In two days, the Cubs will roll into Pittsburgh and play the Pirates to begin the 2014 season. Jeff Samardjiza will take the mound for the Cubs. He will be one of the few things to remain the same from the 2013. In fact, this team is quite different from the one that limped to the finish line in 2013. Spring training just showed that the 2014 Cubs are a different type of team with a different type of manager than last year.
1. Five new position players.
My wife actually joked she was going to need a new scorecard to keep track of the new guys. After the team used 65 players last year in an attempt to plug a lot of holes, this year’s squad will be more stable and there will be less turnover in personnel, barring injuries.
Mike Olt leads the parade. The former top Texas Ranger prospect is in a prime position to do some damage this year. With his new eye drops in tow, Olt had a great spring hitting over .280 and cranking 5 home runs. His defense is slowly rounding into shape as he fights off the effect of an arm injury. He looked better the past two days than he did the first two days at third earlier in the week. If he can stay healthy I think he can hit 20-25 home runs and hit .260 – .280 while driving in 80-90 runs this year. That would be amazing for most Cub fans. It would go a long way to lengthening the lineup and providing some cover for Anthony Rizzo.
Ryan Kalish has been a nice surprise this spring. He brings some speed, some polish, some flexibility to play all 3 outfield positions, and a good eye at the plate. He does not have a lot of power but he can run well in the field and on the bases.
Justin Ruggiano, formerly of the Marlins, moves out of the cavern known as Marlins Park and into a platoon in more hitter friendly Wrigley Field. Ruggiano, like Kalish, can play all three spots. His best attribute is that he crushes left handed pitching. He may be the ultimate beneficiary of Nate Schierholtz moving on as several teams, like the Tigers, are in need of a left handed bat.
Emilio Bonafacio had a bad 2013. He came to the Cubs and had a great spring leading off most games. Bonafacio can play in the infield or the outfield. He has zero power but he has a ton of speed. I could see a day this summer with Lake, Bonafacio, and Kalish providing the most speed the Cubs have had in an outfield in decades. If Darwin Barney gets traded here soon, and I think he will, Emilio will have a nice hold on second base until Javy Baez comes up June 5.
2. The Bullpen
When this post began, the bullpen has not been clarified. Carlos Villanueva got the fifth starter spot last night. The problem with my logic was that a week I was sure it was Rusin’s spot after his mastery of the White Sox. Then came the Angels…Villanueva makes a good choice because Arrieta is not that far away from being ready.
All I know is this: the 2014 bullpen will have five guys that can throw some serious gas at 95 or higher. The problem is whether or not the ball will go over the plate. I like Strop, Wright, Russell, and Veras in their respective spots in the 7th, 8th, and 9th innings. I also like Hector Rondon who I thought was outstanding in August and September last year. I am not a fan of Alberto Cabrera who has been lit up like a Christmas tree his last two outings. How exactly does one give up eight runs in one inning? Because he is out of options, Cabrera will sadly make the team. I, for one, would like to see the Cubs run him through the waiver wire. Rusin is going back down to Iowa with Eric Jokisch, Kyle Hendricks, and Neil Ramirez to form a nice rotation in Des Moines. Blake Parker could even return from Iowa to fill the last bullpen spot in order to keep Grimm stretched out as a starter.
3. Matchups and Variety
I think with the versatility of the players, Manager Rick Renteria can trot out different types of lineups every day. Depending on the wind conditions he can get a speed lineup, go with an almost all right-handed lineup or left-handed. Renteria also has the luxury of having two lefties in Russell and Wright to use out of the bullpen. I felt that in past years that Russell was gassed by the end of June. Having Wright gives Russell some rest. He might have the same number of appearances as past years, but his innings should be way down knowing Renteria can bring in Wright later in the game or inning.
What Else to Watch For
1. Shark/Schierholtz/Barney Watch
All three could be traded sooner than later. IF Samardjiza is going to be traded it will be by the July 31 deadline when teams could get him for a year and a half. After then, I think the Cubs hold on to him unless they get blown away by an offer and then the team gets the Compensation pick in the draft in 2016. Samardjiza, when on, has dominant type stuff. But he is not a dominant type pitcher. On most contenders he would be a nice #4. I just don’t see teams shelling out the prospects Theo and Jed want for him. Schierholtz and Barney will likely be traded but neither should bring back much in return. Unlike Samardjiza, they will likely be dealt sooner than later including this weekend (hopefully).
2. June 5
This is the date that Javy Baez will likely appear at Wrigley Field against the Mets. The Cubs get an extra year of him by holding off until this date. Also, after this date, I would expect to see Hendricks, Ramirez, or Jokisch along with Arodys Vizcaino on the mound, too. I don’t think all four will arrive overnight from Iowa. They will come slowly, in a trickle. I don’t see Bryant, Soler, or Almora coming up this year until September and even then it will only be for a cup of coffee. Come next spring and summer the Cubs roster will look much different. I think once Schierholtz is traded (and you could replace his name with Samardjiza’s), the rebuild is over. I think if Samardjiza is traded it will not be for low level prospects, but rather AA and AAA near ready prospects that will be netted. The Cubs are that close to being ready to win at the major league level.
I am ready to begin to win. If the Cubs get 75 wins, it will be a much improved year. Changes to the bullpen should do that at the very least. Once June arrives, it will be very exciting every day! Until then…
UPDATE: 12:27 p.m.
Right hander Brian Schlitter has made the club in the bullpen. The Cubs Designated Alberto Carbrera for assignment. I was stunned it was Schlitter and not Parker who made the Club. Schlitter had 3.24 ERA at Iowa in 38 games with 20 saves last year. He is 28. He throws in the upper 90s and has a slider to go with that fastball. Control has always been his issue on making it to the big leagues.