Chicago Cubs: 3 Up and 3 Down

There were few bright spots for the Chicago Cubs in 2012, a season which saw them lose 101 games. If there was any consolation for Cubs fans it would be that they weren’t expecting to contend in the first year of the Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer era; however, there is a huge difference between not contending and losing over 100 games. With an unofficial team slogan of “Wait Til’ Next Year” there’s no doubt that Chicago Cubs fans are among the most patient in all of sports, but even they will expect to see improvement on the north side in 2013.

Since the Chicago Cubs haven’t done much to upgrade the roster that lost them 101 games in 2012, there seems to be little to be excited about in Wrigleyville going into spring training. To find the excitement in the Cubs franchise you have to look deep into the minor league system. The Cubs have slowly been stockpiling extremely talented young players since Theo Epstein took over. Most of the Prospects won’t see the major leagues in 2013, but if the team struggles some of them could find themselves in the majors sooner rather than later.

3 Up

Best Case Scenario for 2013

The main goal of the 2013 season for the Chicago Cubs will be to see development in all of their young players. The Cubs enjoyed seeing Anthony Rizzo blossom into a middle of the order threat in 2012, and they hope to see more of their prospects make that kind of impact moving forward. Starlin Castro needs to stop swinging at every ball that has seams on it and start to hit only pitches that he likes. This would help get his average back above the .300 mark and provide the lineup with a much needed complement to Rizzo.

There is no doubt that the Cubs lack talent all around the diamond, most specifically in the starting rotation where they will lean on Jeff Samardzija as the ace of the staff. This does not mean that the Cubs are destined for the cellar in the NL Central however. The Baltimore Orioles and Oakland Athletics showed the baseball world in 2012 that it is possible to have a winning team without superstars at every position. While it is extremely unlikely that the Cubs compete for a playoff spot in 2013, if Dale Sveum can build a clubhouse atmosphere like that of Oakland or Baltimore last season there is no reason the Cubs can’t have a respectable 2013 campaign.

Most Important Cubs

Starlin Castro, Chicago Cubs

Starlin Castro

It has been made clear that Starlin Castro is the centerpiece of the Cubs rebuilding process, and at 23 years old he seems to be on the cusp of becoming a true superstar. Castro will be entering his third full season in 2013, which means that it is about time the brainless mistakes he is known for come to an end. Focus will be a main key for Castro both in the field and at the plate. Castro needs to cut down his errors and be more selective at the plate if he wants to continue to develop into a franchise player for the Cubs.

Jeff Samardzija is undoubtedly the key for the Cubs rotation in 2013. Samardzija vastly improved in his first year as a starter in 2012 and the Cubs are depending on him to develop into a top of the rotation type of pitcher. It is imperative that Samardzija limits the bad outings that plagued his 2012 campaign. A way that he can become more consistent is to rely less on his powerful fastball and more on location and pitch selection. While injuries haven’t been a problem for Samardzija in his career so far (knock on wood), he won’t be on an innings limit in 2013 so it is vital that he stays healthy throughout the season. The Cubs need Samardzija to be the foundation of the rotation if they hope to improve in 2013.

Potential Breakout Players

Brett Jackson had a rough stint with the major league club in 2012 hitting .175 with 59 strikeouts in 120 at bats. There is much hope within the organization however that Jackson can turn things around in 2013 much like Anthony Rizzo did after struggling in 2011 after being called up by the San Diego Padres. Like Rizzo, Jackson has overhauled his swing and hopes it will be his ticket to the major leagues. If Jackson figures things out, he could end up being a mainstay in the Cubs outfield for years to come.

[Find the links to all 30 MLB team previews here: 2013 MLB Team Previews]

Arodys Vizcaino is coming off of Tommy John surgery, which means he is a big question mark entering the 2013 season. He has the talent to be a top tier starter in the major leagues, but he will have to prove that he has what it takes to get major league hitters out on a consistent basis especially after his injury. If he is able to maintain his elite stuff, he should find that the road to the show is not a tough one for pitchers in the Cubs system these days. Whether it is in the bullpen or the rotation, Vizcaino will most likely find himself contributing to the Cubs in 2013.

3 Down

Worst Case scenario for 2013

Jeff Samardzija, Chicago Cubs

Jeff Samardzija

The worst case scenario for the Cubs in 2013 is not that the team misses the playoffs, or even losses 100 games for the second consecutive season, but rather that the young players fail to improve and mature. The Cubs have put a lot of effort into acquiring young talent, and in 2013 if none of these players seem to have made great strides it will be extremely disappointing for the organization. This is not to say that the season is a failure if all the top prospects don’t get called up and succeed in the majors, but rather that they need to stay on course and become better players than they were in 2012.

