Some random information heading into the regular season…
- Cubs.com’s Carrie Muskat tweeted that Miss America, Laura Kaeppeler will throw out the first pitch at the Milwaukee Brewers’ opening game on Friday. The reason this makes it into a blog dedicated to the Cubs? She is a lifelong Cubs’ fan. I can only hope she wears a Cubs’ jersey out to the mound.
- ESPN Chicago’s Doug Padilla wrote an article about Carlos Marmol heading into the regular season. Dale Sveum talked about Carlos Marmol’s pitch selection and grip improvements made over the course of Spring Training. He spoke about Marmol gripping the seams of the baseball more on his fastball and using that pitch to get ahead in counts or get back into counts. After ditching the awful cutter from last season, look for Marmol to be the fastball/ slider pitcher we’ve seen in the past. Carlos has not allowed a run in his last six outings before today.
- One of the most talked about names in trade rumors as the regular season approaches is Cubs’ CF Marlon Byrd. The potential exists that the Cubs would be willing to absorb some of the salary remaining on the last year of Byrd’s contract. Should Marlon actually be traded, at any point this year, that would all but guarantee Brett Jackson would be called up at some point this season. It probably would not be initially, because the Cubs did send him back to Iowa for a reason. At this point, I would guess Byrd remains with the team until closer to the July non-waiver deadline.
- Like most teams in baseball, the Cubs are looking for help in the bullpen. The only assured slots are going to closer Carlos Marmol, set-up man Kerry Wood, and lefty James Russell. Behind those three are unproven commodities, although it would be a shock if Rodrigo Lopez was not the long reliever going into the season after the spring he’s put together.
- The Cubs are 15-16 this spring. Even though the games do not count, they did not get off to a great start. Hopefully, some of the late spring momentum carries into the regular season, and the Cubs can get out of the gates better than they did last season. If they have any shot at contending, a lot needs to go right, and a fast start is one of them.
Opening Day is less than three days away. Let the real games begin!
Dale Sveum debuted the Opening Day line in today’s 6-3 loss to the Dodgers. It consisted of:
RF David DeJesus
2B Darwin Barney
SS Starlin Castro
LF Alfonso Soriano
3B Ian Stewart
CF Marlon Byrd
C Geovany Soto
P Ryan Dempster
While it is no great surprise to me that Ryan Dempster is getting the Opening Day nod, I had assumed that Matt Garza would be the Opening Day Starter since the beginning of Spring Training because of his leadership, skill, and his excellent second half last season. That is not meant to slight Dempster, who has been an effective, if not excellent pitcher in Chicago for nine years. I merely felt that Garza had earned the right. Dale Sveum thought differently than I did, and his opinion counts more than mine.
The Epstein Compensation Issue Just Won’t Die
Chris Carpenter’s elbow injury is apparently causing the Red Sox to explore their options in the deal sending Theo Epstein to the Cubs. ESPN’s Buster Olney tweeted that it probably will not go very far because the Red Sox were given Carpenter’s medical records and a physical when he was sent to Boston…and he passed. Cubs’ GM Jed Hoyer was asked today if the deal would be restructured saying, “No.”
The Cubs sent RHP Aaron Kurcz to the Sox and, yesterday, received 19 year old 1B Jair Bogaerts to complete the deal…one could only hope.
The Roster is Taking Shape, But is By No Means Set
There are very few slots remaining on the Opening Day roster, with the back-up catcher slot being given to the left handed Steve Clevenger, Jeff Samardzija being the third starter, and Randy Wells being sent to Iowa. However, with names being discussed in trade rumors, there are some potential openings on the roster. Marlon Byrd being moved (Atlanta or Washington) would open a spot for, most
likely, Reed Johnson to start, and another position player to make the roster.
