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Offseason Moves to Improve for 2013 and Beyond

Tuesday, September 25th, 2012

by Matt Eurich

The first year of Theo Epstein’s reign as the leader of the Chicago Cubs has been pretty much what we expected.  Epstein was able to move some veteran pieces to add to the minor league system, he signed a prized international player, and the team has been abysmal on the field.

Expectations were not high for the Cubs on the field and most fans understood that.  The 2012 season was the beginning of the rebuild for the organization and Epstein has gone on the record noting that 2013 might not be much better (h/t ESPN Chicago): “I think obviously we really care about our fans and we want them to have a great experience, but we’re trying to be transparent about it.  We have a plan and we have a vision and it won’t happen overnight, but given the way of things I think this is the best way to go.”

Knowing that Epstein’s plan won’t happen overnight the upcoming season may be just as gut-wrenching at this season. With a desire to improve the team for the long-haul, what can the Cubs do this offseason to improve itself moving forward?

Move Alfonso Soriano

It seems like a broken record.  Cubs’ fans have been clamoring for management to move Soriano and his terrible contract for years.  In past years moving Soriano seemed completely impossible with him struggling at the plate and a lengthy expensive contract attached to him.  Soriano has played well this season heading into Tuesday’s game against the Rockies with a line of .263/.317/.504 with 31 homeruns and 105 RBI.

Soriano’s average is not what many teams will be desiring, but he has been able to prove that he still has some power and has shown surprisingly good defense in left field this season, leading all NL left fielders with a .996 fielding percentage.

The trade value of Soriano could not be any higher and although the Cubs would likely have to pay a majority of the money that is left on his deal (2 years/$38 million), he could still be a valuable addition to a possible contending team as a designated hitter or left fielder.

Moving Soriano opens up the opportunity to bring up Jorge Soler next season if they feel he is ready to make the jump and if not it would give David Sappelt a chance to play every day.

Move Matt Garza

Many Cubs’ fans were torn on whether or not the Cubs should move starting pitcher Matt Garza.  In Garza’s first season in Chicago in 2011, he finished the year with a 10-10 record and a 3.32 ERA.  Garza was expected to be trade bait for the Cubs leading up to the trade deadline, but an injury sidelined him before the deadline and he was ultimately placed on the disabled list, finishing his season with a record of 5-7 and a 3.91 ERA. 

Garza likely won’t be moved in the winter because of lingering concerns of his injury but if he is able to perform well early in training camp, the Cubs could move him if the price is right.  Before his injury, he was considered one of the top pitchers to be moved and many felt he had the best shot at bringing back quality prospects in return.  A depleted farm system is still a major concern for the organization and moving Garza, for the right price, can vastly improve the system.

Improve Pitching Staff

One of the most pleasant surprises this season was the play of Jeff Samardzija.  Samardzija was given the opportunity to be a starter this season and made the most of his opportunity.  He finished the season with a record of 9-13 but finished with an ERA of 3.81 and accumulated 180 strikeouts.  Samardzija might not nescessarily be the ace in the future for this staff but has made a strong case to being a reliable contributor to the rotation.

If Garza is moved in the offseason the rotation looks bleak following Samardzija. Both Travis Wood and Justin Germano have been hit or miss at times this season and rookies Brooks Raley and Chris Rusin have both struggled in their limited starts

The Cubs will likely look for a couple of veterans starters who could be stop gap for a few seasons and if young enough, an important piece for the future.

Shaun Marcum has struggled with injuries the last few seasons and had Tommy John surgery in 2008.  Marcum has a career ERA of 3.78 and because of injury concerns, he could be available for a cheap price.

After suffering a horrific head injury caused by getting hit in the head from a line drive earlier this month, the future for Brandon McCarthy is up in the air.  Doctor’s say he will make a full recovery and up until the injury he had an 8-6 record with an ERA of 3.24.  The effects of his injury are the big unknown for McCarthy, but if the Cubs were able to sign him to a reasonable three or four year deal, a move to the NL could greatly improve his numbers. 

