Chicago Cubs Projected Opening Day Lineup
Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo Building Blocks of the Future
To say the first year of the Theo Epstein/Jed Hoyer/Dale Sveum not-so-holy trinity was a rough one would be a sizable understatement as the Chicago Cubs finished with a 61-101 record, the club’s first 100-loss season since 1966.
What made things at Wrigley Field was the fact that the ballpark saw the fewest fans in the last nine seasons and the ever-optimistic Cubs fans grew tired or waiting til next year. It doesn’t look like next year is here yet and another 100-loss season could be in store for the team that didn’t make any significant upgrades during the offseason.
The 2012 season did see the continued development of All-Star shortstop Starlin Castro, the best season of Alfonso Soriano in his Cubs career and the highly anticipated debut of super-prospect Anthony Rizzo.
Castro and Rizzo are the building blocks for the future and should be the best players on the team when the team in ready to contend for the playoffs while Soriano has been on the trading block for the past couple seasons. However, with Soriano showing he still has some pop in his bat; perhaps this is the season the club and Soriano can agree to a trade.
At the moment a trade of Soriano remains a pipe dream so this trio will be the strength of the Cubs lineup that scored the third fewest runs in baseball last season and had the fourth lowest average. The hope is that with a full season with Rizzo, who could approach 25-30 homeruns, and any sort of production from the third base position--which was a black hole before and after the injury to Ian Stewart--the Cubs could see a boost in their offensive totals.
With Spring Training right around the corner here’s how I project the Cubs 2013 lineup to look on Opening Day.
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8. Nate Schierholtz-RF
Schierholtz was signed as a free agent after spending the 2012 season with the San Francisco Giants and Philadelphia Phillies and hit a combined .257 with six home runs and 21 RBI in 114 games. The left-handed hitter is ideally suited as a bench player, but until Brett Jackson is ready to assume a full-time role in the outfield, Schierholtz will hold down a spot in the Cubs lineup. He could move up into the two-hole vs. some righties if Castro is moved out of the spot into a run-producing spot in the lineup. Newly signed Scott Hairston will share time with Schierholtz and start vs. lefties who he had an .867 OPS against in 2012.
7. Darwin Barney-2B
Barney played stellar defense at second base and became the team’s first second baseman to win a Gold Glove since Ryne Sandberg. But Barney also showed improvement at the plate and finished third on the team in runs (73) and hits (139) and even flashed some power for the first time in his career. He is a fan favorite and has been mentioned in a few trade rumors, but doesn’t appear to be heading out of town at the moment, which would upset a number of female Cubs fans. If Barney can make a similar improvement as he did from 2011 to 2012, then Barney could be the ideal candidate for the two-hole which would allow Sveum to move Castro to the middle of the lineup. Right now I have him penciled in at the end of the lineup, but I really want to move him up and he may force me to do so when I see him in this spring.
6. Wellington Castillo-C
Castillo became the Cubs starter at catcher after the July trade that sent Geovany Soto to the Texas Rangers and displayed enough behind the plate and at the plate to warrant a starting position in 2013. He hit .265 in 52 games and a .754 OPS, which was one point higher than Castro’s and could develop into a poor man’s version of St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina. He has a rocket for an arm but needs to work on his receiving skills and I believe he will make a significant improvement in that department this season. Will platoon with free-agent signee Dioneer Navarro, but I give Castillo the nod for Opening Day because of his higher ceiling.
5. Ian Stewart-3B
Stewart was acquired prior to last season in a trade for Tyler Colvin and DJ LeMahieu from the Colorado Rockies, but was an utter disappointment in his first season manning the hot corner after hitting only .201 in 55 games before succumbing to a season-ending wrist injury. Stewart has shown he can play solid defense at third, but his last productive season came in 2010 and quite frankly will enter 2013 on a short leash. If Josh Vitters didn’t fail miserably in his call-up last season, I don’t see how Stewart is even on this team this year. Stewart has endeared himself to a number of Cubs fans on Twitter and has a lot of fans rooting for him to revert to the form he showed in 2009 and 2010.
4. Alfonso Soriano-LF
The 14-year veteran has his best season with the Cubs in 2012, but it took six years for him to start to live up to the exorbitant contract given to him after his 2006 season. Soriano has been a much-maligned player in Chicago for his failure to live up to the lofty expectations that accompany the $136 million contract he signed and wouldn’t you know he has his best season in a 101-loss season. He led the team with 32 home runs and a career-high 108 RBI while playing in 151 games. The hope is that Soriano gets out to a hot start and can be traded for a young prospect and will pay a healthy portion of the remaining dollars on his contract to get a deal done.
3. Anthony Rizzo-1B
Rizzo started the season with the AAA team in Iowa and put up ridiculous stats that had fans clamoring for his promotion. After struggling as a rookie with the San Diego Padres, Epstein and Hoyer were smart to be patient and delay his arrival until he corrected some flaws in his swing. On Jun. 26 he showed the fans what they had been waiting to see for months when he made his highly-anticipated debut and collected two hits and the game-winning RBI. Rizzo displayed power and excellent defense at first base during his first season with the Cubs amassing 15 home runs and 48 RBI in 87 games. Projecting those numbers over a 162-game schedule and Rizzo has 28 home runs and 89 RBI. That should be the baseline for Rizzo in his first full season and barring injury could wind up on the All-Star team. The trading away of oft-injured Andrew Cashner to San Diego for Rizzo is looking like an absolute steal.
2. Starlin Castro-SS
The All-Star shortstop led the team in average (.283), triples (12) and hits (183) despite having a somewhat down season. Castro’s gaffes on the field were problematic in 2012 as the 22-year old phenom struggled keeping his head in the game, but his skill-set at the dish is as good as any young hitter in baseball. He also added career-highs in home runs (14), steals (25) and walks (36) while playing in 162 games for the first time.
I asked Cubs fans on Twitter where they anticipate Castro hitting next season and it was almost split in thirds between second, third, and fifth. Traditionally you have your best hitter in the third spot and Castro is the team’s best hitter, but lacks the requisite power of a three hitter, the same can be said for the five spot. Hitting in the second spot, you’d like to see more patience at the plate and a willingness to take a free pass--which up to this point in his very young career has been a weakness. The Cubs lack a true five-hole hitter and may have to play Castro there out of necessity, but I think he starts as the team’s two hitter, but if his plate discipline doesn’t improve he will prove the twitter responders correct and he’ll be moved down to the third and/or fifth spots.
1. David DeJesus-CF
DeJesus provided a steady presence at the top of the lineup in his first year on the team and finished with a quality .350 on-base percentage which was boosted with his team-leading 61 walks, but at this stage of his career he is not much of a threat to steal bases and could be a valuable trade asset at the deadline for teams in contention looking for a lead off hitter who can play all three outfield positions.
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