Tagged: Jeff Baker

Cubs Complete Baker to Tigers Trade, End of Season Stuff

The Cubs have acquired Marcelo Josue Carreno and a cash consideration for Jeff Baker, to complete the trade from the Tigers.  In other news, Jed Hoyer and Theo Epstein will be under indictment for grand theft of a prospect in this deal.  Marcelo Carreno was the 11th ranked prospect in the Tigers system (well, not anymore) at the end of the 2012 regular season.  He spent 2011 and 2012 in the Midwest League with West Michigan, posting some decent numbers.  MLB.com’s ranking report on him says “Better command of his fastball, curve and change-up could help him become a solid middle-of-the-rotation type,” which is basically stealing from a team who used Baker for about 15 minutes (actually, it was 15 games, and he hit .200) before sending him to Atlanta for a player to be named later.

With the season having come to a close about two weeks ago, things are going to start to make themselves clear in a short amount of time about the shape of the club next season.  It has already been made apparent that the Cubs will seek out additional starting pitching for next season.  So, don’t despair about an entire season with what we saw the last two months of this season, where there was little to no pitching available outside of Travis Wood and Jeff Samardzija, until he was shut down.  With Samardzija, and potentially Matt Garza, coming back to start the season with Travis Wood (probably) and two new guys, the pitching should be a lot more stable at the beginning of next season than it was at the end of this one.  Matt Garza, however, still is a candidate to be dealt this off-season, which would make it more likely that Wood and Samardzija join three new acquisitions in the rotation as 2013 begins.

The powers that be are still singing the praises of Dale Sveum, so to all of you out there who are thinking there could be a third straight year of managerial search or want another managerial search…stop it.

ESPN’s Buster Olney says that the Brewers are in play to sign Josh Hamilton this off-season.  Not Cubs related at all…just something to snicker at.  They seem to be turning into the Brewers circa 2007 when they were trying to out slug everyone because they couldn’t pitch.  I don’t see it happening, but the thought of it is just amusing.

Remember the name Pete Mackanin?  It’s cool.  Not everyone lives this stuff like I do.  He was one of the guys who was interviewed to be the manager last off-season.  Well, since he was fired from his role as bench coach in Philadelphia, his name has surfaced as a potential replacement for the departed Pat Listach, as third base coach.  Listach was let go, likely because of philosophical differences.  I don’t understand them, because his philosophy clearly worked with Darwin Barney and Starlin Castro’s defense.  Mackanin is a name that has been mentioned.  Former Astros manager, Brad Mills is also an option.  We’ll see who Epstein, Hoyer, and Sveum come to a consensus on.  I wouldn’t bet against Mackanin, though.  Too many things are in play for him to not get a real shot at being the new third base coach.

There are going to be names to watch this off-season.  They include Matt Garza, Alfonso Soriano, and Carlos Marmol.  All three are prime trade candidates, especially Marmol and Soriano, who had very nice seasons to improve their stock.

Advertisements

No Rest at Clark & Addison

You think that it’s safe to go on vacation after the trade deadline because there would be a period of relative quiet afterward, and then all hell breaks loose.  Just some of that has been…