Once viewed as one of the best young arms in the game, Ervin Santana has struggled with a ballooning ERA and injury concerns in recent years but, like McCarthy, could benefit from a jump the NL.  Santana has two 16-win seasons and a 17-win season under his belt and a career ERA of 4.30.  Santana might have a high asking price given his past success but with youth and an opportunity improve his numbers in the NL, he may be the perfect fit for what the Cubs are trying to do.

Unlike the starting rotation that has seen some good things, the bullpen has struggled all year.  The Cubs’ bullpen currently has the second worst ERA in the majors with 4.58.  Adding young veterans like 29 year-old right hander Carlos Villanueva (7-6, 37 appearances/15 starts, 3.88 ERA) or  29 year-old left hander J.P. Howell (1-0, 53 appearances, 3.08 ERA) would add depth and with a guy like Villanueva, rotation flexibility. 

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Enjoy it While it Lasts

Tuesday, September 18th, 2012

by Matt Eurich

The weather is getting cooler, the leaves are turning colors, and football season is in full swing, unfortunately though, that can only mean one thing; baseball season is all but over.

When a team like the Cubs have struggled all season long, for many fans the fall has become a welcomed sight. No longer are day games and blowouts the only sports options to watch on TV. Saturdays bring a bevy of college football games and Sundays are filled football pregame shows, the early games, postgame shows, the late afternoon games, more postgame shows, a Sunday night football game, and to top it off, Mondays are spent completely dissecting what happened over the weekend as well as hyping up the Monday Night Football matchup.

It is easy this time of year to stray away from our love of baseball because of the daily force feeding of the NFL and college football. We become less and less likely to watch the highlights of a Cubs vs. Reds game in favor of watching a show that will tell us how to improve our fantasy football chances for the week.

Before we give up completely and turn our focus to other sports, remember that baseball will not return until next April. Sure, we’ll have the tease of pitchers and catchers reporting in February and Spring Training beginning in March, but nearly six month will go by without the chance to watch a game on TV or inside the friendly confines. If you consider just how cold it can be in April and early May, it may be close to eight months until it is pleasant enough to sit in the stands without freezing.

Nine of the 15 remaining games for the Cubs this season are at home, with plenty of tickets still available for matchups with the Reds and Cardinals this week as well as for the final series of the year against the Astros during the first week of October. This time of year boasts some of the best weather for an afternoon baseball game and night games give you the opportunity to bundle up in your favorite Cubs jacket or hoodie.

In a 162-game season it is easy to stray away from a team that is playing poorly. Players like Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo, and Jeff Samardzija have given us hope for the future and reasons to keep watching but ultimately we all stray.

In these final 15 games, make a point to check-in and catch a little more of the game than you normally do. Marvel at the beauty of a clear blue sky during an afternoon game as it paints the perfect backdrop to one of the games most beautiful stadiums. Embrace Cubs culture and sing a long with the seventh inning stretch and try to make it to Wrigley Field for one last glimpse of the 2012 season, because before you know it, we will all be counting down the days until that Spring Training opener in March.

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2012 Isn’t All Bad

Tuesday, September 11th, 2012

by Matt Eurich

Rebuilding, the word has been thrown around since the moment Theo Epstein was hired by the Chicago Cubs to be the President of Baseball Operations last October.

Most level headed Cubs fans were accepting of the new plan and understanding that the system needed to be rebuilt from the ground up. Theo brought in Jed Hoyer to be his general manager and Jason McLeod as director of scouting and player development and they set out in their mission to improve the Cubs from the ground up.

Money was spent internationally on players with their biggest prize being the signing of Cuban defector, Jorge Soler, in June. They also drafted Albert Almora in the amateur draft and in the process selected 22 pitchers in their 40 selections.

Soler has been impressive since his debut in the Arizona league in July before his call-up to Single-A Peoria. Between his two stops, Soler had a line of .299/.369/.463, crushing five homeruns while accumulating 25 RBI. It is plausible for Soler to make his debut sometime next season with the big league club but they may feel another season in the minors will help him become more accustomed to American baseball.

Almora is more of a long term project compared to Soler but between his two stops in the Arizona League and Class-A short season Boise he has a line of .321/.331/.464 with two homeruns and 19 RBI. At just 18 years of age, Almora has plenty of room to grow and the Cubs will be in no rush to advance him but his upside should give Cubs hope for the future.

