Tagged: Rudy Jaramillo

As Deadline Passes, Cubs’ Priority Should Be Extending Dale Sveum

In just about two days time, the non-waiver trade deadline will come and go.  The Cubs, who have been more active than any team in the month of July, will see a considerable slow down in activity with the passing of the draft, the initial international free agent signing period, and the trade deadline.  That leaves them with an ample opportunity to take care of what may be the most vital piece of business they have left before next season: Extend the contract of Manager, Dale Sveum.

Photo: Brian Cassella / Chicago Tribune

Photo: Brian Cassella / Chicago Tribune

As Theo Epstein’s hand picked successor to Mike Quade, Dale Sveum has done everything the Cubs could have imagined…and more.  He deserves to go into next season with some job security, and the Cubs should go into this off-season, where they will surely try to add players who can help the major league team take the next step toward respectability, with stability in the manager’s office.

Although his 109-156 record isn’t outstanding, it is also not his fault.  He walked into a complete overhaul of a roster of albatross contracts, aging veterans, and young players who really weren’t major league players.  To make matters worse, the front office either traded or shut down major portions of his starting rotation…in both 2012 and 2013.  The bullpens he’s had to work with have been largely unproven young players or veteran retreads (*cough cough* Shawn Camp *cough*), and it has shown in the win-loss column.

Dale Sveum was hired to do two main things: Keep the clubhouse together and develop young talent.  He’s done exceedingly well on both fronts in his first two seasons.

On the player development front, the biggest feather in his cap is the coaching staff he’s put together.  While he may have had Rudy Jaramillo and Pat Listach as hold overs for either part or all of last season, the additions of Dave McKay, David Bell, and Chris Bosio have all been successful.  Dave McKay helped turn Alfonso Soriano into a serviceable left fielder.  After years of being afraid of the wall and hopping around like a wounded bunny rabbit, Soriano had the highest UZR among NL left fielders last season.  It’s amazing what a little coaching will do after Soriano admitted that he hadn’t gotten any outfield instruction before last season, from either Quade’s staff or Lou Piniella before him.  Anthony Rizzo is another success, as Sveum, the former Brewers hitting coach, brought his hands down, shortening his swing, and making him better than the .141/.281.242 hitter he was with the Padres in 2011.  The anecdotes serve as evidence of a whole: the Cubs are a vastly improved defensive team from the years before Sveum.  And the approach at the plate is starting to get better, too.  Nothing happens over night, but the results are starting to show up.  In spite of all of the player movement, trades, and lost veterans in the clubhouse, the Cubs have a winning record since May 26 (30-25).  While the sample is small, the results matter.  Even with major bullpen issues and a complete inability to hit with runners in scoring position, the Cubs are playing competitively.  The steps in the right direction are adding up.

The clubhouse is the other place Sveum was asked to thrive.  As a former top prospect, he can relate to the likes of Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro, and soon Javier Baez, et al.  He can also relate to the 25th man on the roster because that’s where his career ended after a devastating leg injury.  He knows the weight of expectations and he knows the plight of the role player who is tasked to sit and wait for his name to be called, and the need to be ready.  He relates to his players because he’s been there and done that.  And while he took some undeserved criticism for his loyalty to Shawn Camp from fans, it was not his job to get rid of Camp.  It was the front office’s.  Having his player’s back, especially one who he’s had history with, was the only move he could make that doesn’t send the alienating “as soon as I see trouble, I’m going to turn my back on you.” message.  That’s a terrible image to portray to the rest of the team.  The fact that Dale said it was tough to see Camp go may have made fans cringe, but it probably made the team smile a little bit.  When veterans like Matt Garza hang around after being shut down with 2 1/2 months left in a 100 loss season, it says as much as there is to say about a clubhouse…especially when Garza admitted if it had been Quade’s clubhouse, he would have gone home.  And being able to sign quality free agents like Edwin Jackson after a 100 loss season doesn’t happen if the player thinks the manager is a bum who can’t manage a clubhouse.  Think about it.  Has anything obscenely negative come out of the clubhouse during Sveum’s tenure?  For a team with the win-loss record the Cubs have had, you’d think there would be something.  Especially in a media market like Chicago.  But it’s been remarkably quiet.  Which means the bad stuff is being handled where it should…in house.