  • Jeff Baker being traded to the Tigers for two players to be named later was not a surprise at all.  I was kind of surprised he was not dealt before the deadline.
  • Brett Jackson and Josh Vitters both being called up was somewhat of a shock, especially since they were called up at the same time.  Jackson has struggled, going 2-17 with 11 strikeouts in his first week as a big leaguer.  Vitters is 2-15 with 2 RBI, so all in all, not much better than Jackson.  The last couple of months of the season will be a great opportunity for both to get some good at bats and playing time in the majors in preparation for 2013, which is pretty much all that is happening for the duration of this season.  This is another step in the development process for two of the cornerstone prospects in the system.  They are the most major league ready players in the system, so it makes sense to get them to Chicago and allow them to play in games that have significance down the stretch, as the Cubs will see some teams with a lot left to fight for.  To make room for Vitters and Jackson, the aforementioned Baker trade was consummated and Tony Campana was sent back to Iowa.
  • Jorge Soler went 1-4 with an RBI last night in his Peoria Chiefs debut after being promoted on Thursday from Mesa.  Tonight, he hit a grand slam in his first career at bat with the bases loaded… seen here:
  • With the loss today, the Cubs are back at their low water mark for the season, 24 games under .500.
  • Former Padres Scouting Director Jaron Madison is coming to the Cubs to take the same job.  That moves Tim Wilken to a role as “Special Assistant” to Theo Epstein.  Really, these moves are only adding more talented front office men to the baseball operations staff.  Wilken is well respected around baseball, having been the man to draft Roy Halladay, Chris Carpenter, Michael Young, and Vernon Wells when he was with the Blue Jays, and having all four of his first round picks with the Cubs from 2006-2009 making it to the majors with the Cubs. (Tyler Colvin, Josh Vitters, Andrew Cashner, Brett Jackson)  Madison is a rising star in baseball, and having worked with Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod during their time together in San Diego, this move makes a lot of sense.
  • Speaking of the front office, GM Jed Hoyer said he expects Matt Garza to be in the Cubs’ rotation in 2013.  That could mean that he anticipates resigning the pitcher this off-season to a contract extension or he is posturing potential trade partners for leverage to deal him over the winter.  Hoyer was quoted by Paul Sullivan, saying, “He’s likely to be a member of the Cubs in 2013,” [Hoyer] said. “And we’re excited to have him. (Trading him) is the last thing we’re thinking of. We’re just trying to get this guy healthy.”  With Garza being sidelined at the moment with a “stress reaction” in his elbow, it might be smart to keep Garza around, especially if he is unable to pitch again in 2012.
  •   Alfonso Soriano got on Starlin Castro’s case about his lapse in Friday’s game.  As the senior most veteran on the roster, that is absolutely Sori’s place, and it probably softened the blow in the meeting Castro had with Manager Dale Sveum.  Starlin has been much better with his concentration of late, but losing track of the ball, down five runs, is another exhibit of how far the young short stop still has to go in his maturation process.  He is still a developing player, and often times, that fact gets lost in the fact that he has been so good over the course of his first three seasons in the majors.

Cubs Bizzare Stove Starting to Boil Over

UPDATE: Dale Sveum calls the reports a “fabrication” and blames “the Twitter, the Facebook” for out of control reporting.  I’m not sure it was completely made up, since it came from a number of reputable reporters, but premature is not out of the question at all, as it regards to a Ryan Dempster trade.  Again, more to come…

Ryan Dempster was traded today to the Atlanta Braves for, in principle, RHP Randall Delgado.  Or was he?  Multiple outlets, including cubs.com reported that a trade had been completed.  Many of those same outlets and Dempster himself have also said that no deal is done.  Dempster showed up this afternoon in the Cubs’ clubhouse and tweeted that he had no idea where the trade rumors were coming from.  From the Cubs’ perspective, acquiring a 22 year old starting pitcher with controllability is exactly what the front office is looking to do, especially if it  comes for a 35 year old pitcher in the last year of his contract.  Delgado is a consensus Top 100 prospect in baseball, and Baseball America had him rated as the Braves #3 prospect entering the season.  As is generally the case, more to come on whether or not this trade actually goes down…

The Cubs are also rumored to be deep in discussions with the Dodgers, with the principles in a deal being pitchers Matt Garza and Zach Lee.  Lee is the #35 overall mlb.com prospect this season.  The Cubs are Dodgers were deep in discussions centering around Dempster, but were abandoned because the Cubs presumably wanted Lee for Dempster, which the Dodgers were not willing to do for a rental player.  Garza is under team control through next (2013) season, which would make a Lee deal a little more enticing for the Dodgers.

There are several other names being discussed, such as Darwin Barney (Tigers), Paul Maholm (any team looking for starting pitching), Alfonso Soriano (any team willing to take him), and veterans Reed Johnson and Jeff Baker.