The front office wasn’t done acquiring talent after the draft and international signings. Gone in trades were Ryan Dempster, Geovany Soto, and Paul Maholm with Maholm bringing back Arodys Vizcaino, who was once a top arm in the Braves system before requiring Tommy John surgery in the spring. Vizcaino’s impact for the future is a bit of a question mark coming off of surgery, but Vizcaino has all the tools to become a number two starter in the league when healthy.

Despite the moves that Epstein has made that should improve the future, the present is remarkably bleak. The Cubs sit at 54-86 heading in to Monday night’s game against the equally terrible Astros who sit with a record of:

As fans of the big league team we have had very little to root for on the field. One bright spot of the season has been the call-up of Anthony Rizzo, who has had a solid rookie campaign with a line of .298/.350/.476 with 12 homeruns and 34 RBI. Jeff Samardzija could also be looked at as a bright spot this season after making the move from the bullpen to the rotation. Samardzija will be shut down for the rest of the season following his start on Saturday against the Pirates and finishes the year with a record of 9-13, an ERA of 3.81, and 180 strikeouts. While not exactly ace numbers, Samardzija proved that he can become a solid contributor to the rotation in the years to come.

Despite a decrease in production from his previous two seasons, Starlin Castro is still a reason to be hopeful for the future. Castro is only batting .281 this season but at just 22 years old there is still a lot of room for growth. Castro has been working with hitting coach James Rowson to become more selective at the plate and to improve on his walks and has found more power with his swing having hit a career high 11 homeruns so far this season.

Players like Castro, Rizzo, and Samardzija gives fans hope for the present moving into the future and Soler, Vizcaino, and Almora give hope for the years to come. Despite the 2012 season being one of the worst seasons in the franchise’s history, fans may ultimately be able to look back and realize that 2012 was the season that the building blocks for the future were finally put into place.

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The Quiet Emergence of Welington Castillo

Tuesday, September 4th, 2012

by Matt Eurch

This season has seen the Cubs make their fair share of big name call-ups, starting with the June call-up of Anthony Rizzo and followed by the July call-ups of Josh Vitters and Brett Jackson. Rizzo came out of the gate strong, living up to the hype that so many had placed on him. Vitters and Jackson have struggled with their call-ups but have recently started to right the ship.

Lost in the whirlwind surrounding the call-ups of those three players, Welington Castillo has been impressive since his return to the big league club at the end of July. Castillo was originally called up from Triple-A Iowa in late April following an injury to Steve Clevenger. Castillo struggled in seven games between late April and early May batting just .185 before suffering a mild MCL sprain in May that forced him to go on the DL.

Castillo came back up to the big league club after the trade deadline helping take a spot that was vacated by the trades of Ryan Dempster, Geovany Soto, and Paul Maholm.

Castillo has been splitting time with fellow rookie catcher Steve Clevenger but in 65 plate appearances since his call-up, Castillo is batting .323 with three homeruns, five doubles, and 11 RBI compared to Clevenger’s 42 plate appearances with a .143 batting average with no homeruns, three doubles, and one RBI during that same stretch.

Castillo still has plenty of work to do at the plate as he will need to become more patient having only accumulated nine walks in 99 total plate appearances this season. Along with patience at the plate, Castillo should be able to lower his strikeout totals, something that was a bit of a concern early in his minor league career but it appears to be something he is rectifying.

Despite becoming more consistent at the plate, Castillo’s biggest attribute is what he brings behind the plate. Castillo is learning on the job on how to become better at calling games and instituting a game plan from behind the plate. Castillo has always been regarded as a top defensive talent and many scouts felt that if he was able to develop his bat, like he appears to be now, that he could develop in to an everyday catcher at the major league level.

In a lineup full of storylines such as the reemergence of Alfonso Soriano, Starlin Castro’s struggles, and the constant spotlight on the other rookies like Rizzo, Vitters, and Jackson, Castillo has quietly become a player the front office can view as a piece for the future. No longer is Geovany Soto holding down the catcher position, giving Castillo the opportunity to use these final weeks to prove he has what it takes to become an everyday catcher in the league. Castillo will not be expected to be a power hitter or middle of the order hitter but he projects to be an above average hitter who will have some pop to his bat and provide excellent defense behind the plate.