Area of Concern

There are many to choose from, but there is no doubt that the pitching staff is the weakest spot for the Cubs in 2013. The Cubs lost Ryan Dempster and Paul Maholm and replaced them with a slew of mediocre pitchers coming off of injury. It will be interesting to see if the starters can go deeper into games in order to help out the bullpen, which they were unable to do for most of the 2012 season. As far as the bullpen is concerned, there is still a lot of uncertainty regarding the closer role. Marmol has been wildly inconsistent his entire career and it is impossible to predict how Fujikawa will adjust to the major leagues. This could end up being a fatal problem since the Cubs won’t find themselves blowing teams out on a consistent basis.

Who needs to Bounce back from a down 2012?

While most Cubs fans would rather see him bounce back to Colorado, Ian Stewart has to make drastic improvements for the Cubs in 2013. Stewart hit just a shade over .200 in 55 games in 2012 before missing the rest of the season with his signature wrist injury. With the injury supposedly solved for good, Stewart needs to get back to putting up the numbers he did with Colorado in 2009-10. With several top prospects waiting to take his spot, Stewart needs to prove his worth to the club if he wants to keep his job at the hot corner in Chicago.

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  • DK

    What a stupid article. I stopped reading when you said the Cubs biggest area of no talent is the rotation. That’s just a really uniformed thing to say. The Cubs rotation is, quite easily, the biggest strength of the team.

    • Max Lapthorne

      Nowhere in the article did i say no talent, I just feel that the pitching staff is a large question mark due to injuries. I explained further in a comment below, but you are entitled to your own opinion regarding the team.

  • Joe

    I have to say I think I disagree with your assessment that the pitching staff is no doubt the weakest spot for the Cubs in 2013. They’re certainly not good in any area, to be sure. That said, between Matt Garza (who in my opinion is actually the ace, not Samardijiza), big free agent signing Edwin Jackson, Samardijiza, ex Twins ace Scott Baker, Scott Feldman, Travis Wood and Carlos Villaneuva, they have seven legitimate major league starting pitchers. That isn’t an overly imposing staff, but it is a legit major league staff with a serviceable 1-2 punch in Garza and Jackson, an improving #3 with JS and a bevy of decent guys to serve as 4th and 5th starters. Health is a concern for Garza and especially Baker, but they could actually be decent out of the rotation. Out of the pen you’ve got Marmol, Fukijawa, Shawn Camp (who was picked up off the scrap heap last year but was one of the Cubs more consistent relievers last year) and James Russell as legit major league talent, plus possibly Villanueva if he doesn’t make the rotation. and Michael Bowden who had a 2.95 ERA in 39 innings last year after being called up. That is at least a decent major league pen.

    Conversely at the plate you have Alfonso Soriano, in his late 30s, as probably your best hitter. Rizzo and Castro are certainly on the ups, but Wellington Castillo at catcher and Darwin Barney at 2nd aren’t much above replacement player level. In the outfield besides Alf you have David DeJesus, Schierholtz and Scott Hairston. And of course Ian Stewart, who the Cubs could replace with just about any mediocre AAA infielder. The bench is negligible. That is very inexperienced lineup with few proven major leaguers. even fewer with a lot of experience being everyday players, and beyond Alf and Rizzo next to no power,

    I actually think the Cubs are going to be in some games this year because of their pitching. If they lose 100 games I think it will be their inability to score that is the reason.

    • Max Lapthorne

      You make a lot of good points and I definitely think an argument can be made for most spots of the Cubs roster being the weak spot. The main reason I chose the pitching staff is because of all the uncertainty. It is possible that Garza fully recovers and pitches like an ace, both Feldman and Baker recover and pitch to their potential, and Samardzija continues to progress as a starter; however it is also possible that several of those guys don’t pitch the way the Cubs hope they will. As far as the bullpen is concerned, it was among the leagues worst in 2012 and aside from the addition of Fujikawa and Villanueva (if he doesn’t make the rotation) they haven’t done much to improve it. You do however make great points about the lineup and I would agree that the Cubs will have trouble scoring runs this season.

  • b


    • Max Lapthorne

      That’s an interesting thought, I never heard anything like that even discussed within the organization. This might be because he is either unwilling or unable to stretch out to 6 and 7 innings. They definitely need to figure out something to do with Marmol and his contract though, the Dan Haren deal would have made the pitching staff look much better assuming he’s healthy.

      • Kirk

        Marmol was a starting pitcher early in his career and faced the same problems that he does as a closer…command of the strikezone. He was put in the bullpen because of his ineffectiveness to get through at least 5 innings.

      • Tyler

        You won’t see Marmol starting, because he only has TWO pitches. Starters will never survive 7 innings with that. Combine that with his lack of control and you would have a mess.

    • Gary

      Several years ago they tried making Marmol a starter and he failed miserably.

      They should trade him.