TEMPE, Ariz. -- Javier Baez, who has not played a game since March 20 because of a sprained left thumb, played catch on Monday and his uncertainty for the start of the regular season is leaving the Cubs with a possible 11th-hour decision regarding the 25-man roster.
Baez was projected as a utility player, filling in defensively in the middle infield and the outfield, and manager Joe Maddon was looking forward to having that versatility.
"We have to make up our mind relatively soon if we have to go with plan B," Maddon said on Monday. "The concern is he has not had enough at-bats and has not played enough in the outfield at different positions. We need to try to figure out how to process all of that now."
Tommy La Stella fills the role of backup infielder and pinch-hitter, and Matt Szczur, who is out of options, could be used as a defensive sub in the outfield or a pinch-runner.
"What we talked about today is when we want to make our decision," Maddon said. "Knowing what Javy's up to matters a lot."
The Cubs also are still debating whether to go with 12 or 13 pitchers. Neil Ramirez, who is out of options, has had a strong spring. Maddon met with president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer on Monday. Baez's availability is key.
"If you write the names on a piece of paper, there are so many guys who can do a variety of things, infield and outfield," Maddon said. "That makes it easier in a sense, whether it's [Ben] Zobrist, [Kris Bryant] or Baez. We have three guys who you legitimately like on the dirt or grass. It's unique to have that."
• Right-hander Spencer Patton was optioned to Triple-A Iowa to reduce the spring roster to 35. Chicago's roster includes 18 pitchers (two non-roster invitees and one on the disabled list), four catchers (one non-roster invitee), eight infielders (one non-roster invitee) and five outfielders (one non-roster invitee).
• Dexter Fowler's late reunion was just what the team needed, Maddon said. Fowler had rejected the Cubs' qualifying offer last November, but ended up re-signing with the team in February.
"When he walked in, everything felt right," Maddon said. "Everything felt good at that point, but then everything felt right. You could see how that last piece just fit in there. There was a place for him and he fit right into it perfectly. He's got great energy, people feed off of him. I don't know that we knew how important that piece was until he came back to us."