Dale has been charged with over-seeing a complete rebuild, which couldn’t have been fun, couldn’t have been easy, and couldn’t have happened in any worse a place than Wrigley Field, where every year is “THE YEAR” to a group of people who only watch the game and read the box score in the paper each morning.  The reality is, last year, this year, and probably next year are not “THE YEAR.”  But the team is heading in the right direction in spite of the instability among the player personnel.  That is a credit to Sveum, and the right thing to do is ensure that he never gets to “lame duck” status in the last year of a contract with a team, who next year may be able to win consistently for the first time in his tenure.

Besides.  He got shot in the face and laughed it off.  How cool is it to have a manager like that?

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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.

Hitting the Wall

The dismissal of Hitting Coach Rudy Jaramillo brings forth the standard response of Rudy being a fall guy for the abysmal offensive showing thus far in the season, which is fair, to an extent.  Theo Epstein admitted that much today in his comments when he said that the Cubs were looking for a different approach at the plate; that the mental side of hitting needed to be more of an emphasis.  With the Cubs seeing so few pitches, clearly some of the blame is being, whether it be rightfully or not, placed at Jaramillo’s feet.

Looking deeper into the hitting stats shows us that the Cubs don’t look at many pitches.  Ian Stewart sees the most, at 4.17 pitches per plate appearance.  Bryan LaHair and David DeJesus are the only other players that see over four.  That means that deep counts and high pitch counts for starting pitchers are something the Cubs don’t get to see very often.  Not from the batter’s box, anyway.  So many times, not just this season, but the last three, have the Cubs gone from starter to set-up guy to closer, not being able to muster any offense.  The downward trend has been consistent since 2007, though.  That is not Jaramillo’s fault.

Today is the start of a new approach for the offense.  To be clear, it was a matter of time before Jaramillo was gone, as his contract expires at the end of the season.  He was not going to return.  And he was not going to return because, while he may be “good with the mechanics of the swing,” according to Epstein, he clearly was not the voice behind the message that the new management regime wants to air for the Cubs going forward.  It came out this afternoon that Jaramillo was asked to change the message and, clearly that didn’t happen to the satisfaction of management.  In steps Minor League Hitting Coordinator James Rowson, who is not unlike the other coaches on the staff.  He is young (35), a former player with the Yankees and Mariners, and he will be the voice that the new leadership is looking for…at least on an interim basis.

It’s been said on this page before…the Cubs need to take more pitches.  They need to be more selective.  They need to be confident and swing at their pitch and not the pitch the guy on the mound wants them to swing at.  While Rudy Jaramillo has had great success with Alfonso Soriano this season, improving his timing and with the uber-young Starlin Castro, nobody on the team takes a great number of pitches, and with a former hitting coach in the manager’s chair, there has to be some overlap of philosophy.  Obviously, there wasn’t in this case.  Dale Sveum said during spring that he didn’t want anyone swinging at the first pitch unless they could drive it.  There is still a lot of first pitch swinging…and very little first pitch driving to show for it.

Today is just another day of molding the organization into the shape that Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer, Dale Sveum, and the rest of the front office want to see going forward.  To rebuild, there must be some tearing down.  Before long, the rest of the old structure is going to be gone…Ryan Dempster, Alfonso Soriano, possibly Matt Garza, and others. The hope is that the new structure have a much stronger foundation than the one that is being replaced.  While the old brought some excitement, it was built on borrowed time.

That time has run out.

 

2012 Coaching Staff

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

Photo: Tim Sheridan

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.

Returning Coaches:

Hitting Coach: Rudy Jaramillo
Third Base Coach: Pat Listach (2011 Bench Coach under Mike Quade)
Bullpen Coach: Lester Strode

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.