Seven questions facing the Chicago Cubs in 2012
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With Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer bringing in a new era on the North Side of Chicago, Cubs fans have high expectations … just not for this season. While it looks like it is going to be a long summer, we will hopefully get a chance to see some of the young talent show what they can do, as well as what new manager Dale Sveum can do. Here are seven questions facing the team as we head into the season:
1. Can the kids play?
The bulk of the talent, as far as prospects go, is at the lower levels of the organization. Guys like Dillon Maples, Daniel Vogelbach and Javier Baez are still a couple of years away from being major-league ready. There are, however, some guys who could give fans something to look forward to for the future. Particularly Brett Jackson, the team’s first-round pick in 2009. A true center fielder, Jackson plays gold-glove caliber defense and is a prototypical leadoff hitter. The 23-year-old is a left-handed hitter with speed and some pop in his bat. He hit .274 with 20 home runs, 21 stolen bases and an .869 OPS last season. He suffered a broken finger which caused his average to dip a little, but he is a .292 hitter over 296 minor league games. He also draws a lot of walks, as evidenced by his .393 OBP over that same span. While he doesn’t excel at any one area, he looks to be a 20 HR/20 SB type player with good averages. He also plays the game all-out, and should be a fan favorite the way he approaches the game everyday. With the team in remodel mode, he should be given every chance to show what he can do.
Rafael Dolis is another intriguing prospect who should get significant time out of the bullpen this season. The 24-year-old, 6’-4”, 220-pound right-hander can dial his fastball up to 99 mph. He has closer-type stuff, but he still needs to work on his command.
Josh Vitters, the team’s first-round pick in 2007, could finally get a chance to show why the team made him the third-overall pick. He has progressed slowly, considering his talents, but the 22-year-old was impressive at double-A Tennessee last season. He hit .281 with 28 doubles, 14 home runs, 81 RBI and only 54 strikeouts over 488 plate appearances. He then went to the Arizona Fall League and hit .360 with four home runs, 17 RBI and a .923 OPS over 24 games. His move to the outfield puts him in a crowded group for 2012, but he could earn some time if he puts up big numbers at triple-A
Then there is 22-year-old Anthony Rizzo. The 6’-3”, 230-pound left-hander was acquired from the Padres in the Andrew Cashner trade over the winter. After tearing up triple-A last season, hitting .331 with 26 home runs, 101 RBI and a 1.056 OPS over 93 games, he struggled a bit in the majors, hitting just .141 with one home run, nine RBI and a .523 OPS over 49 games for the Padres. This is a guy who was drafted by Theo in 2007, acquired by Hoyer in 2010, then acquired by both this season. They are both obviously high on him, and he hasn’t disappointed in spring training, hitting .375 (12-for-32) with two home runs, five RBI and a .974 OPS over 12 games. Even if Brian LaHair earns the first base job out of spring training, it won’t be long until Rizzo is the everyday first baseman.
2. Will they lose 100?
On paper, this team looks like it won’t compete, even in the NL Central. But just how bad will they be? The last time the Cubs lost 100 games in a season was way back in 1966 when they went 59-103 under Leo Durocher. That team had Ron Santo, Ernie Banks, Billy Williams and Fergie Jenkins, all Hall of Famers. This team has … Starlin Castro. If they do end up losing 100 games, it will be just the third time in team history, the other being 1962 when they went 59-103 under three different coaches, and if you have ever heard of El Tappe, Lou Klein and Charlie Metro, you are a better fan than I am, congrats.
For the record, I have them winning around 70-75 games.
3. Where will the power come from?
First and third base are considered power positions. They are usually middle-of-the-order run producers who can give you at least 20 HR/80 RBI a year. You have to at least have one of this type of player at either of these positions. The Cubs have Ian Stewart at third. A guy who could be one of those players, but is coming off a terrible season with the Rockies in which he hit .156 with no home runs and six RBI over 122 at-bats.
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