What has become clear in the past five months is the willingness of the new front office staff to make any move that will benefit the roster, both now and in the future. While it would be in the team’s best interest to keep Marlon Byrd right now, the chances of him being a Cub when we are looking at final roster cuts in 2013 is slimmer than the new waist line he sports. Randy Wells could also be on the black as the Cubs look to improve their bullpen, although it would be hard to imagine getting anything better than a low level prospect for Wells since he failed to make the Cubs out of camp this year…even with their weaknesses in middle and long relief.
At this point of the spring, all of the forecasting, predicting, prognosticating, and analyzing has been done. Repeatedly. This is just some of the fodder that has come out of Cubs camp in the last week or so, since the last post.
- Today, Andy Sonnanstine elected to become a free agent after refusing to take an outright assignment to Iowa. He had an uphill climb to make a crowded rotation picture, and the emergence of Jeff Samardzija made it even less likely that he would make the team. Today, he officially did not.
- Joe Mather has made the team. No. I do not have any insider information that tells me that he will be on the 25 man Opening Day roster when the Cubs head north. There just doesn’t seem to be a way to leave him off of the roster at this point. He’s hitting .432, including two sharp doubles in today’s win over the Indians. Ten of his 19 hits have gone for extra bases. In addition, he made an amazing over the shoulder catch that would
have made Jim Edmonds tip his cap. A man that can play all three outfield slots, and both corner infield slots is something every team needs. Mather does that. There is no way he doesn’t make the team at this point.
- It appears the Opening Day rotation will be Ryan Dempster, Matt Garza, Jeff Samardzija, Paul Maholm, and Chris Volstad when the team heads north. With Travis Wood having some struggles this spring and Jeff Samardzija grabbing the bull by the horns and taking a spot in the rotation, it seems all but a lock at this point.
- Alfonso Soriano has six home runs this spring, and is in the Major League lead this spring. His damage has not been spread out, either. As streaky as Soriano is, he has been mightily consistent this spring. His opposite field blast today was a terrific sign for Cubs’ fans knowing that he is going to be a vital part of any success the team has this season. There are going to be times where he is going to have to carry the team with all of the youth on the roster. At least at this point, with the shorter leg kick and literally huge bat, he looks up to the task.
- The biggest departure between this spring and the last number of years is the aggressiveness on the base paths. Today, Geovany Soto tagged from first on a deep fly ball to center. That never happens. Ever. The traditional teaching of going half way in the event of a drop is not in Cubs’ camp this spring. They have stolen 26 bases, good for fourth in MLB this spring, and have been caught 12 times. Clearly, the Sveum Administration is in full effect. Putting pressure on the defense is going to be important this season because the offensive talent lacks. Edgar Gonzalez today, scored from first on a stolen base, throwing error by Indians’ Catcher, Matt Pagnozzi, and a misplay by CF, and former Cub top prospect,
Felix Pie. It was all about putting pressure on the defense. It won’t work out that way all the time. It will lead to unnecessary outs on the bases on occasion. But it is aggressiveness that the team is going to need. They have to outplay opponents this season because there is a development gap. The Cubs are talented…and severely underdeveloped. Winning this season is going to take baptism by fire. It appears at this point, Dale Sveum has a full book of matches.
The Countdown to Opening Day 2012 is in full effect. We are a mere 11 days from the new season, where Ryan Dempster will take the ball for the second straight season opener, against the vastly improved Nationals and their young star in the making, RHP Stephan Strasburg. Until then…we are stuck in the Dog Days of Spring.
I can recall distinctly…
May 28, 2011. The Cubs were facing a 1-7 pitcher for the Pirates at Wrigley Field. That pitcher threw 91 pitches, struck out 4, and got his second win in a complete game shut out of the evidently hapless Cubs. That pitcher…was Paul Maholm.
Before that game, I had not seen the numbers on Maholm, but he was actually pitching quite well, coming into that May 28 meeting with a 3.65 ERA and a run of tough luck losses that would make Matt Garza feel some pity. Last May, Maholm gave up eight earned runs in five starts.