Cubs Midseason Grades

For a team with less than stellar expectations, it is awfully difficult to grade the Cubs’ first half performance.  If I were to judge by record alone, it would almost certainly be a D, or lower.  However, since the Cubs weren’t expected to be very good this season as they rebuild and since the team hasn’t been as consistently bad as it appears, this grade is going to be issued on a curve.  The criteria are offensive output, defensive output, improvement, consistency, and overall performance.  Whether those criteria are fair or not is for you to decide…

Pitching: C

Starting Pitching: B-
The starting pitching has actually been better than expected, with Ryan Dempster and Matt Garza having strong seasons.  Both pitchers have lived up to their billing as the top two starters in the rotation, and that has made them both viable candidates to be traded before the trade deadline three weeks from today.  Jeff Samardzija has been up and down, having both very good and very bad outings in his first seasons as a starter.  Paul Maholm has been in the same boat, being both good and bad in the first half of the season.  Chris Volstad and Randy Wells have been atrocious and have earned their demotions to Iowa.  Travis Wood, however, has been strong since his arrival, earning the fifth starting role.  This grade would be much higher if not for Wells and Volstad’s inability to throw good strikes, and the overall team record would be likely to have followed suit.

Photo: Bleed Cubbies Blue blog

Bullpen: D
This was going to be an F, until the recent surge of Carlos Marmol, with Shawn Camp and James Russell falling into more comfortable roles.  The absolute incompetence of the bullpen to throw quality strikes and the number of walks has led to a huge number of blown saves, missed opportunities to win games, and crumbling in late situations has made this season one of the most dismal in the history of the organization.  While all of the blame cannot fall squarely on the shoulders of the bullpen, and the retirement of Kerry Wood was certainly unexpected, the bullpen has been a major contributor to the 33-52 record.

Position Play: C-

Catching: D+
Ultimately, this grade is based much on injuries to all three of the top three catchers in the organization.  It could have been far worse without the reacquisition of Koyie Hill, but the lack of offense out of the position is disappointing, since all three of the expected contributors at catcher for the major league team were injured and on the disabled list at one time.  Throwing out base-stealers has also not been a strength, which makes it much more difficult on the pitchers, although those same pitchers have been partly to blame.  Defensively, there have been some positives to keep an eye on as passed balls have been few and far between.  Overall, however, the catchers have to give more at the plate, and must continue to improve on their first half performance.

First Base: B
We learned something about Bryan LaHair this spring.  He can hit in the majors.  And he was better than serviceable at first base.  He went through a long drought, though, which prompted a long losing streak.  It It is not fair to place all of the blame of Bryan’s shoulders, and that is why the position garners a B, overall.  He was very good in his time there.  Anthony Rizzo has been excellent in his 12 games at first base, and he could be a catalyst to see the end of season mark improve.  He just has not been around long enough to cause great change in the grade.  Jeff Baker has started more games at first than Rizzo, which is another reason this is only a B.  Between LaHair and Baker, there has been absolutely no production against left handed pitching at this position, which doesn’t help the sorry record against left handed pitching, and that hurts the overall mark.

Second Base: B-
My man crush on Darwin Barney is based almost solely on his defense, which has been nothing short of outstanding.  He is having a Gold Glove worthy season at second, with only two errors on the season thus far.  Offensively, he has been Darwin Barney.  He is a slap hitter that can find a gap, get a solid single, and he will do the right things on the bases.  You know what to expect everyday from Darwin Barney, which is a good smart game that will not cost the team with mental errors and a full out physical effort.

Photo: Rob Letterly, “Goat Riders of the Apocalypse”

Third Base: C
The hot corner has lost its pop with the departure of Aramis Ramirez.  The addition of Ian Stewart was supposed to protect from a total collapse of that production, but a wrist injury which was operated on today ended his season without the production to ease the loss of Ramirez.  Luis Valbuena gives very good at bats and hits the ball hard, but is not the defender that Stewart is.  Both played very hard, but only Stewart excelled in any one area, and that was defensively.  There has been too much inconsistency offensively to mark this position any higher than a C.  At this point, there is uncertainty in that position because neither Stewart or Valbuena instill confidence at this point.  Maybe Stewart will be able to regain his hitting stroke when he returns, likely next season, if at all.  However, for the time being, the hot corner has been nothing more than luke warm.

