Chicago Cubs roster comes into focus with Garrett Cooper in and Carl Edwards Jr. opting out

MESA, Ariz. — When Garrett Cooper weighed his minor-league options last month, he wanted to join an organization he believed provided him a chance to make the team out of camp.

He made the most of his opportunity with the Chicago Cubs and learned from his agent around 6:30 p.m. CDT Friday that he made their opening-day roster.

“You feel like a kid again getting that phone call,” Cooper said Saturday. “It shows that you did something right for this spring. I think I carried myself right in a way that made the front office and coaching staff notice, putting together good at-bats, playing the field, DHing, doing all the things they asked.

“Even though I’ve been up here for seven years, when you come in on an NRI, you never know what to expect, so just happy to be here, happy to join this team and getting ready to start the year.”

Cooper credited his strong spring to changing his offseason routine and working with a new hitting coach, Mike Brumley, who worked as Cubs assistant hitting coach in 2014 and has been a minor-league coordinator for the Atlanta Braves since 2021. Brumley also has worked with Dansby Swanson and the Braves’ Austin Riley and Matt Olson. Cooper said Brumely helps breakdown video after games and address the mental side of the game.

“You need to make adjustments every year, every day so you just try to get a different thought process from someone else to hear their side of it,” Cooper said. “Some guys can explain it that maybe you resonate with it more and just coming to camp and doing the same drills with the hitting guys here, taking it day by day.”

Manager Craig Counsell doesn’t envision a set role for Cooper but noted how he can play first base, the outfield “in a pinch” or contribute as the designated hitter.

“Garrett proved this spring he is what he’s been as a player and as a hitter,” Counsell said. “It fills a role on the team that we feel like that fits in to complement some of the other players.”

Cooper’s addition to roster also makes sense within the context of Ian Happ’s status for the start of the season. Happ’s recovery from a left hamstring strain has plateaued, Counsell explained Saturday. Happ, who has not played in a Cactus League game since Wednesday, isn’t expected to be in the lineup until Monday. In the four days between games, Happ’s focus is on exerted running.

Asked whether opening day is in jeopardy for the left fielder, Counsell replied, “No, not right now.”

“The goal is obviously to put it behind him, and it’s not quite behind him,” Counsell said.

With Cooper in the fold, the opening-day roster is nearly solidified. Nick Madrigal’s readiness will be determined Sunday when he is scheduled to play in a minor-league game, his first game action of the spring. The Cubs aren’t ruling out keeping him active despite his lack of game action. They can backdate a potential injured-list stint by three days since he hasn’t played in a Cactus League game, which would sideline Madrigal only six regular-season games.

“We’re trending in a really good place with Nick,” Counsell said. “He’s doing great, he’s passing every test. … We’re going to have to decide if we want Nick to get consistent game action because we’ve got three days of games left after today.”

Right-hander Carl Edwards Jr. appeared in line to make the bullpen, but Counsell confirmed The Bigs Media’s report Saturday that Edwards opted out of his minor-league deal. Edwards could return to the organization if he doesn’t find a big-league opportunity elsewhere.

The Cubs survived a scary moment Friday when left-hander Justin Steele suffered a bruise on the side of his left knee from a comebacker in the second inning of his final spring start. Counsell is not worried about Steele’s readiness for Thursday’s opener and is not making any contingency plans.

“Initially it hit my leg and I was, like, ‘Where’d the ball go?’ and I went to put weight on my leg and it wasn’t really working,” Steele recalled Saturday. “So I fell down and rolled into it and for like 15 seconds it seemed from the knee down my leg was kind of stove up so I was just trying to get some feeling back in it.”

Once Steele got back to the dugout and moved around, the blood flow returned. Twenty-four hours later, Steele’s knee is sore and a little bruised but otherwise feels fine. He played catch Saturday without issue and declared he is “all good” to start Thursday against the Rangers in Arlington, Texas.

Steele had a similar situation happen in August when he got hit by a 100.2-mph liner above his left knee. He stayed in the game that day and made his next start, tossing eight shutout innings.

“That one was a little higher was above my knee and a little bit more on the meat, I felt like that one I was able to get it back moving the way I wanted to a little sooner,” Steele said. “This one was more to the side of the knee, bone and nerve. Since it hit the nerve, that’s why I was struggling to get the feeling in it.”

Related Articles

Steele will throw a bullpen Monday or Tuesday and get to 35-40 pitches since he didn’t hit his pitch count Friday. He is expecting a lot of family and friends to make the trip to Arlington given its proximity to Louisiana compared with other big-league ballparks.

“The emotion for me is I just want it to get here and get underway,” Steele said. “Everybody’s excited for the season and you want to get started on the right foot, so I’m eager for it to get here, get underway and go play some ball with the boys.”

The Cubs expect to know who they are taking to Texas by Monday. Barring an outside edition, the last bench spot appears to be down to outfielder Alexander Canario and Madrigal. Left-hander Luke Little and right-handers Hayden Wesneski and José Cuas are the pitchers remaining in big-league camp in contention for the final two bullpen spots. Cuas seemingly has an inside edge because of his unique look as a sidearmer and his durability.

But Counsell said Saturday that they have not yet decided what to do with the final two bullpen spots.

“There’s different ways to provide value: A lot of people talk about the length in the bullpen, but there’s also over a course of four days, pitching three times in four days, and that can be the same thing,” Counsell said. “I view José the same way if that makes sense, and it’s a factor in part of a bullpen and also what that does, that helps some of our players be better and protects them and give them more rest and that matters.”