Epstein has faith in rebuilt Cubs bullpen
The Cubs stressed pitching depth when paring down the final 30-man roster for opening day, keeping 16 pitchers and 14 position players.
That meant there was essentially one position spot up for grabs and it went to catcher Josh Phegley, while infielder Daniel Descalso was placed on the 45-day injured list with a left ankle sprain. Descalso appeared to injure his ankle in Wednesday's exhibition, but it's been an ongoing issue.
Phegley, 32, a late first-round pick of the White Sox in 2009, is coming off the best season of his career with Oakland. Team president Theo Epstein said he thought it made sense to keep three catchers, so Willson Contreras and Victor Caratini can take turns at DH, and also because Phegley has made good strides. He homered twice in a simulated game on Wednesday.
There's some optimism about the Cubs bullpen, which has some new faces. In addition to closer Craig Kimbrel, the Cubs will keep Rex Brothers, Jeremy Jeffress, Dillon Maples, James Norwood, Kyle Ryan, Casey Sadler, Duane Underwood Jr., Rowan Wick, Brad Wieck, Dan Winkler.
Epstein had a fun nickname ready for a trio of young Cubs relievers.
"The 'Woods' -- Underwood, Norwood and Maples -- three home-grown power arms who are at different stages in their development and coming into their own. All will have an opportunity to make an impact," Epstein said
"There's real upside there. Those three arms bring a real element of 'stuff' to our pen that's needed to succeed in this day and age."
Epstein said Maples has one of the best sliders in the game and Ross fought to keep him on the roster. Maples has made 29 appearance for the Cubs over the past three seasons.
The newcomers are Brothers, once a closer for Colorado; Jeffress, who spent the past three seasons with the Brewers; Sadler, who posted a 2.14 ERA last year for the Rays and Dodgers; and Dan Winkler, an Effingham native who spent parts of five seasons with the Braves.
Epstein said the toughest call among the guys sent back to the South Bend satellite camp was Ryan Tepera, a free agent the Cubs signed from Toronto.
"There were a couple of instances in which he missed a sim game or a bullpen with procedural delays," Epstein said. "It put him behind a little bit. He was trending the right direction. We think he's going to pitch really big innings for us, we just believe he will benefit from a little bit of time."
Colin Rea was sent to South Bend, but Ross thinks he'll be back if the Cubs need an extra starter. Rea last pitched in the majors in 2016, but threw well for the Iowa Cubs last summer while trying to come back from elbow surgery.