This spring, Maholm is a near lock to be the third starter with the Cubs. His durability is something the Cubs’ rotation sorely lacked last season, with all but Ryan Dempster spending some time on the disabled list. Last season’s 26 starts were his fewest since his debut season of 2005. And his 162.1 IP were also the lowest mark of any full season in his career. Before last season he had started 30 or more games in 4 of 5 seasons. And the one season with less than 30 starts was a 29 start season in 2007.
His +26 Runs Above Replacement and his 2.6 Wins Above Replacement indicate exactly what the new Cub is. He’s not flashy. He’s not a household name outside of the city in which he plays. He is a solid starting pitcher that will take the ball every fifth day almost without fail. And every team needs one or two of those guys.
Maholm’s strong 3.66 ERA last season is something the Cubs need, too. That would have been good for second of all of the Cubs starters.
Maholm is also pretty good with the bat. Well…he handles the bat well for what National League pitchers need to handle the bat for. His 23 career sacrifice bunts should be enough to make Cubs’ fans salivate after watching the repeated failure of last season’s pitchers to get a bunt down time after time after time. It bears mention that Maholm did make it to the Final Four of the bunt tournament.
Maholm reminds me a lot of Ted Lilly. He is a left handed pitcher, who’s signing got lost in some other rather substantial transactions during the off-season. He could also be a stabilizer after Garza and Dempster in the rotation. And he seems to be a genuinely good person…which always helps. I won’t pretend to have gotten to know Paul Maholm by following him on Twitter (@paul_maholm), but I do think you can get a glimpse of who a person is. And from what I can tell, he’s excited to be a Chicago Cub.
And I, for one, am excited to have him. He’s the anti-Cub of the last five years. No big contract. No big mouth. Hopefully, just a big year.
Of all of the interesting facts that I could find about the additions to the Cubs’ Coaching Staff under new Manager Dale Sveum, the one I found most interesting is that all of them have worked on staffs of division rivals in their past.
Their past is not the relevant part of the discussion. The relevant discussion points regarding new coaches, Chris Bosio (Pitching), Dave McKay (First Base), and Jamie Quirk (Bench) is what they can teach the plethora of youth on the roster. All of the coaches, including the holdovers, have a great deal of experience as coaches at the major league level. Clearly, Dale Sveum wanted to surround himself with knowledge to make his transition to managing happen more smoothly…and it was the first of hopefully many good decision.
New Coaches for 2012
Pitching Coach: Chris Bosio – Bosio’s Wisconsin roots run deep, having pitched for the Brewers, coached and scouted for the Brewers, and been a coach at UW-Oshkosh and Lawrence University in Appleton. He moves south to take over pitchers for the Cubs, replacing Mark Riggins after one season. He is in his third stint overall as a MLB Pitching Coach. Bosio subscribes to the new regime’s methods of statistical analysis, and had charted each pitchers tendencies before Spring Training and left a copy in each pitcher’s locker before the first workout. He is left with the unenviable task of turning around a group that ranked near the bottom of the league in nearly every category last season and will need a much stronger showing to improve on the teams 71 win showing last season.
First Base Coach: Dave McKay– Cubs’ fans should know this name well. He has been one of Tony LaRussa’s right hands in St. Louis for years. McKay is generally regarded as one of, if not the, best First Base Coaches in baseball. The base running was awful last season, and it will be on McKay and new Third Base Coach Pat Listach (moved from Bench
Coach after last season) to help the base runners make better decisions and exercise the aggressiveness that Sveum wants to see out of his runners. In addition to base coaching, McKay serves as the primary Outfield Instructor, and according to Manager Dale Sveum, he has taken a keen interest in LF Alfonso Soriano. With so many young players, however, he will have a vital role in his capacities on the bases and in helping the outfield defense.
