The Chicago Cubs have been rebuilding for a couple of seasons now and sometimes it can be hard to find present hope in this team. While they aren’t going to be a playoff contender this season, the Cubs should see considerable improvement this year from last season, and there are a couple of reasons that this improvement is likely to take place.
First of all, franchise cornerstones Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo will have bounce back seasons. The degree to which they bounce back remains to be seen, but Castro is too good of a pure hitter to hit .245 again. With a new coaching staff, Castro figures to get back to his “see ball, hit ball” approach and get his average back up around .280 and higher. If he can grow into his power a bit more this season, he will be an even more dynamic threat.
Rizzo, on the other hand, was a victim of a bit of bad luck mixed with several dry spells throughout the season. Basically, he wasn’t consistently bad, but his numerous rough patches watered down his stats and made him look worse than they actually were. Additionally, he hit just .251 on balls put in play last season, which was much lower than in year’s past. His power numbers were very solid for a player in his first full season in the majors and he should only improve upon that in 2014.
A drastically improved bullpen is another indicator of the Cubs’ potential improvement in 2014. Last season, especially at the beginning of the year, the team’s bullpen was horrendous. Steadily, the unit improved throughout the season, but overall, they still ranked in the bottom half of the league. That’s completely different this season.
Free agent additions Wesley Wright and Jose Veras will make their ways to Wrigley Field this season, and they are welcomed additions to the team. Veras will likely be the team’s closer to start the season, and Wright, who is a left-hander, provides the Cub bullpen with much more versatility.
On top of those two, Pedro Strop, a key acquisition from last season, will likely be the team’s set-up man after impressing the club last year. With him and Veras in the back end of the bullpen, the Cubs should have less trouble closing out ball games.
Another overlooked potential reliever in Chicago this season is flamethrower Arodys Vizcaino. He was acquired from the Atlanta Braves in 2012 and hasn’t pitched since being acquired. As of right now, he’s healthy and ready for Spring Training. His fastball has touched triple digits and averages 96 mph. With that kind of stuff, the hope is that he can eventually develop into a set-up man or closer of the future.
So while the Cubs still won’t likely be competing for anything meaningful in 2014, this upcoming season should provide momentum for the franchise going forward. How much this season affects the team going forward will really be apparent in the 2015 and 2016 seasons, when everyone sees whether the Cubs’ rebuilding plan is on track or not.