Predicting the Opening Day Lineup for the Chicago Cubs
Opening Day Lineup for Chicago Cubs
The Chicago Cubs finished the 2013 season with a 66-96 record, their fourth losing season in a row. After nothing besides minor roster additions over the offseason, I think it is safe to say that the Cubs are not legitimate contenders and are probably looking at another losing season.
While there may not be many "W" flags waving in the wind at Wrigley Field this summer, things are not completely hopeless for the Cubs. President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein and General Manager Jed Hoyer have done an incredible job of adding potential impact talent to their minor league system. In fact, led by hot shot position player prospects like Javier Baez, Kris Bryant and Albert Almora, the Cubs have arguably the best minor league system in baseball.
While they have the young talent in the system, most of their prospects will not be ready until late 2014 at the earliest. There are a handful of players who will get a ton of starts with the Cubs this season but probably should not be starting at the major league level. That being said, these guys are showcasing their talents and could become key reserves for the team when they are ready to compete.
Pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training later this week, and that means baseball is right around the corner. After Spring Training is over, the Cubs open the season on Mar. 31, on the road, against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
While things can certainly change through Spring Training, I am going to attempt to predict the Cubs' starting lineup on Opening Day against the Pirates. Because of their lack of obvious starters, the Cubs will be using lefty/righty platoons in certain positions. They had some nice success with platoons last season. This lineup prediction will be based on the assumption that LHP Francisco Liriano will be on the mound for Pittsburgh on Opening Day.
Whether the team is predicted to win the World Series or finish with 100 losses, Opening Day is always very exciting. It is a time for fresh starts and new beginnings. Here is my prediction for the Opening Day lineup for the 2014 Cubs.
1. Starlin Castro, SS
After three very successful seasons to begin his career, including two All-Star Game appearances, 2013 was a nightmare season for Starlin Castro. Castro hit a putrid .245/.284/.347 on the season and looked completely lost at the plate.
New Cubs manager Rick Renteria has already talked about having Castro in the leadoff spot, and I think he is a nice fit there. No matter where Renteria has him hitting in the order, Castro just needs to relax and get back to the aggressive approach that made him such a great hitter.
2. Junior Lake, CF
Junior Lake is an incredibly talented player who has the potential to be great. It has been a long road to the big leagues for Lake, but he finally reached Chicago last season. Lake was inconsistent but productive and exciting with the Cubs in 2013, hitting .284/.332/.428 with four stolen bases, six home runs and 16 doubles in 236 at bats.
The Cubs have the time to see what they have in Lake, and I believe he will hit at the top of the lineup for most of the season. At 23-years-old, Lake has all of the tools and potential to be great. He must become a more consistent player and work on his plate discipline. Strikeouts and lack of walks will always be an issue with Lake, but if he can keep that under control the sky is the limit.
3. Anthony Rizzo, 1B
In his first full season in the majors, Rizzo hit .233/.323/.419, with 23 home runs and 40 doubles last season. He showed good power and plate discipline, but you would like to see that average a little higher. That being said, his BABIP was very low at .258 which tells us he probably was a little unlucky.
Rizzo will never be a great contact hitter, but the law of averages tells us that he will likely have more balls fall in play which will help raise his average and make him a much more attractive player. If Rizzo can just raise his average to around .260, continue to be patient and grow as a power hitter, he will become a great left-handed bat in the middle of the Cubs' lineup for years to come.
4. Mike Olt, 3B
The Cubs want Mike Olt to return to his 2012 form, take the starting 3B job out of Spring Training and run with it. In 354 Double-A at-bats in the Texas Rangers organization, Olt hit .288/.398/.579 in 2012. He showed incredible power and plate discipline while playing very good defense at 3B. He even played at the major league level for a short time at the end of that season.
Back then, Olt was considered to be one of the best prospects in all of baseball. Unfortunately, 2013 was a horrible season for him. Olt hit a combined .201/.303/.381 between Double-A and Triple-A last season, and the Rangers traded him to the Cubs in the Matt Garza deal before the trade deadline.
Olt suffered a concussion last offseason that apparently had a serious impact on his vision. He struggled to see pitches all season long, but that is hopefully taken care of now. It is fair to wonder whether the vision issues were the reason for his struggles. Olt has huge upside, and if he performs well in Spring Training, nothing is holding him back from being an everyday player.
5. Justin Ruggiano, RF
The Cubs acquired Justin Ruggiano from the Miami Marlins in a minor trade because of his success against LHP. Ruggiano will likely be in a RF platoon with last year's starter Nate Schierholtz who had a nice 2013 season (.251/.301/.470) but has always struggled against lefties.
6. Ryan Sweeney, LF
Ryan Sweeney was very good in a short amount of time for the Cubs in 2013. He hit .266/.324/.448 in only 212 plate appearances. While those numbers are nice, Sweeney has an eight-year major league career worth of numbers that show us he is not an everyday player on a good team
That being said, Sweeney is a very valuable member of the 2014 squad with the potential to carve out a role in the future. While he is not an ideal starter, Sweeney would be a great fourth outfielder for a contending team. He will certainly try to earn himself a long term starting spot, but it is very likely that Sweeney is just a place holder until more prospects are ready.
7. Welington Castillo, C
Welington Castillo really started to come on strong late last season, and I believe he is in for a breakout year in 2014. Defensively, Castillo has an incredibly strong arm and really showed improvement in handling the pitching staff and calling a game. His 19 defensive runs saved led all MLB catchers. I think it is safe to say that Castillo is one of the top defensive catchers in the game and has the potential to be even better.
Castillo only had an OPS of .746 for the 2013 season, but he had a great second half where he hit .288/.388/.475. After early season struggles, Castillo really turned it on in the second half, and I believe he will only get better this season.
8. Darwin Barney, 2B
Darwin Barney is a light-hitting 2B with a great glove. He has never been a very good hitter, but he was awful at the plate in 2013 where he hit .208/.266/.303. His defense is incredible (he won the Gold Glove in 2012), but those numbers simply will not cut it.
Barney appears to be a placeholder at 2B until prospects are ready to take the position. Arismendy Alcantara will be the starting 2B at Triple-A Iowa this season, and if he has a strong first half, it is likely that the Cubs bring him up to take Barney's job.
9. Jeff Samardzija, SP
He was the subject of trade rumors at the trade deadline last season and all throughout this offseason, but for now Jeff Samardzija is still with the Cubs and is the obvious Opening Day starter. Samardzija shows elite stuff but has yet to put it all together for an entire season. He has big time potential, and this very well could be the season he figures it out.