Despite being lost in the storylines of this season, Castillo has a great shot to emerge from all of this as one of the more consistent players on the roster both offensively and defensively.

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Turning the “Fenway Plan” into the “Wrigley Plan”

Tuesday, August 28th, 2012

by Matt Eurich

This past Saturday a dream I had had for years finally came true, I got to see a game inside Fenway Park. The sights, the sounds, and the smells all had a familiar feel to it and made me wonder, can Wrigley Field benefit from the “Fenway Plan”?

I have been lucky enough to have seen many live sporting events in my life but for as long as I can remember I have wanted to see a baseball game inside Fenway Park. This past Saturday a dream of mine finally became reality and I got to see a game inside historic Fenway Park. Although always compared to each other, Fenway proved it had a leg up on Wrigley Field and while there I was overcome by not only their similarities but the differences.

As game time approached on Saturday evening, my friends and I wandered up and down Yawkey Way alongside Fenway taking pictures, looking through Red Sox shops, purchasing surprisingly good slices of pizza and cooling ourselves off with ice cold beer. The more we wandered around the more and more it felt familiar. Sure, there wasn’t the busyness that surrounds the neighborhood of Wrigley Field, but the smell of the popcorn and the buzz in the air made me feel at home.

An hour or so before game time Yawkey Way is barricaded off and the only way to enter the area is with a valid ticket for that evening’s game. We found ourselves in a bar (Who’s On First) at that time but when we finally decided to enter the stadium there was an employee right outside the bar who would only let us enter Yawkey Way if we had our valid ticket.

The mixture of metal and concrete again conjured up memories of the friendly confines and I was just as excited to walk towards field level of Fenway as I was when I walked in to Wrigley Field for the first time when I was ten years old.

Much like Wrigley there is nostalgia and an aura to the field itself. I stood there gazing at the green monster and realized that so many greats had stepped foot on that field before; Ruth, Williams, Yastrzemski, Fisk and the list goes on and on. There I was, literally standing in a baseball museum.

After gazing around the ballpark it dawned on me, there is almost no part of the stadium that does not feature some form of advertising. There is the famous Citgo sign hovering beyond left field, Covidien plastered on the green monster (along with various others), Coca-Cola near the left foul pole and Budweiser near the right, as well as a slew of others ranging from Dunkin Donuts to New Balance. Fenway Park is a sellout in every meaning of the word. We were seated along the third base side in grandstand 30, but because of little to no renovations in that area we deemed those particular seats too uncomfortable to actually sit in.

With the opportunity to wander the park we were able to view various parts of the game from out in center field by the beautiful jumbo screen, along the first base line, and my favorite, up on the highest level just under the Coca-Cola sign that gave us an incredible view of the whole stadium.

While leaving the stadium I thought to myself, “Could the Cubs really pull this off?” Sure, throughout recent years the Cubs have become more and more willing to include advertisements throughout the park and even though they can be a bit of an eyesore the Red Sox have proven that advertisement revenue can go a long way towards increasing payroll and building a contending team.

In April, Mayor Emmanuel laid out a plan that he dubbed the “Fenway Plan”, a plan that would mimic what the Red Sox did with their historic stadium and provide a new abundance of revenue to the Cubs and the surrounding neighborhood. The proposal envisioned shutting down Waveland and Sheffield for every game just like they shut down Yawkey Way.

The shutting down of Yawkey Way works because it isn’t a normal functioning family neighborhood like Wrigley is people still need to get to and from their residence and closing down the roads will only further their frustration. The Cubs have tried a similar approach this summer hosting a “block party” but they were met with little to no fanfare.

Whenever the subject of more advertising at Wrigley Field is brought up, Cubs fans become angered. Some fans were in an uproar over the Toyota sign out in left field and the Under Armor signs on the outfield walls but to me, I see advertisements and I see more revenue that can be spent on players and the stadium in the future.

Does every corner of Wrigley need to be plastered with Nikon, Coca-Cola, or Sony? No, but in order for not only Wrigley to be improved but the team to be improved, advertisements need to happen.

