3 things we learned about the Chicago Cubs this spring, including Seiya Suzuki appearing primed for an All-Star season

MESA, Ariz. — Chicago Cubs manager Craig Counsell didn’t feel compelled to address the team Tuesday before their final exhibition game.

The Cubs don’t need to be hyped up as spring training concluded with a 7-2 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals at Sloan Park.

“This is an exciting day and that we’ve finished the first step and we get to go play games that count — that’s fun for everybody,” Counsell said.

Left-hander Shota Imanaga made his final spring tune-up Tuesday before he takes the mound Monday for the Cubs’ home opener. With a largely intact roster from a year ago, the Cubs broke camp and headed to Texas with a big-picture goal in mind. It is among the takeaways from the team’s spring.

1. Seiya Suzuki appears primed for an All-Star season.

When the Cubs signed Seiya Suzuki during 2022 spring training, they envisioned him as a slugging force in the middle of the lineup.

For stretches over the last two years, Suzuki has shown what he can be at his best. Now as he enters Year 3 in Chicago, the 29-year-old Suzuki just completed his first full spring training and seems to be reaping benefits from a full six-week camp.

Suzuki led the Cubs in nearly every offensive category this spring, including six home runs, five doubles, 12 RBIs and 1.593 OPS.

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“He’s just in control of his at-bats, no question about it, so I’m not surprised by it,” Counsell said. “I mean, he’s a really good hitter. The last two months (of 2023) it felt like he turned a corner in a comfort way as much as anything. He’s very confident right now, it’s clear.”

Suzuki looks locked in and while there are no guarantees that carries over into the regular season, he has utilized a more aggressive approach dating back to August. Combined with his stellar eye, that could serve as a great foundation for a big season.

2. Starting pitching depth gets an early test.

The Cubs’ internal starting pitching options took steps forward last year, setting up the organization to consider different paths to building the rotation this season.

The Cubs expect to call on the depth at some point. At the start of camp, Counsell noted how the team would likely use around 12 pitchers to make at least one start in 2024. Right-hander Jameson Taillon’s lower back injury is forcing him to begin the season on the 15-day injured list with an eye on a mid-April return. Taillon threw one inning in live batting practice Monday and is scheduled to throw another live BP Friday before heading out on a minor-league assignment.

“It’s going to take a little bit of time, but the hope is that he continues to progress,” president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said Monday. “But I think that’s where depth matters and I feel really good about (Javier) Assad making the starts, guys who are in Iowa that I felt good about making starts so I prefer to have him back, but I like the fact that we have some options.”

Taillon’s absence created an open starting spot from which right-hander Javier Assad benefits. With left-hander Drew Smyly in the bullpen and right-hander Hayden Wesneski starting at Triple-A Iowa, the Cubs still have guys they can call on, ready to go, if they need another starter. And by the end of the season, top prospect Cade Horton could be in that mix too.

3. The Cubs have the talent to make the postseason, now they need to take care of business.

The Cubs return largely the same lineup and pitching staff they had to end the 2023 season, with three key additions — Imanaga, reliever Héctor Neris and first baseman Michael Busch — that bolster areas of weakness on the roster.

The National League Central division appears up for grabs and ultimately anything less than a postseason appearance would go down as a disappointment. There’s always an element of luck to surviving a long season, but the Cubs believe they have the pieces to secure a playoff spot. The group that remains from the 2023 squad that endured a bitter collapse does not want 2024 to play out similarly.

The camp vibes were good to kick off Counsell’s first year with the organization. Team chemistry only goes so far, however. The Cubs’ first test begins Thursday in Texas and will start by watching the Rangers receive their World Series rings.