Tagged: Sammy Sosa

2013 Positional Preview: The Outfield

Starting with the outfield in breaking down the season seems to be pretty easy.  There are no spots up in the air at this point, as all three spots are filled.  Actually, the only question in the outfield is who the fifth and final outfielder on the roster is going to be.

Right Field:  Nate Schierholtz/ Scott Hairston
The most interesting spot in the outfield is the one with the platoon.  Newcomers Nate Schierholtz and Scott Hairston offer a little bit more of what a corner outfielder should be in their ability to hit for power than David DeJesus did for much of last season, but neither of them is a long term solution to the side that has been most problematic since the departure of Sammy Sosa.  They are mere placeholders for top prospect, Jorge Soler, who figures to be the long term solution to what has been a revolving door for eight seasons.
Nate Schierholtz was signed to a one year deal, and is finally getting the chance to be an everyday player (for the most part).  As a former top prospect in the Giants’ system, he sports 24 career home runs, which is a season’s worth for a player you’d want starting in a corner outfield position.  Nate’s defense has never been at issue.  The biggest factor for him coming to Wrigley may be the most challenging RF corner in the game, where the summer sun can make routine fly balls a little more adventuresome than they should be.
Scott Hairston is another player who has not been the everyday player over the course of his nine years, but did show some pop in his bat, hitting 25 long balls last season.  Brother of former Cub, Jerry Hairston, Jr., Scott has the bloodlines to be a good player, but hasn’t gotten the opportunity to be one on an everyday basis.  Considering how long he’s been around, there is likely a reason for that.  There is no reason to think he won’t be productive this year, but a 32 year old on a two year contract makes him a placeholder for Soler.

Center Field: David DeJesus

DeJesus is a little more suited to play center with the numbers he puts up and his defensive ability.  His willingness to work counts and take a walk makes him a favorite of Dale Sveum and the front office, as his approach is the one the organization is working to install into all of its hitters.  As a fan of the game, I admire what DDJ does for the team.  He’s a veteran leader who will give the team four professional at-bats each day.  As an objective (as much as possible) observer, I would prefer to see someone like DeJesus hitting seventh.  The fact that this is the lead-off hitter speaks to how incomplete the rebuilding process is.  David DeJesus could very well find himself on another roster at the deadline this year if Brett Jackson’s progress with his swing continues at the pace it seems to have been.  He could end up being this season’s Bryan LaHair…displaced by one of the up and coming prospects, and my feeling is, if Jackson gets to Chicago this season (likely), he will be there to play, and he will be there to play everyday.

Left Field: Alfonso Soriano

If Fonsi can repeat what he did last season, he’s going to command a high price at the deadline.  I do not see Soriano going anywhere.  Either the coaching staff and front office mean what they say about him and his value to the team as a player and a leader for young players, and truly believe he is a valuable piece of the immediate process of building toward the future by teaching young players like Starlin Castro and Jorge Soler to be professionals and how to deal with being highly touted prospects, or their words are pricing any potential suitors for him out of the market.  I think the team believes the former, but the latter is probably a bi-product of it.  As such, I am pretty confident that Soriano is going to be the left fielder for the Chicago Cubs through the 2014 season.  And I am confident that he will hit 20+ HRs and drive in 85+ runs each of the next two seasons.  If he is able to play at the defensive level that he did last season, I don’t have any problem with it.

Reserves: Dave Sappelt

I am projecting Sappelt to win this last outfield spot.  He can play all three positions and his bat is not a liability.  He stands to be the front-runner to lock up the last spot in a crowded outfield.

Final Analysis:

Quantity and quality are not the same thing.  The Cubs’ outfield is a prime example of that.  Soriano is the best of them, and his numbers say he’s a solid player out there.  David DeJesus is best suited as a fourth outfielder, given his versatility, defensive prowess, and his mediocre bat.  Neither of the right fielders in the platoon sparks much confidence in big numbers, which is exactly why they are in a platoon to begin with.  The outfield is very obviously waiting for the arrivals of Brett Jackson on a permanent basis, Jorge Soler, and Albert Almora.  Until that time, there are going to be stop gap players and guys playing above their ability.  The production should improve in the outfield this season from right field, which is to say there should be some.  The defense should be strong.  But don’t bother buying any of their jerseys…they won’t be around long.