Fenway Park does a great job of blending old with new. The jumbo screen next to the green monster blends in so well now you would have thought it was there when Carlton Fisk was willing his ball fair in the 1975 World Series. Fenway takes something old and iconic and does not look to degrade it but improve it. Cubs’ fans have long been against the addition of a jumbo screen fearing the demise of the iconic scoreboard. If done right a jumbo screen can be added without the degradation of the scoreboard.

Fenway Park and the “Fenway Plan” proved to me that a stadium can still have the charm of an old stadium with a touch of modernism but still bring in revenue that can benefit the team. Does the added revenue immediately improve the team? No, but that revenue could not only be spent on player development but could help improve a stadium that is in dire need of an upgrade.

People will continue to come to Wrigley Field solely because it is Wrigley Field but sooner or later improvements are going to have to be made and it is going to be tough to market both a struggling team and a struggling stadium.

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What to Watch for in Final 7 Weeks for the Cubs

Tuesday, August 21st, 2012

by Matt Eurich

The 2012 Cubs season has been a struggle from the beginning.  Smart fans knew coming into the season that it was going to be a struggle and the Cubs have proven those fans right.  With a record below .400 with less than 40 games to go, it might seem like there is little reason to keep watching for the remainder of the season, but the future still hinges on what is going on in the present. Here are a few things to watch for in the final weeks of the season.

Young Pitching

Despite being sent down to Triple-A Iowa a day after earning his first major league win on Saturday against the Reds, Brooks Raley still figures to be part of the Cubs rotation moving forward.  Reports have indicated that Raley will likely be recalled to make start against the Colorado Rockies this weekend.  Raley struggled in his first two starts going 0-2 with a 9.00 ERA but pitched 5 1/3 innings and allowing 3 runs on 5 hits Saturday against the Reds to get the win.  Raley will likely bounce back and forth between the majors and Triple-A until September 1st but the Cubs will be looking to see whether or not he can be a piece for the rotation moving forward.

Development of Brett Jackson and Josh Vitters

After the call-up of Anthony Rizzo in June, the next big splash for the organization was the call-ups of both Brett Jackson and Josh Vitters.  Many questioned if the timing was right, with Jackson having struggled in the minors with strikeouts and Vitters being a question mark defensively.

Jackson continues to struggle with strikeouts, already striking out 24 times in 47 bats coming into Monday’s game against the Brewers.  Jackson is batting just .191 but hit his first major league homerun Saturday against the Reds.

Vitters hasn’t been given the opportunity to start every day, but he has also struggled at the plate, only getting three hits in 33 at-bats so far this season for a .091 average.

Both Jackson and Vitters will need to take the remainder of the season to prove that they deserve to remain on the major league roster for next season.  Neither player needs to light up the scoreboard moving forward, but if they can both show some improvement at the plate, it can give fans hope for two of the top prospects.

Starlin Castro’s Development

Last week I addressed the concern over Starlin Castro’s decline as a hitter and how fans should not get too concerned just yet.  The remaining seven weeks will go a long way in showing whether or not Castro is buying into the philosophies being taught by hitting coach James Rowson.

Rowson’s message has been that of patience and even though Castro has seen a minor increase in his base on balls, his batting average has suffered.  The final seven weeks will be a good time to see if Castro can find the perfect balance of knowing when to be patient at the plate and knowing when to be aggressive.  With an impending contract extension for the 22 year old in the works it will be interesting to see if Castro will find more or less pressure on his shoulders knowing he’ll be locked up until 2020.

September Call-Ups

On September 1st major league teams are allowed to expand their rosters from 25 to 40 in hopes of helping a team make a final push towards the playoffs or giving a struggling team the opportunity to look towards the future.

It is unknown who exactly will get called up for the Cubs on September 1st, but a vast majority will be players with prior major league experience.  The Cubs have already called up three of their top prospects this season (Rizzo, Jackson, Vitters) so it would not come as a surprise if there is a limit on the September call-ups.

Despite bringing up three prospects already and having Starlin Castro at shortstop ahead of him, the Cubs could possibly bring up highly regarded Double-A shortstop Junior Lake.  Lake has struggled defensively at shortstop and many see the outfield as his most likely position.  Calling up Lake may never happen with an already crowded outfield and the Cubs wanting Castro to play as much as possible, but some saw the Jackson/Vitters call-ups as a rushed move and they may do the same with Lake.