Bench Coach: Jamie Quirk – Every new Manager needs an experienced Bench Coach, and Quirk is nothing if not experienced. He has been in professional baseball for 37 seasons before 2012, and has been a Bench Coach for 12 years, in two different stints. He was the Royals’ Bench Coach from 1996-2001 and the Rockies’ Bench Coach from 2003-2008 under Clint Hurdle. Quirk spent time as a major league player with St. Louis and Milwaukee, amongst others, and he will bring experience to the bench to assist Dale Sveum in growing into his role as a Manager, and help the crop of young catchers learn to handle a young pitching staff.
Hitting Coach: Rudy Jaramillo
Third Base Coach: Pat Listach (2011 Bench Coach under Mike Quade)
Bullpen Coach: Lester Strode
First and foremost, I don’t care that it’s the second week of March, getting back-to-back wins against the White Sox and Brewers is a good feeling.
Now, on to the more important (debatable) topics of the post:
- Even though the defense and base-running have been better, there are still signs of what ailed the Cubs last year. We saw it today with Blake DeWitt getting picked off of second base against the Dodgers while the Cubs were in the process of taking three consecutive walks. It also happened Friday afternoon against the first batter Travis Wood faced, missing the ball trying to field a bunt and compounding his mistake by playing catch with the right fielder. He clearly appeared to be trying to make up for his mistake, and ended up trying too hard. I know the coaching staff is working diligently on cleaning that up and, in spite of the early mistakes, so far, so good.
- Matt Garza has gotten beaten up in both second innings he’s appeared in this spring. There is no source of concern because it is still mid-March, but it would be nice to see the ace of the staff have more clean efforts in his spring starts. He did have an excellent first inning today, retiring the Dodgers in order on all ground ball outs.
- The Cubs are taking more frequent walks this spring, thus far. Something they failed to do basically all of last season, ranking 29th with 425 walks in 2011, only exceeding the 401 taken by the Houston Astros. It is a good sign that free swingers like Starlin Castro and Alfonso Soriano are showing more patience at the plate.
- Speaking of patience, Castro hit a 2-0 bomb out against the Brewers. In Arizona, balls carry. Hopefully, though, that is a sign that Starlin will start to drive the ball out when he has the opportunity. As major league players, it is held
that the last things to develop in young players are power and defense. I think there will be a strong jump in home runs hit by Castro this season, probably hitting between 15 and 20, while I think it would be disappointing if he committed more than 20 errors, down from 27 and 29 in his first two seasons.
- Geovany Soto made his first start Saturday against the Brewers (ss), returning from the groin injury that has hampered him this spring. He made an impressive throw to second, catching Logan Schafer on a steal attempt in an otherwise uneventful debut, going 0-2.
During the WGN broadcast on Saturday, Cubs’ TV announcers Len Kasper and Bob Brenly has the opportunity to talk to Manager, Dale Sveum and Brewers’ Beat Writer, Tom Haudricourt. Haudricourt talked about the low level of Sveum’s “BS bar” and how he always gives “a straight answer.” The most compelling, and in my opinion, complimentary thing Haudricourt said about Sveum was “watch what he does, not what he says.” Sveum spoke about camp, his coaching staff (which will be the subject of a later post…stay tuned) and being a first time manager. He discussed how he was pleased with the work ethic of the team and his coaches thus far.
ESPN Chicago’s Doug Padilla wrote a column today about Dale Sveum’s opinion on the impact of Cubs’ fans in Milwaukee. He said that it was frustrating to the Brewers that there were so many Cubs’ fans in the building, going so far as to say the Brewers players “hated it.” On being on the other side of the field, Sveum said, “Being on this end, hopefully we get three-quarters of the place full.”
Quote of the week: “That would have been a tough pitch to bunt.”– Ryan Dempster, after throwing the first pitch of the at bat against former Cubs’ third baseman Aramis Ramirez’s head in the first inning. Rami joked with reporters before the game that he was going to bunt in his first at bat. Dempster said that an inside pitch “got away,” and he did not mean to brush back his former teammate.
There are not many players that can hit 20 or more home runs in every season with a team and be called a bust. Yet, Alfonso Soriano is going through just that. Actually, in Wrigleyville, the only person that is hated more than Alfonso Soriano is the left fielder from about 90 minutes north of Chicago. The question is…why?
