Predicting Chicago Cubs’ Opening Day 25-Man Roster
Chicago Cubs' Opening Day Roster Prediction
Even the most optimistic observers could not look at the current Chicago Cubs roster and think they will be serious competitors in 2014. Aside from a few minor additions, the Cubs have basically the same team that went 66-96 last year returning for the 2014 season. Wins will be hard to come by, and new manager Rick Renteria certainly has his hands full.
Everybody knows that the Cubs are in the middle of a rebuild. Theo Epstein and the rest of his front office have let that be known since the beginning. Obviously, a long rebuilding process like this can be frustrating, but the Cubs have some serious young talent in their organization. I believe the future looks very bright. Positive progression by their young core across the board is more important for the 2014 Cubs than wins and losses.
While a surprising playoff run appears to be incredibly unlikely, the Cubs do have some very interesting young players to keep an eye on this season, most notably Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo. After back-to-back All-Star seasons in 2011 and 2012, Castro looks to rebound after an abysmal 2013, where he hit .245/.284/.347. Castro seemed to be completely lost at the plate last season, but he is far too talented to perform that poorly again. I expect big things out of Castro this season.
Rizzo also had a down 2013, but it may not have been as bad as it seems on the surface. Rizzo definitely had a bit of a sophomore slump last season when he hit .233/.323/.419, but his 23 home runs and 40 doubles show me that his bat still has plenty of power. His .258 BABIP was almost 50 points below league average, and suggests that Rizzo was a little bit unlucky. Rizzo certainly has some work to do to prove that 2013 was an anomaly, but I believe that he can turn it around this season. At only 24-years old, Rizzo is still coming into his own as a hitter.
The progression of Castro and Rizzo are just two examples of many players who are worth watching on the Cubs this season. Sure, it is frustrating that they will unlikely win many games, but the old front office left the Cubs in shambles and this rebuild was necessary.
While the roster is mostly set for the beginning of the season, the Cubs have some tough decisions to make when they break Spring Training. Obviously, Spring Training performances will have something to do with who gets the last few open spots, but every move this front office makes is made with the future in mind, making this somewhat predictable. Here is my Opening Day 25-man roster predictions for the Cubs, in what will likely be another rebuild season.
Welington Castillo, C
Barring injury, Castillo will be the starting catcher to begin the season for the Cubs. He had a nice 2013 season, and I think he is prime for a breakout year in 2014. According to advanced statistics Castillo was the best defensive catcher in baseball last season. His defensive WAR of 2.8 and 19 defensive runs saved, led all MLB catchers. Castillo made incredible strides behind the plate, and while his offense lacks behind, his bat showed positive signs of coming around in the second-half. If Castillo improves at all offensively, he will become an All-Star caliber catcher this season.
Anthony Rizzo, 1B
Another no-brainer here as Rizzo will definitely break camp as the starter at 1B for the Cubs. Rizzo has nice power and shows good patience at the plate. Defensively, he is a Gold Glove caliber player that saved errors many times last season. The 2014 season is very important for Rizzo as he looks to prove that he is a much better player than the numbers showed last year.
Darwin Barney, 2B
Barney simply must do a better job at the plate this season if he expects to continue being the Cubs' starting 2nd baseman. With Emilio Bonifacio in camp, and talented infield prospects like Arismendy Alcantara and Javier Baez getting very close to the majors, Barney finally has some competition for his job. That being said, he is still an elite defensive 2nd baseman, and I believe he will be the starter at 2B for the Cubs on Opening Day. The only question is, how long can he hold on to the job?
Starlin Castro, SS
After back-to-back All-Star seasons in 2011 and 2012, last season Castro took a huge step back. The Cubs reportedly tried to help Castro become a more patient hitter, but he looked uncomfortable at the plate for a huge majority of the season. New manager Rick Renteria has hinted towards Castro leading off this year. He has had success at the top of the order before, so I think the move would help Castro become more comfortable. I expect Castro to be more aggressive at the plate this season, and I think we will see a huge bounce-back year for him.