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Should fans panic about Starlin Castro?

Tuesday, August 14th, 2012

by Matt Eurich

After Starlin Castro’s call-up in 2010, it was thought that the sky was the limit for the young shortstop. Castro’s first game in the majors saw him go 2-5 with a homerun and a triple and knock in six runs. Castro capped off his impressive rookie year batting .300 with 139 hits in 463 at-bats in 2010. 2011 brought forth even more success for the then 21 year-old who finished the year batting .307 with 207 hits to go along with his first all-star game selection.

The 2012 season started out with much promise as Castro batted .333 in the month of April but his batting average for each subsequent month has gone downhill, .304, .264, .235, .179, resulting in Castro’s average to be sitting at .274 heading in to Monday night’s game against Houston.

Castro has been featured in various spots in the lineup this season, starting the season batting third, moving to the two spot upon Anthony Rizzo’s arrival, and now settling in to the fifth spot. The constant moving around in the lineup could have something to do with Castro’s lack of production as of late, but manager Dale Sveum thinks otherwise:

“Sometimes, guys have to understand that there are adjustments to be made in getting back to the simple things that got you here, whether it’s tone down the leg kick, tone down all the hand movement or whatever, things he didn’t do when he first got up to the big leagues,”

Although considered a veteran, fans need to realize that Castro is still just 22 years old, younger than both Anthony Rizzo and Brett Jackson. Pitchers around the league have learned what the best approach is for facing Castro and now is the time for Castro to make his own adjustments.

Manager Dale Sveum and hitting coach James Rowson have been working with Castro to become a more patient hitter and his struggles could be attributed to him focusing more on pitch selection. It is no secret that one of the biggest flaws in Castro’s game has been his patience, having only walked 20 times this season, but 15 of them have been since the firing of hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo and the promotion of Rowson.

With any young hitter, patience is key. As fans, we have come accustomed to Castro hitting over .300 and nearing 200 hits per season because that is all we have ever known with him. Castro has always infuriated us defensively and it has begun on the offensive side of his game. We have to take a step back and understand that he is just 22 years old and once his maturity level begins to rise, the baseball will be quick to follow.

Most hitters go through struggles and the biggest difference between them being a good player or great player is their ability to make adjustments. Time will tell whether or not Castro has the ability to make the right adjustments and continue to be the player we all know he can be.

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Here Comes the Youth Movement

Monday, August 6th, 2012

by Matt Eurich

We all knew the time was coming eventually, but the call-ups of Brett Jackson and Josh Vitters over the weekend made Cubs fans realize that the future is slowly becoming the here and now.

Brett Jackson has had a nice season for the Iowa Cubs with a line of: .256/.338/.479 with 15 HR and 47 RBI in 106 games. The weakest and most notable part of Jackson’s game offensively has been his strikeouts. In 407 at-bats this season, Jackson has struck out a staggering 158 times; nearly 40% of his at-bats have resulted in a strikeout.

In Jackson’s first start with the Cubs on Sunday, he went 2-4 with a walk, a strikeout and a run scored.

Jackson will likely play every day in centerfield, but with a bit of a logjam in the outfield, David DeJesus and Bryan LaHair will be platooning in right field. Many did not expect Jackson to get the call-up until an outfielder was moved, preferably Alfonso Soriano. Soriano clearly does not play in to the Cubs future plans, yet both DeJesus and LaHair have the possibility to become pieces of a winning team in the future. DeJesus has done well as a lead-off hitter and LaHair has the ability to be a power hitter but both will struggle to find at-bats with the call-up of Jackson.

Josh Vitters has been a name that Cubs fans were ready to give up on. The third overall selection in the 2007 draft, many were ready to consider Vitters a bust when his level of production never seemed to improve, until this season. This year at Triple-A Iowa, Vitters has hit .304/.356/.513 with 17 HR and 68 RBI. The 22 year-old Vitters will need to greatly improve his defense at third base having committed 21 errors in 110 games, but with the lack of offensive production at third base this season, the Cubs will be willing to go through the growing pains.

