With Spring Training right around the corner, what better time to start looking at all 30 MLB teams for the upcoming 2014 season? This will go alphabetically through the teams over the next 10 days before wrapping with my final season previews, which will include standings, playoffs, World Series, award picks and Top 50 prospects. Next, the Chicago White Sox.
2013 Record: 66-96 (Fifth in NL Central)
Key additions: Signed RHP Jose Veras, RHP Jason Hammel, LHP Wesley Wright, LHP Jonathan Sanchez, OF Chris Coghlan; Traded for OF Justin Ruggiano, C George Kottaras
Key losses: None
Quick Winter Recap: It wasn’t quiet when one considers the Cubs were second to the New York Yankees for Masahiro Tanaka, but beyond that it was crickets. Veras is a good bullpen addition, same with Hammel in the rotation. There’s value in Ruggiano and Coghlan with Sanchez as a dark horse to make the club. Nobody who left the club will be missed. Earlier today, Chicago avoided arbitration by giving Darwin Barney a reasonable $2.3 million.
Farm System Outlook: Spring Training will be the most enjoyable time for the Cubs, with all the top prospects getting an invite. This means Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Jorge Soler, Albert Almora and Arismendy Alcantara will be on display. Alcantara and Baez stand the best chance of coming up later in 2014. Bryant, if he continues to take walks, could force his way to a surprise September debut.
Most Intriguing Player: Starlin Castro. He struck out too much in 2013, with an 18.3 percent rate and a walk rate that wasn’t far off his career norm. His batted ball rates also look fairly close, but worse than the previous years. A career 8.3 WAR shortstop in three seasons, he was a -0.1 in 2013. If Castro adjusts his plate approach, he lands in the awkward spot of being in the way of Baez, who could play third, but is a natural shortstop. He could become trade bait, but that can’t happen unless he hits.
Due For A Better Year: I previously wrote about Jeff Samardzija being primed for a breakout year, so as not to repeat myself, Anthony Rizzo seems like a natural pick. It says a lot that he was third on the team in average, batting .233, but did produce a .323 OBP. His strikeout rates were similar to past years and his walk rate increased from 87 games in 2012. Watching him, Rizzo took too many pitches last year, as suggested by a 5.5 percent swing rate drop and similar contact rates. Rizzo saw two percent more pitches in the zone, but swung at nearly three percent fewer. He was a bit unlucky, too. His .258 BABIP was nearly 50 points below average and his line drive rate was right with the league average, both suggesting he should be better.
Due For A Worse Year: Not a lot of advanced stats changed for Travis Wood in 2013, so the odds he puts up another 3.11 ERA are low. He’s much of the same pitcher — decent walks, low strikeouts and nothing overly-impressive. Unless Chris Bosio invented a new Wood on the mound, things will go down some, but not plummet for Wood.
2014 Outlook: This is going to be another long season on the North Side. Even if Castro, Rizzo and Edwin Jackson recover, the team just isn’t deep enough or good enough to contend. If everything falls into place, the Cubs are still probably looking at fourth in the division at best. On the bright side, the more top picks Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer get, the quicker this thing could take off once it gets going.
Prediction: 69-93 (Fifth in NL Central)