Cubs 2020 roster outlook: How Alec Mills fits on Opening Day roster

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Each day in March, NBC Sports Chicago is previewing one player from the Cubs’ expected 2020 Opening Day roster. Next up is pitcher Alec Mills.

2019 recap

Mills made nine appearances across four big league stints last season. The 28-year-old posted a 2.75 ERA and 1.17 WHIP to go along with a 27.6 K% (MLB average — 23.0) and 7.2 BB% (8.5).

The right-hander performed admirably in four spot starts (2.70 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 20 innings), one coming in a big September series against the Cardinals. Mills tossed 4 2/3 shutout innings, allowing two walks and two hits, though the Cubs’ offense came up short in a 2-1 loss.

Expectations for this seasons’ role

Mills is expected to takeover Tyler Chatwood’s role as the long man in the Cubs bullpen. The two are competing for the final rotation spot but David Ross said earlier this month Chatwood, long the favorite, is still in the lead for the role.

2020 outlook

There is a scenario where Mills wins the fifth rotation spot. Ross told the Chicago Sun-Times’ Gordon Wittenmyer he’s thought of keeping Chatwood in the long relief role he found success in last season.

This way, the Cubs not only have someone who can pitch multiple innings in the bullpen, but one who throws hard. Chatwood’s four-seam fastball averaged 96.3 mph last season, a career-high — which isn’t a coincidence because relievers pitch in short bursts.

Mills doesn’t throw hard — his four-seamer averaged 89.6 mph last season — and is a command pitcher, like Kyle Hendricks. He’s impressed as a starter this spring, allowed one earned run in 7 2/3 innings.

It’s more likely he makes the Opening Day roster as a reliever, but Mills, who’s out of minor league options, has a spot secured. He’ll still provide starting depth in case someone in the Cubs’ rotation gets hurt and will likely receive an occasional start to keep Chatwood and the other starters fresh.

The complete roster outlook series:

1. Cubs hoping Kris Bryant stabilizes leadoff spot in 2020
2. Kyle Hendricks is a steady force in the Cubs' rotation
3. Kyle Schwarber is primed for a breakout 2020 season
4. Tyler Chatwood has chance to rewrite the script in 2020
5. David Bote searching for more offensive consistency in 2020
6. One pitch could hold key to Jose Quintana's 2020 success
7. Albert Almora Jr. looking to rebound behind new swing, refreshed mental state
8. Cubs counting on bounce back season from Craig Kimbrel
9. Javier Báez is indispensable, and the best is yet to come
10. New pitch key to Rowan Wick staving off regression
11. New MLB rule gives Victor Caratini chance for bigger role
12. Daniel Descalso can only improve from last season
13. Ian Happ poised to claim starting center field job
14. Jeremy Jeffress can bounce back in Chicago
15. Lineup adjustment could be key to Jason Heyward's success
16. Anthony Rizzo remains an all-around rock for Chicago
17. Kyle Ryan's versatility key in uncertain bullpen
18. Now is not the time to write off Jon Lester 
19. Willson Contreras' health is critical to team's success

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