Tagged: Tony Campana

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.

The Other Guys’ Deadline Thread

3:10 PM: And that’s that.  Garza and Soriano (for now) have not been traded.

2:15 PM: The Cubs are saying that Alfonso Soriano is likely staying put, but that could change in August when he clears waivers, according to Bob Nightengale.

2:04 PM: David Kaplan is back on  Earth, saying the Cubs and Tigers are hard at work on Soriano, but is not sure money is going to work out.

2:01 PM: Harold Reynolds just said his “favorite rumor” is Ryan Dempster and Matt Garza for Justin Upton.  That would be a huge move for the Cubs.

2:00 PM: One hour from the deadline.  Nothing new to report.  Arodys Vizcaino is ranked #3 in the Cubs’ system, though.  So that’s cool.

1:54 PM: The Cubs and Tigers continue to discuss names in a Soriano deal that seems like a long shot at this point.  It is not known of Sori would go to the Tigers at this point.  Other players discussed with Tigers have been Tony Campana and Luis Valbuena.  All of this is speculation, and for his part, Jim Leyland thinks the Tigers are done making trades.

1:50 PM: Carrie Muskat has reported that Casey Coleman, Wellington Castillo, and Adrien Cardenas are going to be called up to Chicago to replace the players traded last night.

1:41 PM: All of the talk around the Cubs seems centered on Dempster, with almost nothing being said about Garza or Soriano.  With so little time remaining, I would be surprised (mildly) if either was not a Cub at 3:01 this afternoon.

10:00 AM: Ken Rosenthal says that as of early this morning, the Rangers did not think they had a match to get Garza.  He also says the Rangers have said there is “minimal attractive talent.”  It appears the Rangers are going to stand still at the deadline as far as pitching goes.

9:55 AM: Dave Sappelt tweets that he is not being called up.  The mystery continues…

9:54 AM: Ken Rosenthal is reporting that the Rangers don’t like the low amount of quality starting pitching available and may wait until the August waiver period.  Meanwhile, Buster Olney is reporting that Garza is an interesting option for GMs that have confidence in the doctor’s report on his MRI, and that the Diamondbacks have the prospects and aggressive GM to make a trade for Garza work.

9:32 AM: For what it’s worth, the Geovany Soto deal is now official.  They will get the dreaded player to be named later…or some of their money back.

9:28 AM: David Kaplan says he spoke to Brett Jackson, who told him that he would be playing in today’s day game for the Iowa Cubs.  I still think it’s going to be Dave Sappelt getting the call up.  We know now it will not be Jackson, at least not today.

9:08 AM: Jon Heyman reports that the Cubs are talking to the Rangers and two other teams about Matt Garza.  Those teams are assumed to be the Reds and the Blue Jays.  He also says it is still possible that Garza could stay until at least winter.

9:04 AM: Not really trade related, but since Brett Jackson is not being traded and it does not appear that he is going to be called up, Twitter exploded on Jackson for nothing more than a coincidence, which was Jackson being removed from the Iowa Cubs’ game last night in a double switch right around the same time Reed Johnson was getting hugs in the Cubs’ dugout.

8:54 AM: The Dodgers appear close to acquiring Shane Victorino from the Phillies for Josh Lindblom and a second player.  That pretty much kills any chance that the Dodgers would be willing to take on Alfonso Soriano.

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.

ANTHONY RIZZO IS COMING!

Alright, that’s not entirely true, but it would seem as though it is coming soon since tonight’s line up features Bryan LaHair batting third and playing right field.

Tonight’s line up at the White Sox is:

1. David DeJesus, CF
2. Starlin Castro, SS
3. Bryan LaHair, RF
4. Alfonso Soriano, DH
5. Steve Clevenger, 1B
6. Darwin Barney, 2B
7. Luis Valbuena, 3B
8. Geovany Soto, C
9. Tony Campana, LF
Pitching: Matt Garza

  • That’s right, Geovany Soto has been activated off of the disabled list today and will start.  The Cubs will not go with three catchers, as had been discussed, though.  Wellington Castillo has been sent back to Iowa.
  • Also, Ryan Dempster has been placed on the 15 Day Disabled List today with a “Tight Lat.”  This is an injury that Dempster has been playing through for much of his 22 consecutive scoreless innings, apparently.  Clearly, it had been devastating his performance and required him to shut it down for a few starts.  In his place, Scott Maine has been recalled, and Randy Wells will take Dempster’s place in the starting rotation.

 

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly on the 1st 41

Today’s game marked the first quarter of what has been a very down and up and down again 2012 season.  Therefore, I find now to be a perfect time for the obligatory blog entry with premature grades and analysis of 41/162 games.

