only 10 days left until Opening Day, things are coming down to the wire f0r guys still trying to compete for jobs on big league rosters.  The Chicago Cubs still have 40 players left in camp, which means that 15 more guys will be cut before the first of April.  There is still a lot of uncertainty regarding which 25 players will be in uniform against the Pirates on April 1 at Wrigley Field.  As of now, there are still nine spots up for grabs!

There are 16 players that are 100 percent locks to make the team, unless they suffer an injury.  Here is a list of the guys that know they have a spot on the Opening Day roster, in no particular order.

  • Marlon Byrd
  • Matt Garza
  • Ryan Dempster
  • Carlos Zambrano
  • Alfonso Soriano
  • Kosuke Fukudome
  • Tyler Colvin
  • Carlos Pena
  • Blake DeWitt
  • Jeff Baker
  • Starlin Castro
  • Aramis Ramirez
  • Geovany Soto
  • Carlos Marmol
  • Sean Marshall
  • Kerry Wood

Here is how the other nine roster spots will break down.

Back-up Catcher

Going into camp, Koyie Hill was considered a near-lock to handle catching duties with Geovany Soto.  However, Welington Castillo is having an eye-opening spring.  He is hitting .706 in 17 at-bats, the highest among Cubs with more than five trips to the plate.  Castillo has also shown improvement on defense, walked twice, homered and driven in six.  In the mean time, Hill is in the midst of a terrible slump that has lasted all spring at the plate.  His .037 (1-for-27) average is unacceptable, even for a backup catcher.  Koyie, a switch hitter, does bring several positive attributes to the table.  He works great with the pitching staff, plays superb defense and is a great caller of the game.  Hill hit just .214 in 77 games last season, which was his fourth year in Chicago and his second full season as the backup to Soto.  Castillo made the most of his 2010 September call-up, going 6-for-20 with five extra-base knocks and five RBIs.  Despite Castillo’s outstanding spring, I would be surprised if the Cubs parted ways with Hill.

Fifth Outfielder

Reed Johnson, a fan-favorite during his previous stint with the Cubs in 2008 and 2009, has pulled in front of Fernando Perez for the final spot in the Cubs outfield.  With Tyler Colvin needing as many at-bats as possible, whoever receives this final spot in the outfield will not see many starts.  Johnson or Perez will be used strictly as a defensive replacement late in games, pinch hitter and backup to Marlon Byrd, who rarely takes days off.  Perez was included in the Matt Garza trade in January.  He has a lot of speed, but is hitting just .167 in 14 Cactus League games.  Early on, the switch hitting Perez was slowed by an injury.  In addition to his popularity among fans and teammates, Reed has a clear advantage defensively and is a terrific bunter.  Cubs fans will never forget several of the acrobatic catches that he made during the 2008 season.

Utility Infielder

Darwin Barney seems to have this spot all but wrapped up.  After hitting .241 in 30 games last season, Darwin appears to be ready for a breakout season.  He has a .371 average this spring and could even find himself splitting time with Jeff Baker at second base if Blake DeWitt continues to struggle.  Barney can play both middle infield spots, and since Baker and DeWitt can both play the hot corner there is no need for another third baseman on the team.  Non-roster invite Augie Ojeda was expected to be Barney’s biggest competition for the final infield spot, but he is hitting just .125, currently injured and could decide to enter retirement.  Scott Moore is on fire at the plate, but his inability to play shortstop rules him out for this job.

Fourth and Fifth Starters

Randy Wells has been a fixture in the rotation for the last two seasons, but he was not handed a spot this year.  However, he has pitched lights out in Arizona, and will most likely be awarded the fourth spot in the starting five.  The right hander’s ERA is 1.35 after his gem (6 innings, 1 run) yesterday against the Giants.  Mike Quade could make a decision concerning the rotation as soon as this week.  If Carlos Silva’s dugout altercation with Aramis Ramirez earlier this month wasn’t enough to seal his fate, perhaps his 15.88 ERA is.  Andrew Cashner was a valuable piece to the bullpen last season, but with Kerry Wood inked as the right handed setup man, Cashner can move into the rotation.  He is 1-1 with a 3.97 ERA and is favored over Silva, Todd Wellemyer, Braden Looper and Casey Coleman for the final spot in the rotation.  Silva could end up working in relief, or he may be released if Cashner and Wells do take the rotation spots.

Two Left-Handed Relievers

James Russell came up in April and did a marvelous job pitching in relief for the Cubs last season.  Quade was so impressed that he gave him a brief look for a spot in the rotation, but with the cluster of starters it looks like Russell will be a better fit for the bullpen.  He is expected to join Sean Marshall in the ‘pen, leaving veteran John Grabow and youngster Scott Maine to duke it out for the final two spots.  Grabow has only pitched three times this spring due to several injuries, but he worked an inning yesterday and says he is healthy now.  John missed most of last season with the knee issue.  Scott Maine had a sparkling earned run average of 2.08 in his 13 game cup-of-coffee last season.

Two Right-Handed Relievers

With Jeff Samardzija out of options, the Shark can pretty much be penciled in for one of the bullpen spots from the right side.  He has struggled bouncing back and forth between Iowa and Chicago and between the ‘pen and the starting five the last several years.  Perhaps a defined role and a set job will help The Shark, who is in his final year of a large contract, succeed.  The other spot will come down to whoever loses out on the rotation plus Justin Berg, who has a bloated ERA of 22.50.

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