Short Stop: B+
It probably isn’t fair to not give the only player to play in every game, starting all but one, less than an A when he was expected to carry this 2012 team and has done his best to do so.  However, a slow start on defense, and a slump at the plate to end the first half bring Starlin Castro into the B+ range of the spectrum.  2012 has shown us nothing but more positive in the still only 22 year old Castro, who, while making mental errors common from only young players, has shown an ability to work hard and improve each day, both at the dish and in the field.  His defense is much better under the guidance of Dale Sveum and since Rudy Jaramillo was replaced as the hitting coach, the walks have started to come a little less infrequently.  Castro stands to get a 4.o GPA as a baseball player as he matures and reaches his prime.  Now, however, he is “only” a B+…with a lot more improvement that can be made in his game.

Outfield: C+
Even though Alfonso Soriano has been on a tear since May 15, the rest of the outfield has been pretty quiet.  It is very difficult to grade this group with the additions and subtractions of players all season.  Joe Mather, Tony Campana, Marlon Byrd, Reed Johnson, Bryan LaHair, and Jeff Baker have all been in and out of the line up with Soriano and David DeJesus, which has hurt the consistent play of the group, and brought the grade down.  The defense has been much less of an adventure out there, with Soriano showing major improvement at the behest of Dave McKay.  The defense has been nothing better than average, though, and the offense has not been anything to perk up over.  Soriano brings this group to above average with his offensive numbers over the last two months, but just barely.

Bench: C
Reed Johnson has been an excellent pinch hitter, leading the league in pinch hits over the first half of the season.  It is not, however, a cure all for what has been a hit and miss bench.  Tony Campana, Joe Mather, and Jeff Baker have all been up and down.  This group does not provide any punch off the bench, which makes it very difficult to come back or extend leads late in games.  What this group does bring, though, is defense.  They are all average, or above average, defenders at multiple positions.

Managing/ Coaching: B
It has been a rough season, and much of the coaching is done behind the scenes.  For a team that has been around 20 games under .500 since the end of May, though, to compete and hustle everyday is a sign of strong coaching and leadership from the guys that aren’t playing everyday.  Dale Sveum has assembled a good staff of teachers that are not resting on the laurels of a lost season.  That makes them a good staff.  There have been growing pains that come with any new manager and coaching staff, though, and that keeps them from being excellent.  The potential of this group is very high because they all appear to be good, knowledgeable baseball men.  If they stay together, there could be some grade A work in their future.

Team Grade: D+
You can’t go on a 9-4 run to end the first half of the season to get to only 19 games under .500 and expect to be better than a D+.  It just cannot happen.  If there were any expectations for this team at all, the first half would have been a clear failure, but in their absence, this team gets the benefit of the doubt.  There have been bright spots, without question, with two All-Stars, each elected by the players, for the first time since 2008.  As players like Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro, and Jeff Samardzija continue to grow, there is some reason for optimism, but at the moment, this is a team that is tough to watch day in and day out.  The Cubs get a D+ so far in 2012, and if they finish with a mark that has fewer than three figures in the loss column, that grade probably rises to a C at season’s end.

Bits and Pieces

Some news and notes of the day…

 