The Good:

  • Bryan LaHair has proven to be a worthy and able first baseman during the first quarter of the season.  He’s hit for power, average, taken his walks, and done a respectable job manning first base in the field.  While he is not the gold glove that Derek Lee or Carlos Pena had proven to be in their tenures with the Cubs, he is making the plays he is supposed to make.  His bat is the important thing, though, and with talk of an Anthony Rizzo call

    Photo: Johnathan Daniel, Getty Images

    up potentially coming in the next few weeks, his bat could force a shuffle of the outfield.  He could force the energetic Tony Campana to the bench to make room for David DeJesus in center, while he moves to right field.  The takeaway is that he is swinging a strong enough bat to force another player out of the line up if and when Rizzo arrives, and that is a major positive for the Cubs’ offense.

  • Tony Campana has been a spark since joining the roster and getting regular playing time.  I know I took a cheap shot at Nyjer Morgan in an earlier post, but after watching Campana a little more, I don’t think he is a Morgan type as much as he is a Juan Pierre type of player.  His range and versatility in the outfield is excellent, and he has found his swing this season, keeping the ball on the ground and slapping hits all over the park more than he did last season.  With his speed, those are the things he needs to do to be a successful player in the majors.  In the games in which he’s played, he has been mightily successful.
  • The starting pitching has been fantastic, for the most part.  With Chris Volstad being sent to Iowa, the one real weakness has been removed.  Ryan Dempster, Matt Garza, Jeff Samardzija, and Paul Maholm have all been very good with only a few rough outings among them.  Samardzija, Dempster, and Maholm were all asked to pitch in the Wrigley bam box this weekend, and all did a respectable job.  There were no cheap home runs off of Maholm today, but he limited the damage to solo home runs and kept the team in the game.  Ryan Dempster gave up back to back home runs that were completely wind aided.  Both of those are harmless fly balls on a normal day.  I can’t fault a guy for giving up a fly ball that the wind carries just into the basket.  Especially one that has been as dominant as Dempster this season.  Unfortunately, none of the three were rewarded with wins.  Actually, the starters only have 10 wins to this point.  They deserve more.  They have been excellent.
  • The defense gets an honorable mention in the good because it has been.  Starlin Castro’s eight errors are kind of misleading.  Overall, his defense, notably his throwing, have been much better.  The work in spring has very much benefited Starlin in the early going, and it seems as though he is moving in the right direction.  The same can be said about Darwin Barney, who is a converted short stop.  Alfonso Soriano, for as much as we ride him has also been much, much better.  He makes all of the plays he is supposed to make and has been better in his paths to the ball how he plays the ball of the wall.  Lately, he has been hampered with a leg injury that has made his defense suffer a little bit, but he is probably an average defender in left thus far, and that is a vast improvement over the last few seasons.  Ian Stewart and David DeJesus have been as advertised with their gloves.  They have been excellent at their respective positions.
  • Joe Mather.  The man is another Reed Johnson type that is always ready and can play anywhere he’s needed.  That’s a valuable commodity in baseball, and he has provided steady and consistent play whenever Dale Sveum has called on him.  He is turning into a very nice addition to the bench and is earning himself more playing time.

The Bad

Photo: Johnathon Daniel, Getty Images

  • Only the Toronto Blue Jays have walked more batters than the Chicago Cubs.  So, while the .239 batting average against Cubs’ pitching is good for 8th in baseball, the walks have been a huge problem and need to come down.  Many of those walks have come late in games by the bullpen.  Carlos Marmol is tied for the team lead with Matt Garza and Jeff Samardzija with 16.  It is to be expected that the starters would walk more batters because they throw a significant number more innings, and for the most part, the starters have been solid in the BB category.  The problems are with the pen.  Marmol has 16 in 11.1 innings pitched.  Rafael Dolis has 11 in 24 innings, Kerry Wood had 11 in his 8.1 innings before retirement this weekend, and James Russell has 10 in 17.1 innings.  That’s 48 walks out of the late inning relief pitching, in 61.1 innings.  Way too many…and a very big reason why the Cubs have 6 saves and 8 blown saves through 41 games.
  • The rash of injuries to the catchers has been devastating and mind blowing.  At current, Geovany Soto, Steve Clevenger, and Wellington Castillo are all banged up.  That leaves the Cubs with the newly reacquired Koyie Hill and rookie Blake Lalli to serve is the back stops for a young bullpen.  Hill is a veteran that has experience with the Cubs and is a reliable defensive catcher.  He was an excellent addition with the onslaught of injuries to the catchers.  Before the injuries, the catchers were fine.  Geo got off to a slow start, but his bat was coming around as he was hitting some balls hard.  Clevenger was said to have a “slump proof swing” by Manager and former Hitting Coach Dale Sveum.  The catchers were not winning the team any games, but not costing them too many, either.  Soto had two of his four errors in one inning, neither of which were his fault because Rodrigo Lopez should have fielded both balls, and Clevenger and Castillo each have a passed ball.  Other than that, 2 errors for Soto in his other 27 games and doing a good job with the new and young pitchers.  The catching has been about average, and lands in the bad category because all of that average catching is injured and has given way to reacquired veterans and rookie call ups.
  • More about the walks, this time for the hitters.  105 in 41 games is good for 26th in baseball.  The lack of patience at the plate has led to some quick innings, which don’t allow the team to see the weakest part of the bullpen…the middle relief.  Any pitcher that is in middle relief is not the cream of the bullpen because if they were, they’d be starting, setting up, or closing.  Unfortunately, the Cubs have only see starters, set up guys, and closers because there is almost no need to pull the starter for pitch count.  Dale’s edict to take the first pitch, unless you can hit it a country mile has not brought about the patient approach the team needs.  There have been some ugly swings and misses at pitches there is no chance at hitting.  Bryan LaHair, David DeJesus, Ian Stewart, and Geovany Soto are the only guys in double figures.  Guys like Starlin Castro, Alfonso Soriano, and Darwin Barney (who has 9 BB this season) should be in double figures.  They get enough at bats that they should be seeing more free passes.  They’re there for the taking…and the offense would benefit from a few gift base runners.