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Braun vs Sosa: A PED Guilt Battle to the Death

This week, Time Brown and Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports dropped Ryan Braun’s name in a link to Miami “anti-aging guru” Anthony Bosch.  This comes about a year after he was “exonerated” by an arbitrator, who never released the reason why he let Braun off the hook.  In the Yahoo report, they rightfully acknowledge that Braun is not linked to specific PEDs in the records they found, but there is one particularly troubling document, written about (presumably) Melky Cabrera, congratulating him for winning the All-Star Game MVP last season, using the “Braun Advantage.”  Braun explained away why he appeared on the lists that were uncovered, claiming he used Bosch as a consultant in his appeal last year, and having a dispute over compensation.  He has yet to explain the “Braun advantage.”  My guess is, he won’t.

Sammy Sosa is named by the New York Times to have tested positive in 2003 by an anonymous source for an unknown substance.  In 2005, Sosa testified before Congress that he’d never broken US or Dominican law, and that he “is” clean.  Far from a steadfast denial, and most assume Sosa was a user during his career.  The most cited evidence against him…his stats.

Photo: Norm Hall, SB Nation

Photo: Norm Hall, SB Nation

The numbers are where the Braun supporters hang their hats.  In fact, in 2011 when he tested positive, Braun didn’t have a career high in any major hitting statistic.  The only oddity to his numbers was a major spike in stolen bases.  Some of that can be explained away by a more aggressive approach from new Brewer Manager, Ron Roenicke.  Doubling stolen base numbers is a little much, though, and some synthetic testosterone cream applied to the legs can make those fast twitch muscles twitch a little faster…or the difference between being safe and out on a stolen base attempt.  Also, numbers don’t lie, but they may omit the truth a little bit.  Anthony Bosch is tied to Jimmy Goins, the University of Miami Strength and Conditioning Coach, who worked with Braun while Braun was with the Miami baseball team.  If Goins has been Braun’s source for whatever substances he was getting from Bosch, then all of his minor league and major league numbers are tainted.  The same can be said if his source was his college roommate, Cesar Carrillo, who is also tied to Bosch.  The mere fact that there hasn’t been a significant change in the numbers doesn’t mean he’s not using, necessarily.  It could also mean he’s been using for a long time without getting caught.

Factually, this entire PED debate about guilt and innocence is baffling.  It is even more baffling when Braun and Sosa are discussed.  I had a back and forth with a number of Brewers fans on Twitter after the news broke on Tuesday that Braun has ties to the Miami goodie PEDdler.  The rationale from these blind men was that Sosa was sure to have used because of his numbers, while Braun is “innocent until proved guilty.”  (Quoted for intellectual effect).

The facts about PEDs on Braun and Sosa boil down pretty simply…

For Braun:

  • Tested positive for synthetic testosterone in 2011.  While his suspension was appealed, and he won, the result of the test remains uncontested.  The seals (multiple seals on both containers) of both samples were not broken.  They both tested positive.  And a cup of even warm urine doesn’t manufacture its own synthetic testosterone content.
  • Tied to Anthony Bosch’s lab, who is linked to PED distribution to major league players.  Namely, Melky Cabrera and Bartolo Colon, who both tested positive for synthetic testosterone last season.
  • Letter from Bosch to Juan Nunez, who works for the ACES Sports Agency, who represents Melky Cabrera, congratulating him on Cabrera’s All-Star MVP award, saying, “this smells like the Braun advantage.”  Cabrera tested positive for synthetic testosterone soon after the All-Star game.

For Sosa:

  • New York Times report that he tested positive in 2003.  The drug he allegedly tested positive for is unknown.
  • Denial of breaking US or Dominican law, and saying he “IS” clean to Congress in 2005
  • Not named in the Mitchell Report
  • Included in affidavit from former MLB pitcher Jason Grimsley as someone who “may” have used

This is not to say that Sosa is innocent and Braun is guilty.  They may both very well be guilty.  Actually, if I were going to bet on whether either, neither, or both used, I would bet on both.  This is to say, though, that public opinion is interesting.  Sosa gets killed by fans for using PEDs.  Even Cubs fans leave the man out in the cold because of how he left the organization, which was halfway through the last game of the 2004 season, on his own.

Photo: Jeff Roberson / AP

Photo: Jeff Roberson / AP

Braun is a charismatic young superstar in the post-steroid era, who can’t possibly have done it.

What we’re seeing here is how perception plays a role on every individual reality.  There is no solid evidence that Sammy Sosa used PEDs during his playing career.  There is a report of a positive test in 2003 for a substance that is unknown, accompanied by speculation, and nothing more.  Braun has a positive test for synthetic testosterone, ties to a man who’s given PEDs to players in both the major leagues, and is also tied to Braun’s college

Strength Coach and roommate.  The same man is tied to two players who tested positive for synthetic testosterone last season, and wrote to a man representing one of them that his All-Star Game MVP “smells like the Braun advantage.”