Expectations are a good start. When you sign an 8 year/ $136 million dollar contract, those expectations are high. Really high. It doesn’t help when you hit 46 home runs, 41 doubles, drive in 95 runs, and steal 41 bases in 159 games the season before you show up. It doesn’t help that his career low in games was 145 before he showed up in Chicago, but has only managed to play in that many games once (147 in 2010) in the five years he’s been a Cub.
His production, on the other hand has not been anything worth sneezing at. It bears being said that the Cubs do not sniff back to back Central Division Championships without Alfonso Soriano leading off. In 2007, he hit .299. In 2008, he hit .280. He clearly produced at the beginning of the contract with 33 and 29 home runs in 2007-2008. Since, he has seen a demotion in the line up, from lead off to sixth or seventh. He has still managed to hit over 20 home runs in each of the last three seasons. In 2012, he is going to be the biggest threat in the line up. The most established threat, anyway. His production is not what it once was…but he is also getting older. And like any aging athlete that did not miss many games in his youth, his body is starting to let him down some.
His work ethic, amongst fans, has always been a source of contention. This spring, Soriano was one of the last to show up to Spring Training, and the message boards let him have it. For a guy that gets killed for not hustling to first on lazy ground balls and pop flies, some of the work ethic talk is justified. He is a veteran. At this point in his career, he should know that fans and, more importantly, young teammates are going to look at him for how he is playing on a day to day basis.
“The guy works his butt off all the time. There’s no doubt the fans lost a little faith in him sometimes with the things he does, but I think the fans have to understand he’s probably the hardest-working guy in the clubhouse. That’s always refreshing, and players love him to death.”
Those are the kind words of Dale Sveum. When the clubhouse includes the likes of Marlon Byrd, Bryan LaHair, who is looking to capitalize on his first, best chance in the majors, and Darwin Barney, who stole a roster spot last season, that is saying something. Soriano has also become a veteran mentor for Shortstop Starlin Castro. It is that work ethic, though, combined with his talent and veteran savvy that will allow Soriano to remain effective in his advanced age.
The biggest complaint about Alfonso Soriano is probably his defense. I can’t say I understand that. Nobody is going to argue that ‘Fonsi deserves a Gold Glove, but he wasn’t signed for his defense. He may make some bad plays, take some bad angles, and have a bad habit of watching fly balls go over his head, but all of that was known when he signed his name on the dotted line. He’s never been a good defender…even as a second baseman in New York or Texas. With new First Base Coach and Outfield Coach Dave McKay defecting from St. Louis, there is at least some hope that some of the defensive struggles are tightened up.
Alfonso Soriano was the key piece of the trade that brought Alex Rodriguez to the Yankees from Texas. The man can play baseball. He’s older. Father time is undefeated. The game is not over for Soriano, though. And this season, more than any of the past five in his Cubs’ career, he’s needed to carry the load offensively. Regardless of where he hits.
The Cubs have finished signing every player on their 40 man roster with 0-3 years of service time, according to ESPN.com’s Doug Padilla. The list of players is as follows:
Right-handed pitchers: Alberto Cabrera, Lendy Castillo, Casey Coleman, Rafael Dolis, Marcos Mateo, Samardzija and Casey Weathers.
Left-handed pitchers: Jeff Beliveau, John Gaub, Scott Maine, Russell and T. Wood.
Catchers: Welington Castillo and Steve Clevenger.
Infielders: Barney, Adrian Cardenas, Castro, Bryan LaHair, Junior Lake, Anthony Rizzo and Josh Vitters.
Outfielders: Tony Campana, Dave Sappelt and Matt Szczur.
In what can only be described as the first spring training game today, the Cubs made their debut in the Theo Epstein/ Dale Sveum era. Statistical measures do not mean much in these games, but here are some of my takeaways:
- 1. If Rodrigo Lopez throws the ball like he did today, my prediction that he would not be on the roster out of camp will turn out to be woefully wrong. He was impressive and efficient, throwing two perfect innings.