The Ugly

  • I’ve spoken on the schedule before, so this will be brief.  The games against good and surging teams have been a constant in the early going.  Fortunately, the Houstons, Pittsburghs, and San Diegos are all right in front of the Cubs right now.  This is a golden opportunity to win some games against some teams that the Cubs are better than.  There is room for a better mark than 15-26 at the quarter pole, but many of those teams are, frankly, better than we are.  I am not stunned that the record is 11 under right now because I would have looked at the schedule and thought it about right for this team against that schedule.  The surge that we saw before the current 6 game skid is promising.  I expect that to happen again this season, and to happen with a little more consistency as the season continues.  That’s it for the ugly, though…tough schedule that led to some very up and down results.

An Early Season Gauntlet

Looking at the Cubs early in the season, one thing does not get talked about with the vigor that it should.  This team has played one hell of a difficult schedule early in the season.  The combined record of the Cubs’ opponents at this point in the season is 106-88.  And it doesn’t get any easier for the Cubs with the surging 18-11 Atlanta Braves coming to the Confines for a three game series starting tomorrow.  As of today, the Cubs have played all three of the early division leaders, and only Milwaukee and Philadelphia have losing records of the teams on the schedule to this point…and anyone calling those teams push overs is mistaken.  The Phillies have been bitten by the injury bug, so the Cubs did catch a break in seeing them, and being done with them early on, but the Brewers were at full strength for their early voyage down I-94 to Wrigley.  And the Cubs were not playing well at all…to say the least.

The thing that makes the early season 11-17 record frustrating is the fact that it could be better.  On Thursday, the Cubs managed to snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory.  To this point, they have lost four of their games decided by one run.  This team is only a few outs away from being 14-14, which would be nothing to sneeze at when you look at the projections coming into the campaign.

As the calender flips forward, there is some reason for optimism.  The outfield is far more productive than it was at the beginning of the season.  Tony Campana has turned into a spark plug as a number two batter, much like Nyjer Morgan turned out to be last season for the Brewers, who Dale Sveum saw first hand. And at least Campana comes without all of the baggage and stupidity that flows from the artist who wants to be known as Tony Plush.

(One such example… “Where still n 1st and I hope those crying birds injoy watching tha Crew in tha Playoffs!!! Aaaaahhhhh!!! … Alberta couldn’t see Plush if she had her gloves on!!! Wat was she thinking running afta Plush!!! She never been n tha ring!!!”  via Nyjer Morgans twitter account, which should be changed to @loud_mouth_moron)

Starlin Castro and Bryan LaHair have fortified the third and fourth slots in the line up, and with David DeJesus and Tony Campana getting on base ahead of

Photo: Associated Press

them, the RBI numbers have gone up steadily, with Castro adding two more with a smash single today.  Most important of all of the reasons to be optimistic, the starting pitching has been very good from the get go.  Ryan Dempster sports an ERA of 0.95, which breaks down to three earned runs in 28.1 innings pitched.  Matt Garza’s ERA, in comparison, seems astronomical, at 2.67.  Most telling, the staff has 16 quality starts, going at least 6 innings and giving up 3 or fewer earned runs.  That was a rare occasion last season.  The starters were having short outings with very little success.  There were a lot of games decided early last season.  The quality starts this season mean that, at least, the game is still winnable, if the team is not ahead.