My own spin on all of this…nobody wants to believe their guy did it.  Even when all of the evidence points awkwardly toward guilt.  Unless their guy walked out on them.  Then, to Hell with him…

Why The National Baseball Hall of Fame Should Embrace Steroids

1994 was a terrible year for Major League Baseball.  The World Series was cancelled for the first time in 90 years.

Years following the strike weren’t a whole lot better.  The year of the strike is the time I began watching baseball.  I didn’t really know what I was missing without a World Series and I didn’t really know why there wasn’t going to be a World Series.  I was only nine years old.  And I was still very much into football.   I didn’t really find myself too infatuated with the game for a few more years, either.  Until 1998.  Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire brought my full attention to baseball, as a 12-13 year old boy.

Photo: John Zich, AFP/Getty Images

Photo: John Zich, AFP/Getty Images

Baseball became a talking point again in 1998.  The home run chase made baseball cool to talk about, with majestic blasts and a focus on two men chasing a record our grandfathers had seen set in their youth.  For the first time since the strike ended, baseball was relevant again.  More than that, baseball was cool.  A friend of mine and I would pass each other in the halls at school and replicate the celebration of Mark McGwire and the Cardinals after one of his home runs.  I hopped like my personal baseball hero, Sammy Sosa, after launching a softball over the heads of the girls who had no interest in playing in gym class.  Like so many other young people, I was enamored with the home run chase, and I learned the game more because I was watching it everyday.  At first, to see a home run from Sammy.  Later, because I genuinely loved baseball.  I still do.

It is true that baseball did not recapture the pre-strike average attendance level until 1996.  I was 20-21 years old during the 2006 season (when I did not go to any games because I was in Japan), but that is about the time that young people in my age range would have enough money on their own to buy baseball tickets for themselves.  I have to think or selfishly and without evidence believe, in part, people like me are fans because of the home runs and the assault on the record books, caused by the steroids which were so prevalent in the game, during the time in our lives where lasting hobbies and interests are formed.  I can’t say for sure I would not love baseball like I do without what happened in 1998.  I can say,

Photo: Reuters

Photo: Reuters

definitively, however, it would have taken much longer.  That home run chase captured me.  Baseball was more than a footnote on a scroll under Sportscenter.

Proof of the impact of the home run chases lies in television ratings.  Ratings were higher during the 1998 regular season than they’d been in years past.  Ratings also fell, according to Nielsen Media Research, during the playoffs, declining in each successive round.  Let’s sourly note that Sammy Sosa and the Cubs were eliminated in the first round that season.

The steroid era did not taint the game.  It rejuvenated the game.  Fans may not have been swarming ballparks like never before, but baseball mattered again.  More people were watching the games to see the home runs and to follow a record being chased and broken in 1998 and again in 2001.  The Hall of Fame, and more importantly, the voters for the Hall, need to recognize what that era meant.  The single month home run record of 20 still stands, from June of 1998, by Sosa.

It is not my place to say that Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds, and other “users” or “suspected users” belong in the Hall.  I am saying that the Hall needs to sit up, take notice, and embrace an important period in baseball history.  The “Steroid Era” still exists.  The records stand.  The statistics are still valid.  No championships have been stripped.  The time period cannot be erased.  On the contrary, the time period should be embraced by baseball.

History may frown on the actions of the players who used steroids or other performance enhancing drugs.  History, cannot, however, be erased.  It happened.  And it needs to be in the Hall.

 

 

News, Notes, And NEVER FORGOTTEN

Even though this is admittedly only a hobby of mine, I still feel as though I have let down those that actually read this, to an extent, so here goes some of the new information regarding the Chicago Cubs…

Photo: Ted Warren, AP

First, the team is looking to finalize minor league affiliations this week, including extending the agreement by two years with the Northwest League Runners- Up, the Boise Hawks.  The big decision is expected to be swapping low A affiliation from the Peoria Chiefs to the Kane County Cougars.  Kane County is only about 30 miles west of Chicago, so the logistics of the matter seem to be the biggest reason why.

Brett Jackson could be available tonight for the Cubs in Houston, but he is not in the starting line up, unless a late change happens.  David DeJesus is tabbed to lead off, and play in center, flanked by Bryan LaHair in right and Alfonso Soriano in left.

