Battle for roster spots

With opening day two weeks away, several Cub players are in the mix for a spot on the 25-man roster.

Need to assume some things for this exercise—like who's a lock on the 25-man roster. Wellington Castillo and George Kottaras behind the plate; infielders Anthony Rizzo, Darwin Barney, Luis Valbuena, Starlin Castro; and Nate Schierholtz, Junior Lake, Justin Ruggiano and Ryan Sweeney in the outfield.

With 10 players nearly guaranteed a spot, that leaves either two or three remaining slots, depending on how many pitchers the Cubs decide to leave camp with. If the Cubs use 13 pitchers the choices would be limited while having 13 position players opens up the field.

Even though he doesn't have a spot on the 40-man roster, Emilio Bonifacio is a favorite for the 25-man roster, showing versatility at both middle infield positions as well as in the outfield. Signed as a free agent at the start of spring training after being released by the Royals, the 28-year-old split 2013 between Toronto and Kansas City but hit .285/.352/.348 with 16 stolen bases as the Royals everyday second baseman to end the season (42 games). Bonifacio gives the Cubs a legitimate leadoff hitter and speed on the base paths.

Donnie Murphy isn't guaranteed a spot on the roster, especially with the emergence of Mike Olt. The Cubs could decide to leave camp with Olt but he hasn't played third due to shoulder issues, and if that doesn't improve quickly, chances are he won't be on the plane to Pittsburgh. If Bonifacio is added, Murphy's value as a backup shortstop is diminished and opens the door for Olt to start at third and backup at first base as a right-handed bat.

If the Cubs decided to use 13 position players, then another outfielder is a likely candidate and here's a look at those players:

Ryan Kalish—The 25-year-old missed the entire 2013 season but has flashed some of the skills that earned him a roster spot on the Boston Red Sox in 2010 before injuries sidetracked his career. Kalish provides speed and a left-handed bat, both needs for the Cubs roster. In seven games this spring, Kalish is 4-17 and his three stolen bases leads the Cubs.

Darnell McDonald—The Cubs re-signed McDonald to a minor league deal after he declared for free agency at the end of the season. McDonald spent his first year in Cubs organization at AAA Iowa (.236/.307/.346) in 92 games and then hit .302/.351/.434 in 25 games for Chicago after an August call-up. The 34-year-old has appeared in nine spring games (3-15) and is tied for team lead with four walks.

Brett Jackson—After making his MLB debut in 2012, the Cubs former top prospect took a step back last season, ending the year in AA Tennessee after struggling at Iowa (.223/.300/.367 in 242 PA). He's looking to get his career back on track and the 25-year-old needs to find some success before getting another shot in the big leagues. Appearing in 12 game this spring, Jackson is 4-17, which included a five RBI performance against the Royals on March 15 with his first homer.

Josh Vitters—After spending his career at third base in the minors, the 24-year-old has been moved to a new position this spring as he will play left field and first for the Cubs. That transformation will happen in Iowa as Vitters hopes to stay healthy after four stints to the DL in 2013, limiting him to 100 plate appearances.

Chris Coghlan—The 2009 NL Rookie of the Year is a non-roster invite to camp after playing in 70 games for Florida in 2013 (.256/.318/.354). The 28-year-old left-handed bat has gotten 23 plate appearances this spring (4-22). Coghlan is an on-base guy with not much power but could fill a role in case of injuries as he can handle all three outfield positions.

Casper Wells—Wells played with four different MLB teams in 2013 as the Cubs signed the journeyman outfielder to a minor league deal. The 29-year-old has only gotten 13 at-bats this spring, and has not helped himself with seven strikeouts.

Mitch Maier—Signed during the off-season to a minor league deal, Maier has yet to appear in a game this spring as he spent most of 2013 on the DL with the Red Sox in AAA.

If none of the outfielders make the 25-man roster don't be surprised to see some of these names in Wrigley Field by the season's end as trades and injuries forced the Cubs to use 13 different outfielders last year. They also have Matt Szczur, a member of the Cubs 40-man roster, and Rubi Silva, who had a career year in AA Tennessee in 2013, in Iowa.

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