Mike Olt, 3B
This may be a surprise to some, but I believe that Olt will win the Cubs' starting 3B job out of Spring Training. Olt has obvious raw power, and he is very good defensively at 3B. Making consistent contact has never been a strong skill for Olt, but his power usually makes up for that. Last season, a concussion led to season long vision problems for Olt and his performance at the plate was ugly. He has reportedly gotten his vision issues under control, and I think he will be a solid middle-of-the-order bat for the Cubs this season.
Junior Lake, OF
Lake is an extremely talented player with huge breakout potential this season. After many years in the minors, Lake finally got his chance in the big leagues last season. He hit .284/.332/.428 in 236 major league at-bats last year. Lake is incredibly inconsistent, but his rare combination of power and speed make him very interesting. Barring injury, Lake will see a ton of starts in the outfield this season as the Cubs try to see what they have in him.
Ryan Sweeney, OF
Sweeney is a solid player, who will get a big opportunity this season. Sweeney is probably best served as a 4th outfielder, but with the Cubs not expected to compete this year, he will get a lot of starts. Sweeney is a disciplined player with good defensive skills. His athleticism is above average, and he makes good contact at the plate. Sweeney shows decent power at times, but I would be surprised to see him hit more than 10 home runs in a season.
Sweeney can also play all three outfield positions, which is nice because he will likely be the everyday center-fielder if Lake cannot handle the position. Sweeney is probably going to get more opportunity than he ever has before, can he make the best out of it?
Nate Schierholtz, OF
Schierholtz was good for the Cubs in 2013. He hit .251/.301/.470 with 21 home runs and 32 doubles. Schierholtz will get the majority of the at-bats in RF for the Cubs this season, but considering he has always struggled against LHP, he will certainly be a part of a platoon once again.
Jeff Samardzija, SP
Samardzija is the de facto ace for the Cubs this season. There is no denying his raw ability, but he continues to struggle with consistency. Samardzija had an unimpressive 4.34 ERA and 1.348 WHIP last season, but he was 5th in the National League with 213.2 innings pitched and 4th with 214 strikeouts. Is this the season that Samardzija can finally put it all together? Only time will tell.
Travis Wood, SP
Wood had a nice breakout season in 2013 with the Cubs, as he pitched exactly 200 innings, had an ERA of 3.11 and a nice 1.145 WHIP. Wood does not have overly impressive stuff, but he is a smart pitcher that showed great command last season. Also, Wood really did a nice job of changing speeds. It will be very interesting to see if his success continues into this season.
Edwin Jackson, SP
Jackson had a very disappointing first season with the Cubs in 2013. He went 8-18 with a less than stellar 4.98 ERA and a WHIP of 1.460. Jackson has a long history of being a solid innings eater type of pitcher. With such a long history of mild success, I do not worry too much about one poor season. I expect Jackson to be solid, yet unspectacular again this season, just like the rest of his career.
Jason Hammel, SP
The Cubs brought Hammel in on a one-year "prove-it" kind of deal. Honestly, he feels like a stop gap pitcher that is very unlikely to have a huge impact on this team. The Cubs are just asking Hammel to eat some innings in the early part of the season. Likely the best-case scenario is that Hammel has a good first half of the season and the Cubs flip him at the deadline.
James McDonald, SP
The Cubs signed McDonald right before the beginning of Spring Training. He does have a small history of big league success, so there is some upside here. Jake Arrieta is struggling with some shoulder soreness, and I do not think the Cubs will rush him out to start the season. I think McDonald will win the 5th starter job out of Spring Training, but he must perform well right away, as he is the most likely to go when Arrieta returns.
George Kottaras, C
Kottaras was brought in to be the back-up for Castillo this season. This is a not a Dioner Navarro situation like last season, Kottaras is very obviously the back-up player. Kottaras brings good defensive skill, a lot of experience and impressive plate discipline. All great characteristics to have for a backup catcher.
Luis Valbuena, INF
Because I expect Olt to become the everyday 3rd baseman, Valbuena will probably be put in a bench role. He was decent for the Cubs as a semi-regular in 2013, hitting .218/.331/.378 in 331 at-bats. Valbuena can play 2nd or 3rd base, and has recent starting experience. He is not a super talented player, but Valbuena can once again be an important member of the team in a limited role.