Speaking of Alfonso Soriano, he has a very real chance at hitting 30 HR and driving in 100 runs for a terrible offense.  He stands at 28 HR and 94 RBI, the RBIs being his best mark since joining the team in 2007.  Equally as important, Sori has been excellent in left field all season long, and is worthy of at least a consideration of a Gold Glove.  His reputation precedes him enough that there is almost no shot he gets that award, but his defense has been as good as his offense.  And his leadership brings a ton of value to a young team, learning how to be a professional.  Dale Sveum seems to go out of his way just about every day to compliment Soriano on everything he does.  Like him or not, he has earned his contract this season.  This off-season could bring some suitors for Soriano, as long as the Cubs are willing to eat much of the $36 million he will be owed over the last two years of his deal.  With the improved defense and strong numbers, the Cubs could get a strong return on Soriano from a team looking to add a right handed bat that can play the outfield.  He still figures to have the most value as a DH for a deficient AL team.

Photo: Doug Mills, AP

Sahadev Sharma wrote a great piece for ESPNChicago.com on Jorge Soler, and his comparisons to Sammy Sosa, linked here.

Lastly, with today being 9/11, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention what happened 11 years ago.  That was obviously a senseless act of death and destruction that never needed to happen.  The way Americans all over the country, though, rallied around each other was the most inspirational thing I have seen in my 27 years.  There are a lot of acts of courage, bravery, heroism, and selflessness associated with that day, and those days immediately afterward.  It remains my hope that those times return to this country, sooner rather than later.  Baseball played a huge role in the healing process.  I remember very fondly, Sammy Sosa flying the Stars and Stripes after a home run during the first game at Wrigley after the attacks.  Even though the Cubs were not a part of the World Series that season, it remains one of the premiere sports memories of my life, as the Yankees and Diamondbacks fought in an epic seven game battle, with President George W. Bush throwing out the first pitch at Yankee Stadium before game three to chants of “U-S-A, U-S-A!”, and culminated by Bob Brenly’s D-Backs getting a walk-off hit from former Cub, Luis Gonzalez.  Baseball was a major contributor to the return to “normalcy” after what happened on this day, 11 years ago.  Ballparks filled, the flag flew resolute, and versions of “The Star Spangled Banner” were belted out as passionately as they had ever before.  On this day, I hope that we take the time to remember the men and women, sons and daughters, husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, that lost their lives on that day…and PLAY BALL! 

Soler Power

Before I get to commentary on the Jorge Soler signing, I wanted to mention that I read that Mark Prior (yes, that Mark Prior) has a 0.00 ERA and 10 Ks in 4.2 innings in three relief appearances with the Red Sox’s Triple A affiliate.  Hopefully, the 31 year old Prior can make some sort of come back to the major leagues after injuries ruined what could have been an absolutely brilliant career.  I, for one, am very much pulling for Mark to make it back.

Now, on to Jorge Soler…

First, some details have emerged from several sources on the 9 year/ $30 Million contract for Soler.  It does appear that Soler will have the opportunity to go to arbitration when eligible.  That can significantly change the number of dollars in the deal, as it could have been an absolute freaking steal if it were a straight $30 million, without arbitration eligibility.  As it is, it appears that it will still be a good deal, because the way for Soler to make more money in arbitration is to produce on the field.

Photo: Jeff Bottari, Getty Images

As far as scouting reports go, when I write one, it is typically a combination of what I have seen, read, and whatever metrics are available for the player.  For Soler, that is a bit more difficult.  I know he is 6’3″ and is somewhere between 200 and 225 pounds, and is said to be a prototype RF.

He is also said to have plus power, but does not get great loft on his swing.  That could be to his benefit at Wrigley Field, where a line drive is about the only way to hit the ball out during the first two months of the season.  If he can keep the ball on a line, both to pull side and opposite field, he could be a source of early season power for the Cubs if/ when he arrives with the big league squad.

Defensively, he is said to have a quick release on his throw, and good range.  Defense is allegedly not in question at all, and he will not be a liability out in right for the Cubs.

The Words “Five Tool” don’t often get tossed around on players, but it has been applied liberally to Soler.  If that is true, and he brings his considerable talent to Wrigley, this could be just the impact splash Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer, and Tom Ricketts were looking to make to really fix the team from the ground up.  Ultimately, I don’t know much about Soler, but the things we’re all hearing make this a pretty good signing for the Cubs.  Money isn’t too big, and if he pans out, his could be one of the hallmark contracts that highlight the new regime’s time in Chicago.  That said, he is probably headed to A ball, and will not be a Chicago Cub until 2014, at the earliest.  At that point, he could either be the RF to finally replace the offense from Sammy Sosa…or he could be the reincarnation of Jacque Jones.

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.