Jackson will undoubtedly still struggle with the strikeouts at the major league level, but if he can learn to improve his patience and curb his aggressiveness the Cubs will be willing to let him prove himself in the lineup. Jackson shouldn’t have any problem defensively in the outfield, given his ability to read the ball of the bat and take good lines to the baseball. Vitters will likely be more of an adventure at third base and even though he has spent some time in the outfield and at first base in Iowa, the Cubs likely will not play him anywhere but third base. Vitters’ production offensively should be an improvement over current third baseman Luis Valbuena’s .198/.269/.336 line and although it appears as of now that they want to platoon Vitters and Valbuena, Valbuena’s continued struggles could give Vitters a chance to play everyday at third base.

Rookie Anthony Rizzo has been great since his call-up in June and despite a dip in his batting average, Starlin Castro continues to prove he is one of the best young shortstops in the game. After the trade of Geovany Soto last week to the Texas Rangers, the Cubs now have two young catchers, Steve Clevenger and Wellington Castillo, who they are expecting to be contributors in the future. Those four players along with Jackson and Vitters are starting to resemble a good young core for years to come in Chicago. Expectations certainly need to be tempered for such a young group but if they can produce on the field they just might give Chicago something to cheer about for years to come.

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Is Darwin Barney a piece to build around?

Tuesday, July 31st, 2012

by Matt Eurich

The word echoing throughout the organization since the arrival of team president Theo Epstein has been: Rebuild. The Cubs have been an organization in recent years that has relied heavily on the “win now” approach, often times throwing money at players for a short term pay off and then being saddled with large unmovable contracts.

Epstein, along with General Manger Jed Hoyer and Director of Scouting and Player Development Jason McLeod, have made a point in the short time here in Chicago that all of their moves now are to improve the future. Having a solid draft as well as signing Cuban Jorge Soler has immediately helped to improve the system moving forward.

Most do not see the Cubs being true contenders for another couple of seasons, making it likely that most of the players currently seen on the field will not be around when that day comes. The obvious names, Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo, are here for the long run and the two have provided a nice base of players to build off of. Other guys like pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Travis Wood are two names the organization hopes can also be major contributors for years to come, but what about second baseman Darwin Barney?

In Barney’s first major league season last year, he finished the year batting .267, good enough for seventh among all major league second baseman. Barney’s average has dipped a bit this season, currently batting .260 but has already doubled his home run total from last year with four and is on pace to eclipse the 43 RBI he finished with last season.

Although Barney’s offensive numbers are not at the top of the charts, he remains as an average to slightly above average hitter. Barney’s biggest contributions come from the defensive side of the game. Barney currently ranks 1st in the majors among second baseman with a .998 fielding percentage, having committed just one error this season and came in to Monday night’s contest against the Pirates with an 87 game errorless streak. Barney also leads all second baseman in defensive wins above replacement (DWAR) with a stellar 3.1 while the next closest second baseman, Robinson Cano, has a 1.4. Despite Barney’s stellar defense so far this season, it is unlikely he will be able to beat the reigning gold glove second baseman in the NL, Brandon Phillips.

Barney came up in the Cubs system as a shortstop but because of the success of Starlin Castro, the Cubs moved Barney to second base. With a lot of talent at the shortstop position in the minor league system for the Cubs, it has been rumored that the Cubs could eventually move Castro to second base to make way for one of their shortstops, but not many are sold on the defensive abilities of the top shortstops in the system. Javier Baez has played great in Single-A Peoria batting .351 with 11 homeruns but many think he will eventually make the move to third base as his range and size might be better suited at the hot corner. Another shortstop playing well has been Junior Lake. Lake is batting .293 with seven homeruns for Double-A Tennessee but has committed 23 errors in 67 games splitting time at both shortstop and third base. Many believe that if Lake cannot cleanup his mistakes he may be better suited to make a move to the outfield, given his great speed and range.

With a lack of depth at the second base position in the minor league system and one of the best field percentages in all of baseball, the Cubs may have found their second baseman of the future. Barney will never be a power hitting second baseman like Robinson Cano but he should be able to raise his batting average a few points and continue to play great defense for a team, that moving forward, will be relying on players that do the little things right, and Barney appears to be their guy.

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