- 2. Jeff Beliveau, who is in line to compete for a spot on the roster, just couldn’t find the strike zone, allowing a hit and three walks, without recording an out. He has a steep uphill climb to make the roster.
- 3. The base running was a lot more aggressive…and it was smarter. The Cubs have been a bad base running team for a few years now, and if today was any indication, that should improve dramatically under Sveum. Again, it was the first game, but the improvements were obvious. And yes, I am aware that guys got picked off.
- 4. So far, so good for the defense. Again, with the date being March 4, there is nothing to get worked up about.
- 5. The regular hitters made good contact against A’s starter Brandon McCarthy. Even though it is early, and it is Arizona, the bats looked like they had life.
- 6. This is the most important point of the post…they competed. The youth and the talent on this team is going to need to compete every single day, from now until October 3, to be in it this season. They did that today, rallying in the 6th and staying competitive.
To be honest, it’s hard to analyze the first game of the spring. And to be fair, analyzing the first game of spring is unnecessary. Today is not a microcosm of anything upcoming for the next seven months. There are a lot of new faces and today was a chance to see (or hear, for those of us that were not fortunate enough to watch the game, myself included) them in live action against another team. If today were the last day of spring, there would be more to say. As it is, baseball is back, the Cubs have played the first of 35 spring exhibitions, and there were some ups and downs. Let’s leave it at that.
Tomorrow: A’s @ Cubs. Ryan Dempster makes his first spring start.
In my last post, on what I project to be the pitching staff this season, I referred to the Cubs’ pitching last season as “an unmitigated disaster.” I have no qualms about that statement because, in short, it was. It was not over- stated. It was not even putting a microscope on a weak spot from a team that struggled for a good portion of the season. It just was what it was. With all of that said, the guys behind the pitching last season contributed to it mightily. Last season, the Cubs were 29th in defensive efficiency with a .680 rating. That narrowly edged out the Minnesota Twins, who finished with a .679 DER. To contrast, the Tampa Bay Rays were first in MLB with a .724 DER. Nobody in the majors topped the 134 errors by the Cubs last season, which led to an expected last place finish in fielding percentage. The pitching was bad. The fielding was worse. If the Cubs have a snowball’s chance in Mesa, AZ of making the playoffs, those numbers need to improve dramatically.
The offense was very middle of the road, and the numbers bear that out. They finished between 10th and 20th in the majors in just about all offensive categories, except for stolen bases, where they were down toward the bottom of the league. Don’t expect that to get much better this season. With the losses of 3B Aramis Ramirez, 1B Carlos Pena, and OF Kosuke Fukudome, a significant portion of the output from last season is gone. The biggest bats left in the line up are C Geovany Soto, LF Alfonso Soriano, and SS Starlin Castro. The only one of those guys that is consistent is Castro, so the offense figures to be a work in progress all season long.
The position players are going to be a fluid group for all 162 games, in spite of what Dale Sveum said about sticking to one line up earlier this week. As such, take this projection with the smallest of grains of salt…
Line- Up and Batting Order
1. RF David DeJesus – The free agent from Oakland figures to be the first of the lead off hitters this season, although that may change as the season wears on. He’s never played more than 144 games in a season, and hit .240 last season with the A’s. That figures to be an aberration, though, because his career average of .284 is significantly better. If he can be who he was before 2011, hitting in the neighborhood of .300 and getting on base around .350, he figures to hang on to the job for a while.
2. 2B Darwin Barney – Darwin wore down as the season wore on last season after a red hot start. He added some muscle this off-season, which may help him. Aside from the offensive struggles late, Darwin was a nice surprise for a bad team last season. His defense was average and he figures to continue to be an opportunistic base stealer, having nine and being caught twice last year. As he grows at the major league level, his numbers could rise. Or, he could be in for the dreaded sophomore slump. With the way his teammates and coaches have raved about his work ethic, I would bet on the former before the latter.