  • Anthony Rizzo is expected to debut with the major league Cubs tomorrow, which is the start of the future.  Without the pressure of guiding a winning team, or even a team with a modestly poor record, Rizzo is going to be the everyday first baseman against lefties and right-handers, according to Dale Sveum.  With 89 games remaining after tonight, if Rizzo can hit between 10 and 15 HRs and drive in between 40 and 50, it would be a successful transition for a player that is meant to be a foundation piece for future seasons.  This also could signal the beginning of a number of call-ups from Iowa and Tennessee, as more and more players are likely to get looks at the big league level as veterans like Ryan Dempster, Matt Garza, Alfonso Soriano, Reed Johnson, Jeff Baker, Geovany Soto, and others are subject to trade speculation.
  • Marlon Byrd’s positive test for tamoxifen is a bitter pill to swallow for me, personally, because of the respect I have for him  While tamoxifen is not a performance enhancing drug, it is banned because it is used to mitigate the side effects of PEDs.  For his part, Byrd says that he was prescribed the drug for a condition not related to baseball.  Tamoxifen is used to treat a variety of conditions, and without testing positive for steroids or testosterone, it is unlikely that Marlon had any performance enhancing effect from it.  Unfortunately, its off label use as a mask for PED use puts it on the banned substance list, and triggered his positive test.  As has been my feeling since he was traded, I hope Byrd catches on somewhere and can have a positive impact on a contending team.
  • Many in the 2012 draft class are getting their careers underway, either with the Boise Hawks or in the AZL.  Supplementary Picks Pierce Johnson and Paul Blackburn, the highest of the picks to sign to this point, are in Arizona.  First round (6th overall) pick, Albert Almora is yet to sign.
  • As the trade deadline gets closer, Ryan Dempster and Matt Garza are being talked about more and more.  That talk will not quiet down until a move is made or the deadline passes.  Garza is the biggest chip in the Cubs’ pile, which would net them the most in return.  It appears, however, at the moment, Dempster is still the only player likely to be traded.  Ryan is still on the Disabled List, though, and he will probably make at least a few starts with the Cubs to prove that he is alright before a team ponies up prospects for him.

Offensive Defense

The Cubs’ two most overwhelming weaknesses last season were starting pitching and defense.  It’s not a state secret that those two areas need to improve this season if the Cubs are going to be competitive.

To this point, including today’s game, the starting pitching has been pretty good.  Chris Volstad threw another quality start for the Cubs today, with the 4th run he gave up being unearned.  That makes six quality starts in the first nine contests, which is all the team can ask for.  Yesterday, Jeff Samardzija seemingly ran out of gas after 5 innings, but the bullpen picked him up.  His running out of gas was minimized by the 9 run lead he held before the inning, giving up the only 5 the Cardinals would scratch out all day.  He did not have his best stuff, but did manage to get out from under some base runners in the first four innings before getting some of the same medicine the Cubs gave Zack Greinke on Thursday afternoon.  The innings being eaten by the starting pitching cannot be understated, either.  Last season, the strength of the team was the bullpen, and Mike Quade went to it early and often nearly everyday.  This season, we’ve seen the starter pitch into the 7th inning more often already than we did until August last season.  At least to this point, the pitching is better, and is the reason the Cubs have been in most of the games they’ve played, even with a lackluster offensive effort so far (the last two days notwithstanding).

Photo: Brian Kersey, Getty Images

The defense is another story.  Entirely.  There have been 7 errors, 4 of which came by Starlin Castro, 2 of which were high throws to first base today that probably would not have been errors throwing to Carlos Pena or Derrek Lee the last two seasons.  The first of those two errors would have led to a 2 out with nobody on situation in the Cardinal fourth.  It led to a four run rally.  The four runs that the Cardinals lead by today (in the top of the ninth).  There have been too many plays that should have been made, like a foul pop-up down the right field line that fell in front of Bryan LaHair this afternoon, that have not been made.  The ground ball that Jeff Baker allowed past him on Opening Day that went into right field was the eventual tying run.  The early .722 Defensive Efficiency Rating is good for 10th in MLB, but that number is sure to drop after another two errors today.  That number is an improvement over last season’s .680, but is still not high enough.  The .982 fielding percentage is 16th in MLB at this point.  They quite simply need to be better.

I am not exactly breaking news when I say that the Cubs’ roster isn’t going to stack up with elite rosters around MLB.  It just isn’t.  There are some nice pieces.  Matt Garza and Starlin Castro are building blocks for a foundation of a team that can compete for championships down the road.  Jeff Samardzija is looking to add his name to that group.  At this point, though, the defense is not at the standard it needs to be.  The starting pitching is improved.  The bullpen has been up and down, to this point.  The offense has been the same way.  That makes giving extra outs, especially in the tough early part of the season, a costly proposition.

Youth, Talent, and Inexperience

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

Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

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.

9. PITCHER

Bench

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.

Photo Courtesy of AP

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

Photo: Denis Poroy - Getty Images

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.