The sources of concern from early in the season still exist.  The bullpen is still somewhat shaky, although they were lights out today.  They have been major contributors to the team’s 3.98 staff ERA.  The team as a whole still issues too many walks, 102, which is tied for 4th most in baseball.  The defense is still not great.  Errors do not tell the entire story, although 23 is still a huge number on May 6.  Today, a missed opportunity for a double play lead to the first Dodger run.  But the .719 defensive efficiency rating is good for 6th in MLB, and there is some sign of improvement.  Things are getting better defensively, which will tell you that the work from Spring Training is still in progress.  The bright side is, the team is among the leaders in batting average allowed, and has only surrendered 12 unearned runs.  The pitching, when it can find the plate, is capable of getting people out, when the defense doesn’t offer any extras.

What this all boils down to is patience.  The Cubs are young.  The schedule has been demanding.  There should be some hope, however, that things can be better this season.  After the first 31 days of the season, I would not be surprised to see this team win 80 games, as assembled.  Trades, injuries, and other mitigating factors can play into the total wins and losses. The one thing I can say confidently, is that my initial 76 or so win prediction seems like it has a good chance at coming true.

It could be much, much worse.

Rizzo and Jackson

With the big league club taking its second off day of the season, I thought I would drop down and talk about some AAA baseball this evening.  Namely, the top two prospects in the system, Anthony Rizzo and Brett Jackson.

First Baseman Anthony Rizzo:

Photo: US Presswire

2012 I-Cubs Numbers
Games: 11
Avg: .391
HR: 5
RBI: 13
SLG %: .739
Doubles: 1
Triples: 0

Anthony Rizzo is a pretty easy player to talk about.  He is a 22 year old, 6’3″, 220 lb power hitting first baseman…and the best part is, he’s left handed.  He is very, very close to being a fixture at Wrigley Field with the Chicago Cubs, as opposed to the AAA confines of Principle Park in Iowa.  He is a “can’t miss” offensive prospect, with some refining to do as a first baseman at the MLB level.  He had a brief stint with the Padres last season, hitting .141, which prompted new GM Jed Hoyer to take blame and make sure that Rizzo is not being rushed to the majors before he is ready, which may slow his debut with the Cubs.  He is, however, a possible call- up candidate if a trade is made.  Marlon Byrd and Alfonso Soriano are both candidates to be dealt this season, and with Bryan LaHair working in the corner outfield, a Soriano trade could open the door for Rizzo, with LaHair taking over in left field.  That all depends, of course, on his continued development in Iowa.  If the first week of the season is any indication, he figures to be around sooner, rather than later.

Center Fielder Brett Jackson

Photo: Chris Donahue, Iowa Cubs

2012 I-Cubs Numbers
Games:10
Avg: .273
HR: 2
RBI: 6
SLG %: .523
Doubles: 3
Triples: 1

Brett Jackson is probably a bit further away from the majors than Anthony Rizzo.  Theo Epstein believes in players have a full year, meaning calendar year, at AAA before being called up.  That would likely mean the chances of seeing Brett Jackson roaming center field in front of the ivy is unlikely this season, even if Marlon Byrd is traded.  It is more likely that Reed Johnson would be the everyday man in center, with Rizzo being a potential call up.  Better money to replace Byrd on the roster would be the speedy Tony Campana.  Dale Sveum loved what he saw out of Brett this spring.  From afar, I cannot disagree.  After hitting .293 with 10 HR after being promoted to Iowa last season, Jackson is rapidly ascending in the Cubs’ system.  He will be a Chicago Cub.  It could be this season.

Variables

There is one unknown about these two fine prospects…and that is the effect of falling out of contention at the major league level.  With the Cubs off to a slow start, and the season not projected to be overcome with success, it remains to be seen how the new front office and Dale Sveum will handle calling up prospects, even in September.  They may want to give good prospects a long look at the end of the season.  Or they could take the other approach and decide not to “start the clock” on major league service time for Jackson, and other prospects yet to make a major league debut.

The Takeaway

Two of the most important positions on the field are center field and first base.  The Cubs have two very good prospects at those positions to team with star SS Starlin Castro to form a young nucleus of good players at key positions.  With Castro intrenched at the big league level and the two top prospects following, either this season or next, the future looks good.  And the future could be sooner, rather than later.

40 Man Roster All Signed

The Cubs have finished signing every player on their 40 man roster with 0-3 years of service time, according to ESPN.com’s Doug Padilla. The list of players is as follows:

Right-handed pitchers: Alberto Cabrera, Lendy Castillo, Casey Coleman, Rafael Dolis, Marcos Mateo, Samardzija and Casey Weathers.

Left-handed pitchers: Jeff Beliveau, John Gaub, Scott Maine, Russell and T. Wood.

Catchers: Welington Castillo and Steve Clevenger.

Infielders: Barney, Adrian Cardenas, Castro, Bryan LaHair, Junior Lake, Anthony Rizzo and Josh Vitters.

Outfielders: Tony Campana, Dave Sappelt and Matt Szczur.

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.