Abysmal. Anemic. Apathetic. These three words pretty much define the Cubs offense in 2013. Aside from Alfonso Soriano and David DeJesus, the lack of production has been lifeless. Starlin Castro has been in the .240s most of the year while Anthony Rizzo has been stuck near the Mendoza line most of the year in the .220s. Wellington Castillo has shown some life and some promise. Overall, it has been a horrible experience to watch the offense. However, there is hope. And that hope comes in the guise of three or four young players who could make their debuts at some point next year.
Since Soriano left the Cubs have used a patchwork collection on what most teams would be fourth and fifth outfielders. For the Cubs, they start. Therein lies the rub. Ryan Sweeney has some pop but his offense does not insure any return to normalcy. He would make a great fourth outfielder, but a starter? The same is true for Brian Bogusevic and Junior Lake. Lake, while an exciting player, is not an everyday player as of yet and lacks the power or the plate discipline needed at the major league level from a corner outfielder. The Cubs have also seen Dave Sappelt, Julio Borbon, Darnell McDonald, Cole Gillespie, Thomas Neal, and the mainstay, Nate Schierholtz. The names do not inspire confidence save Nate.
The free agent landscape does not bode well either. The Cubs could make a run at Shin-Soo Choo, the Reds on-base machine. While he could play center or right, at age 30 he is a bit of a gamble but he would bring stability to the top of the order and provide some one to drive in. For a team that is 14th in walks in the National League, Choo would be a breath of fresh air and revitalize the lineup. Jacoby Ellsbury is also available but his injury history precludes any long term or big payout signing.
The Cubs started Luis Valbuena at third most of the year. He can field, but he is not even an average hitter. Starlin Castro had his worst year as a pro, Rizzo’s sophomore slump was atrocious as pitchers threw anything down and in and there was nothing Rizzo could do. He has to be able to hit those pitches. Castro played well in August but after having such a horrible first half of the year, there was nothing he could do in the second half to make up for it. Barney provided little offense, if at all. His days are numbered along with Valbuena. New life is needed and fast
The lone bright spot on offense until his recent knee injury, Wellington Castillo showed a propensity to get hits along with his backup, Dioner Navarro.
2014 – The Hope
It was announced this week that former Cubs 3B phenom, Josh Vitters, would be given the chance to come and earn the LF spot next year. While Vitters has nothing left to prove at the AAA level, his short major league stint in 2012 did nothing to inspire confidence. Neither did the announcement. Vitters hit .121 in 36 games. While 2013 saw him battling injuries, at only 24, he is still young enough to make adjustments.
The true hope lies in players Cub fans hope to make debuts next year.
1. Javy Baez – The minor league organizational player of the year hit a combined 37 home runs and 111 rbis at High Class A Daytona and AA Tennessee. At Tennessee, Baez struggled the first couple weeks then just destroyed the league in August. The hope for me is that he sticks at second to begin the year. The hope for me is that he has a great spring training and makes the decision to keep him on the roster a certainty. Worst case scenario for Baez next year – he goes to Iowa and debuts in September. However, I would like to see his wicked bat speed playing every day.
2. Kris Bryant – The number two pick in the 2013 MLB draft began his brief Cubs debut season in short season Class A Boise. After a five strikeout performance Bryant shook off the rust of two months of not playing and went on an on-base tear. The brass of Cubs management was so impressed that Bryant skipped low A Kane County and was part of the Florida State League championship High Class A Daytona Cubs. Ideally, Bryant could play third base but he may shift to the outfield, preferably left, as the Cubs system is stacked with third baseman Christian Villanueva and Jeimer Cadelario. Villanueva can defensively play 3B now in the majors – his hitting is still a year away. Cadelario had a good year at age 19 for Kane County. It would be a steep learning curve if Bryant were to debut at Wrigley in 2014. His performance in the Arizona Fall League should tell where he begins next year (Tennessee or Iowa) so that he could end the year in Wrigley.
3. Jorge Soler – An injury plagued year has kept Soler from fulfilling his potential along with an ugly bat wielding incident. Soler, like Baez, has an impressive bat. Combined with a cannon for an arm, he would look good in right field. Like Bryant, Soler will play in the fall league to recoup some at-bats. The potential and talent are there for Soler. The question is whether he can stay healthy enough to get to Wrigley.
4. There are other options besides Baez, Bryant, and Soler to invigorate the Cubs offense. Matt Szczur had a good year at AA Tennessee and could push for a roster spot come spring. Maybe Brett Jackson finally figures it out – that’s a big maybe. Even Arismendy Alcantara could push for 2B spot in the spring and move Baez over to third. Add in the fact that the Cubs will be picking fourth in the 2014 MLB draft, Troy Tulowitzki clone Trea Turner out of North Carolina State could be sitting there at number four. Like Braynt, Turner could make a quick spin through the system. The possibilities are endless for the offense in 2014.
In the end, Cub fans that are on board with the rebuild support the decisions of the front office, but they just will not do so as paying customers at Wrigley. It has been sad to see half to two-thirds of the ballpark empty the past month. I truly think that emptiness will have an impact on what the Cubs do this winter. That could mean they get rid of manager Dale Sveum, but ultimately I think he stays and finishes out his contract. Rizzo’s and Castro’s lack of development cannot be fully pinned on Dale. The two players share the brunt of their failure. As many as 4-5 new position players could be starting the 2014 opening day for the Cubs. The organization knows it needs to make changes at the major league level. They have addressed pitching this past year. This winter, hitting gets its due. It has to or next year could be unbearable.