Home News Chicago Cubs finalize opening-day roster as they close out camp

Chicago Cubs finalize opening-day roster as they close out camp


MESA, Ariz. — Luke Little had a hint that something might be up.

Manager Craig Counsell wasn’t waiting to shake his hand as Little walked into the visitors dugout following his inning of work Sunday at the Peoria Sports Complex. After chatting with pitching coach Tommy Hottovy, he was informed Counsell wanted to talk to him.

“This was either going to be good or bad,” Little recalled Sunday. “I was hoping it was going to be good because it was during a game.”

Counsell checked to see how Little was doing after pitching on one day’s rest, to which the lefty informed Counsell he felt really good and was ready to go again: “Good, we’ll have you in Texas,” Counsell replied.

“Good sized man, good sized smile,” Counsell said of the 6-foot-8 Little’s reaction.

The Cubs complete their opening-day roster with Little and right-hander José Cuas securing the final spots in the bullpen while infielders Nick Madrigal and Miles Mastrobuoni fill the remaining bench openings. Outfielder Alexander Canario and right-hander Hayden Wesneski were optioned to Triple-A Iowa. Catcher Jorge Alfaro was released.

The Cubs do not need to make their roster official until Thursday morning ahead of their season opener that night against the Texas Rangers. It leaves wiggle room if the Cubs want to claim someone off waivers or if an injury pops up before the regular season begins.

Chicago Cubs left-handed pitcher Luke Little at spring training on Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2024, in Mesa, Arizona. (Stacey Wescott/Chicago Tribune)
Chicago Cubs left-handed pitcher Luke Little at spring training on Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2024, in Mesa, Ariz. (Stacey Wescott/Chicago Tribune)

Little is one of six Cubs who is part of their first opening-day roster, joining Michael Busch, Christopher Morel, Miguel Amaya, Shota Imanaga and Jordan Wicks. Little’s first call went to his mom, Billie, who he said started freaking out upon hearing the news.

“It’s something I’ve been dreaming of since I was a kid,” Little said. “Just being able to be on the field opening day, it’s gonna be really special.”

Although Little is only 23 with seven big-league appearances, Counsell liked how hitters looked uncomfortable against him all spring.

“We definitely take note of it,” Counsell said. “So I look forward to giving Luke some opportunities and hopefully earning some bigger opportunities as we go.”

Mastrobuoni’s defensive flexibility to play second base, shortstop, third base and both corner outfield positions provides safety coverage for Counsell to be more aggressive with his decisions at various points in the game, a valuable piece on the bench.

Madrigal’s left hamstring strain that kept him out of games for three weeks raised some uncertainty about whether he would be ready in time, however, Counsell said the Cubs are comfortable with his health and that there is a role for him on the team. Conversely, when plotting out Canario’s potential fit, Counsell struggled to find at-bats for him based on the current roster construction. Those three factors played into putting Madrigal on the opening-day roster.

Photos: An inside look at Cubs spring training

The Cubs want Canario to continue working on becoming a consistent offensive player, which would have been tough to address in the majors with limited big-league opportunities at least for the start of the season. But Canario made an impression on Counsell during camp.

“He showed me he can be a good major-league player,” Counsell said. “He’s a very prepared kid and I love that about him. For 23 years old, he is on game situations, base running, tough at-bats, prepared for his at-bats. There was a lot of good out of what he did this spring.”

Wesneski will get stretched out again and start at Triple A. That doesn’t rule out him being called up to help in the bullpen, or even make spot starts. Counsell explained starting for Iowa leads to potentially more improvement and regularly pitching rather than being used out of the bullpen. Wesneski also provides depth if a starter gets hurt with the Cubs already down right-hander Jameson Taillon, who threw one inning of live batting practice Monday for his first action against hitters since his back injury.

“He’s disappointed and that’s understandable and rightfully so,” Counsell said of Wesneski. “He wants to pitch good and he wants to be a major leaguer and he’s had success in the big leagues. You get delivered some bad news, but you can’t stop that goal of continuing to try to get better.”

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