Justin Ruggiano, OF
Ruggiano's most attractive asset for the Cubs is that he can play solid defense in the outfield and he hits right handed. Ruggiano is very likely to be on the short side of the platoon in right field with Schierholtz. He does not offer huge upside, but he does have some pop in his bat and is a threat to steal a base. Ruggiano is far from a star player, but he is a solid 4th outfielder.
Chris Coghlan, OF
There are a ton of mediocre options to be the Cubs' fifth outfielder on Opening Day. Coghlan is nothing exciting, but he seems to be getting the most playing time early in Spring Training, so I am going to go with him. Coghlan won the Rookie of the Year award in 2009, but he is far from the player he once was. He is a fairly athletic player, has good defensive skill and he works extremely hard. Unfortunately, Coghlan is not going to give you anything with the bat. That being said, a guy with good work ethic is always nice to have around, and while he is unlikely to play very often, I think Coghlan would have a positive impact in the clubhouse.
Emilio Bonifacio, UTL
Bonifacio was brought in by the Cubs on a minor league deal, and I think he has a great chance of breaking camp with the team. Bonifacio is an incredible versatile player that can play all over the infield and outfield. His best position is probably 2nd base, and I think he will be the one to step in for Barney if his offensive struggles continue. Bonifacio's best asset has always been his incredible speed. While is very fast, Bonifacio has almost zero power, and he is inconsistent at getting on base. Regardless, he fills a huge need for the Cubs in the speed department, and I think we will see him getting starts at many different positions this season.
Jose Veras, Closer
Veras signed a one-year contract with the Cubs this season, and he instantly becomes the most experienced pitcher in a talented bullpen. Renteria has all but officially named Veras as the Cubs' closer heading into this season. He has recent success out of the role, and it will be interesting to see how he does. With many dynamic arms behind him, Veras very well could be on a short leash.
Pedro Strop, RP
The Cubs acquired Strop in a trade early last season, and he showed some nice promise. In 37 relief appearances with the Cubs, Strop had an ERA of 2.83, his WHIP was 0.943 and he struck-out 42 batters. Historically, Strop has struggled with control, but he really had that under control with the Cubs last season. It will be interesting to see if that continues. He will be the primary set-up man in the bullpen this season. Strop is certainly a guy to keep an eye on as he has massive upside.
James Russell, RP
Russell is such a steady presence in the Cubs' bullpen. Last season, he was the only LHP in the pen for most of the year. Because of this, Russell was thrust into awkward positions, and it hurt his performance. He is extremely unlikely to be the only lefty in the bullpen this season and I think that will help Russell get back on track. He will be used in a set-up role as well this season.
Carlos Villanueva, RP
I really struggled on where to put Villanueva, as he has had success in both the rotation and bullpen, but I ultimately decided he will come out of the pen. I think Villanueva will be the long-man out of the bullpen for the Cubs, at least for the first part of the season. He is better than most long relievers, and I am sure he will get some work in the middle innings or even in a set-up role as well. There is a great chance that Villanueva starts some games for the Cubs this season as well. He may not have the greatest stuff, but Villanueva is a good pitcher, and his versatility is valuable.
Wesley Wright, RP
Wright is the other lefty that the Cubs brought in to compliment Russell this season. Wright has had some nice big league success, but his role as a lefty specialist is obvious in this bullpen. Wright will be counted on to get left-handed hitters out in key situations. I think he will have a nice season, and will be an important part of the bullpen.
Blake Parker, RP
Parker was great for the Cubs last season. In 49 relief appearances, Parker posted a 2.72 ERA. He showed great promise as he struck out 10.7 batters per nine innings, and only walked 2.9 per nine. I believe Parker has a ton of upside as a late inning reliever. The Cubs have a crowded pen right now, so it is hard to define a specific role for Parker, I just strongly believe he will be very good.
Justin Grimm, RP
Grimm really came on strong out of the bullpen with the Cubs last season. At only 25-years old and a long history in the minors as a starter, the Cubs surely hope that Grimm can make it in the rotation someday. For now, his high-90s fastball and erratic, but promising curveball should fit in very well in the bullpen.