3. SS Starlin Castro– Starlin figures to settle into the third slot in the line-up this season, although Dale Sveum has said he will consult Starlin about where he wants to hit. The free swinging short stop doesn’t walk too much, but still managed to hit over .300 again last season, and led the NL in hits with 207 at age 21. He did have 29 errors in 158 games, which was actually an improvement in his defense from the 210 campaign, where he had 27 in
123 games. Those numbers are a bit misleading, though, because Starlin makes errors on plays that would be hits with others short stops because he has such great range. He also makes throws that a number of other short stops would not dream of making because of his sensational arm. Expect former major league short stop and new Cubs’ Skipper to work with Castro. And expect the errors to come down.
4. 1B Bryan LaHair – The reigning PCL MVP gets the opportunity to start, and will probably hit fourth in the line- up on the heels of his 38 HRs in AAA last season. He is not going to replace the production from Aramis Ramirez, but he did have a good showing after he was called up last season. He hit .288 with 2 HRs and 10 RBI in 59 at bats last season. If he can contribute at that pace, with about 500 at bats this season, he will be just fine. There will be a drop off in production in the clean up slot, but it will be manageable.
5. CF Marlon Byrd – Marlon had a tough year last season. His veteran presence in CF and in the middle of the line- up are important to a young team. He comes in slimmed down and expecting to improve on his .276 average and 9 HRs from last season. Considering he lost six weeks with the facial fracture suffered in Boston, it wasn’t nearly as bad, statistically, as it looks. If he can rebound and hit around .290 and give the team the 12-15 HRs and 60 or so RBIs that he typically gives, it will be a nice rebound for Marlon this year.
6. LF Alfonso Soriano – ‘Fonsi is the guy that epitomizes why Cubs’ fans hated Jim Hendry. Even though there is wide spread information available that says he was a product of the Tribune Co. ownership group, Hendry takes the fall for a guy that has hit no fewer than 20 HRs in this five seasons in Chicago. He is the last known threat in the line- up, too. His 26 HRs and 88 RBIs last season were a strong number for an aging outfielder. He is not the guy that everybody thought the Cubs were getting before the 2007 season, but he is still a legit power threat, and the streaky hitter can carry the team for weeks at a time when he gets hot. He will likely continue to be a defensive liability that is replaced by either Reed Johnson or Tony Campana late in games when the team is leading, but I would expect, barring injury, another 25 HRs and 80 RBIs from Soriano in a status quo season for the veteran.
7. C Geovany Soto – The bad news about Geo is that he goes up and down in his production from year to year. The good news is that last year was a down year, so he is due a good year. After slimming down again, Soto thinks that he can keep the weight off this time. He will likely give the Cubs the 20 HRs and 60 RBIs that he has been in the ballpark of giving, but if he brings his average back to around .280 and starts taking the walks he took in 2010, it should be a resurgent year for Soto. He called last season a “confidence problem.” If he can manage to focus on each at- bat, many of his issues might correct themselves, and we could see a much better Soto in 2012.
8. 3B Ian Stewart – Remember 2010…when Tyler Colvin had a good bat, and made Cubs’ fans think about him being the first real fixture in RF since Sammy Sosa? I introduce the you the Colorado Rockies’ version of Colvin. In 2009 and 2010, Stewart was a legit hitter with the Rockies with 25 and 18 HRs, respectively. His average has never blown anybody away, but when he was able to put the ball in play, it was generally going to be with some authority. Now, he’s a Cub after being traded for the aforementioned Colvin, along with infielder, DJ LeMahieu in the ultimate “change of scenery” swap. If he can recapture any of the offense he had in 2009 and 2010 under Hitting Coach Rudy Jaramillo, he might be able to fend off slowly progressing Josh Vitters this season.
