The last game of spring training is over and it’s time for the boys to head north for opening day! Here are the things to watch for in the 2021 season.

What’s wrong with Nico Hoerner?

We all know Nico will get a chance to start the season and he won’t be on the grid on day one. David Booth is currently the Cubs’ second baseman. That said, Nico Horner is clearly the Cubs’ future at second base. The problem with Hoerner’s situation is seniority, he needs to be in the minor leagues for 36 days to avoid accruing two years of MLB seniority in 2021. Will the Cubs bring Nico back after these 36 days and let him play? It will probably depend on how David Boot and Eric Sogard play.

Nico Horner had a great spring for the Cubs. Despite his strong performance, Hoerner will not be part of the opening day team.
Photo: Chicago Tribune

Nico would certainly benefit from more attention to his development, but if he is ready now, why wait any longer? Will the manipulation of office hours piss off the Cubs and prevent them from keeping him? We won’t know until the time comes. Nico will be with the Cubs at some point this year, but the date is still uncertain.

Which outfielder will be in the lineup?

Early in the season, it looks like Joc Pederson (left field), Ian Happ (center field), Jason Heyward (right field) and Jake Marisnick (fourth outfielder) will be the outfielders. Kris Bryant and Cameron Maybin, who will play on the reserve turf, are other options that could see time on the field this season. The good news is that all of these outfielders can play in the middle, with the exception of Bryant.

Joc Pederson was told before his arrival in Chicago that he would have the opportunity to play left field every day. The only question mark for Joc is whether he can hit left-handed pitchers well enough to stay in the lineup. He struggles against LHPs, hitting just .191 and nine home runs in his career. He showed in the spring that he was capable of sustaining his performance against LHPs, but we’ll see if that holds up when the regular season begins.

Also, Jason Heyward. He will play in most games because of his Gold Glove defense, but anything he can bring offensively is a bonus.

The final intriguing question is who will get more time on the field between Jake Marisnick and Cameron Maybin. Marisnick is on the roster for opening day, and Maybin will start the season elsewhere.

What does the back end of the bullpen and rotation look like at the end of the season?

Both the rotation and the bullpen are well positioned at the top. Kyle Hendricks, Jake Arrieta and Zach Davis take the helm at the top of the rotation, while Craig Kimbrel, Andrew Chafin, Ryan Tepera, Brandon Workman and Dan Winkler are at the top of the pen. The questions are completed using the back ends of the rotation and the pin.

To start the season, Trevor Williams and Adbert Alzolei will be in the rotation at fourth and fifth. Alzolei has limited experience as a starter in the MLB, where he has started just six games and 10 total. Williams, meanwhile, started 96 games and had an ERA of 4.43. He is a typical 4/5 starter who has the ability to bring something to the club.

Alec Mills, who will start the season in the bullpen, is also a candidate for the rotation if anyone struggles or gets injured. Think of Alec Mills’ role as that of Mike Montgomery and Travis Wood during their time with the Cubs. He can provide one-off starts or long performances from the bullpen, depending on what the team expects of him that day.

The bullpen will be a revolving door, even with the arrival of the well-paid Craig Kimbrel. The return of Rowan Wick may be a certainty in 8 and 9. Bring in innings if he can return to 100% sooner than later.

Other pitchers to keep an eye on in the bullpen are Dillon Maples and Rex Brothers, who both made the Opening Day team.

Dillon Maples showed promise in the bullpen, but consistency was his biggest issue that kept him from competing at the MLB level.
Photo: MLB.com.

Cubs fans know Dillon Maples all too well. He has an incredibly high ceiling that comes with a BB/9 rating of 9.84. The Cubs seem to have a lot of confidence in the adjustments they have made with Maples, as they have contracted Dwayne Underwood Jr. who has had a very good 2020 for the Cubs. He has the potential to become the pitcher we hoped Kimbrel would be from the beginning, but he might as well be fired in a month if he continues to walk as many batters as he has in the past.

Rex Brothers might be more important to the Cubs than Maples, as he is the second of two left-handed pitchers the Cubs need early in the season. He enjoyed a restful spring with the Cubs, but has pitched just 3.1 innings in the MLB since 2017. There are plenty of reasons to doubt that he can continue his excellent spring in the regular season.

Trading period

If I could look into the future and tell you what the Cubs plan to do between now and the trade deadline, I would. Depending on how the team operates, we could be hearing more Chris Bryant trade rumors than we have in the past, and that will only exacerbate the inability to extend Anthony Rizzo or Javier Baez. Hopefully the Cubs are in the middle of a divisional game and want to buy at the deadline, as they have in recent years. However, this season could be an opportunity for Cubs fans to prepare for potential sellers in August.

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