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Iowa Cubs announce Opening Day roster

The Cubs Triple-A affiliate is loaded with prospects and familiar names

Matt Mervis, Peter Matt, Liam Spence and Casey Optiz Dylan Heuer

In advance of tonight’s season opener against the Columbus Clippers at Principal Park in Des Moines, the Iowa Cubs announced their Opening Night roster for the 2023 season.

The Iowa Cubs are led this season by prospects such as outfielder Brennen Davis, first baseman Matt Mervis and right-hander Cam Sanders, as well as familiar names from their time at Wrigley Field such as Christopher Morel, Nelson Velázqeuz, David Bote and Opening Night starter Adrian Sampson.

Long-time I-Cubs manager Marty Pevey returns for his record 11th season in Des Moines. Pitching coach Ron Villone comes back for his fourth season in Iowa. The new I-Cubs hitting coach is former Chicago Cubs hitting coach John Mallee and the new bench coach is former Cubs (both Iowa and Chicago) infielder Eric Patterson.

Two of my Top 5 Cubs prospects are on the I-Cubs this year in outfielder Brennen Davis (number 2) and first baseman Matt Mervis (number 5). Davis is coming off an injury-plagued 2022 season. Mervis, on the other hand, shot up through three levels of the minors, hitting 36 home runs in total and earning Cubs Minor League Player of the Year honors.

Joining Davis in the outfield is Nelson Velázquez, who spent most of the 2022 season up in Chicago. Mike Tauchman, who spent last season in Korea and was impressive in the Spring Training, also is playing outfield for Iowa.

Darius Hill, who led all Cubs last year with 166 hits and a .314 batting average, also returns to Iowa this year. This final outfielder is 24-year-old Yonathan Perlaza, who hit .255/.358/.492 with 23 home runs and 15 steals for Double-A Tennessee last year, makes his Triple-A debut.

Morel, who spent most of the 2022 season as a super-sub utility player in Chicago, returns to Iowa for the first time since 2021 to get the playing time he wouldn’t get in Chicago. He’ll likely play both infield and outfield.

The rest of the Iowa infield is mostly made up of players you should be familiar with from their time in Chicago. David Bote is a long-time Cub and Jared Young made his major league debut last year. Sergio Alcántara returns to the Cubs organization after playing 2022 with the Diamondbacks and Padres. Alcántara played 89 games in the majors for the Cubs in 2021.

The one infielder you may not be familiar with is 26-year-old Jake Slaughter. Slaughter was an 18th-round pick of the Cubs back in 2018 and has been slowly working his way up the system. But something seemed to click for Slaughter last year and he had his best year ever. He hit .293/.389/.534 with 20 home runs and 28 steals for Double-A Tennessee last season. That’s certainly a profile the major league Cubs could use at third base, so Slaughter will be looking to prove that wasn’t a fluke.

The catchers are Dom Nuñez and Bryce Windham. Nuñez joins the Cubs after ten years and 111 major league games with the Rockies. Windham was a 32nd-round pick of the Cubs back in 2019.

The pitching staff is anchored by Adrian Sampson, who lost out on the Cubs’ fifth-starter job to Hayden Wesneski in Spring Training. He’s spent parts of the last two seasons in Chicago and he’ll likely do so again this year.

Nick Neidert, who has pitched for the Marlins the past three years, will get the start on Saturday. On Sunday, promising right-hander Caleb Kilian gets the start. Kilian is looking to bounce back from a rough 2022 season when he was expected to establish himself as a member of the Cubs’ rotation. But development isn’t always linear, and Kilian still has a lot of promise.

Left-hander Roenis Elías is in Iowa after his time with Cuba in the World Baseball Classic and stints with the Mariners, Red Sox and Nationals in previous seasons.

Cam Sanders, the son of former Cubs pitcher Scott Sanders (but NOT Scott Sanderson), impressed people with his stuff in Spring Training this year. He’s expected to make his major league debut sometime this year. Jeremiah Estrada was impressive in his brief major-league debut last year. Manuel Rodríguez—whom I don’t think we make enough of him being the first major leaguer from Yucatán—is back in Iowa after pitching in Chicago for parts of the last two seasons. Former first-round pick Brendon Little made his major-league debut last year and while that didn’t go all that well, he’ll look to make a second trip to the majors this year.

Rowan Wick cleared waivers accepted his assignment to Iowa. You’re familiar with him.

Riley Thompson is also a promising right-handed reliever with elite velocity who has had problems staying healthy throughout his entire career. But last year he managed 19 starts in Double-A and we’ll be looking to prove he’s good enough and durable enough to get a shot in the majors.

The Cubs take on the Clippers tonight at 7:08 Central time in Des Moines.

Play ball!