IF Jeff Baker – Super utility player, Baker, can play First, Second, Third, and the corner outfield with some effectiveness, and hits well against left handed pitching. He will play a lot this season, in pinch hitting and platoon roles in multiple positions.
OF Reed Johnson – “Web Gem” is going to back up all three outfield spots this season, and will be the “go to” defensive replacement for Soriano late in games this year. Reed is a strong veteran that seems to deliver in the biggest moments with either a defensive play that saves runs or with a huge hit. I wouldn’t expect anything different than what Reed did last season in the 2012 campaign.
OF Tony Campana – Tony’s game changing speed is the reason he will likely break camp with the big league team, being the Cubs’ lone serious stolen base threat. He is going to be a pinch runner and defensive replacement when he gets into the game, with the occasional start in any of the three outfield slots. This is the first person that will head back to Iowa if and when any of Brett Jackson, Matt Szczur, or Dave Sappelt join the big league team.
IF Adrian Cardenas – The 24 year old middle infielder stole the roster spot held by Blake DeWitt, and figures to make the team as a back up at both middle infield positions after being claimed off of waivers from the Oakland A’s. He’s a left handed hitter, who had strong numbers in AAA last season, hitting .314, and runs better than Dewitt.
C Wellington Castillo – With the departure of Koyie Hill, the opportunity to make the major league team on a permanent basis opens up for Castillo, after seeing some time last year with Soto injured. Castillo is a good hitter and a strong defensive catcher. If he proves that he can handle the young pitching staff, he is the favorite over Steve Clevenger and Jason Jaramillo to win the back up role out of camp.
Other Expected Contributors
CF Brett Jackson – Brett Watch 2012 is on in full force, as this could be the year where the Cubs’ top prospect makes his debut in front of the ivy at Wrigley. I would anticipate that to be the case at some point. That means Marlon Byrd either moves over to one of the corners (left field if someone can be found to take Soriano) or Byrd himself gets traded.
IF Blake DeWitt – Blake probably will not make the roster out of camp, but he will most likely be with the team at some point over the course of the season. He is the first guy up if there is an injury to any infielder because he can play second, third, short, and the corner outfield. He may be released out of camp or a trade could be sought if he fails to make the 25 man roster out of camp.
1B Anthony Rizzo– The 1B of the future, Rizzo will start the season in Iowa, but I would be stunned if he isn’t with the major league team before July. If Ian Stewart or Bryan LaHair struggle or get hurt, this is the guy that will
probably get called up. While he probably will not start over veteran Jeff Baker, he would likely be with the major league team to get some spot starts as a left handed hitter.
OF Dave Sappelt – Dave was acquired from the Reds in the Sean Marshall trade and has plus speed and plays good defense. He got some light duty with the Reds last season, and figures to be with the Cubs at some point of the season, as the first man up if there is an injury.
OF Matt Szczur – Matt is the “other” outfield prospect that figures to make is MLB debut. He also figures to be the RF of the future, playing next to Brett Jackson when he gets to Chicago. Matt is a Five Tool prospect and could find his way to Chicago this season if there are injuries or if the team falls back early.
3B Josh Vitters – Josh will probably be an injury or September call up this season. His slow development has been hidden by the fact that Aramis Ramirez has been at third for the last eight years. He seemingly figured it out last season in the minors. If Ian Stewart struggles this season, he is going to get his opportunity. At 22, he is young enough, but after four years of minor league baseball behind him, his leash to figure it out is shortening.
The youth of this team is the first thing that should be noticed. There will be some offensive and defensive growing pains with the core youth with this team. Like I declared in my preview post, I do not expect the Cubs to be a viable playoff threat this season, and will struggle to get to .500 if they manage to. What cannot be understated is the talent of the collection of players being led by Dale Sveum. His devotion to fundamentals and playing hard should suit this roster perfectly. If the can grow, this core group will be a viable threat in 2013 and beyond. This season, though, is for “building.” And it is going to start with this foundation of players gaining invaluable experience at the major league level this season.