Since being named the new Cubs’ manager in mid-November of last year, Dale Sveum has been widening the gap between himself and the previous Cubs’ managers with his comments throughout the off-season. Unlike Mike Quade, Lou Piniella, and Dusty Baker, Sveum is throwing the underdog goggles out the window and preaching that the Cubs play aggressively in 2012. The type of aggressiveness that can irritate the opposing team. For those of you looking for an example, think of the Milwaukee Brewers.
But that will not be the only difference between Sveum and the previous Cubs’ managers. Quade and Piniella grew a fondness for platoon situations, as the Cubs’ teams of 2010 and 2011 featured platoon situations at the second base and right field positions. Even though it is still very early in Spring Training, Sveum has already began to focus on constructing the team’s starting lineup. Unlike Piniella and Quade, Sveum is not a fan of platoon situations. For that reason, the Cubs’ manager intends to give first baseman Bryan LaHair, third baseman Ian Stewart, left fielder Alfonso Soriano, and right fielder David DeJesus every opportunity possible to be everyday players.
With that in mind, Sveum only has two spots in his lineup filled. The Cubs’ manager told reporters that DeJesus will be the team’s lead-off hitter, while LaHair will be the team’s cleanup hitter. The Cubs have been lacking a true leadoff hitter since the days of Juan Pierre, and DeJesus will certainly be a refreshing sight to see at the top of the Cubs’ lineup. Sveum is putting a lot of stock into LaHair. While Soriano may have been the most ideal candidate for the cleanup hitter, Sveum chose LaHair–who is looking to prove this season that he is capable of producing offensively at the major league level.
With Sveum’s comments on the lineup, that has led many fans and bloggers to speculate on the how the rest of the lineup will hit. After all, that is one the greatest things about Spring Training; the endless speculating and predicting that goes on in regards to how the roster will be constructed. Nonetheless, here is how I see the lineup shaping up.
- DeJesus, RF–The Cubs have been long-seeking a lead-off hitter, and they finally have one in DeJesus. DeJesus did have an OBP of .323 and OPS of .699 in what was down season with the Athletics in 2011. But the expectation is that DeJesus will revert back to his career averages, which will mean an OBP around .350 and an OPS around .780.
- Darwin Barney, 2B–Despite some speculation that would suggest that Barney is not an everyday player, Sveum appears fully committed to the 26 year old being the team’s starting second baseman. Barney hit .276/.313/.353/.655 with the Cubs last season. As the 2011 season progressed, Barney’s stats was on a steady decline. A sleeper to watch would be Adrian Cardenas, who with improved fielding this Spring, could push Barney for the starting nod at the second base position. Barney may not be the long-term future at the second base position for the Cubs, but as of now, he is the best option that the Cubs have.
- Starlin Castro, SS–There is no surprise with who the star is in the Cubs’ lineup. The star is Castro. Castro, who hit .307/.341/.432/773 last season, will likely continue to grow in 2012. In 2011, many expected the power numbers to increase for Castro and that they did as the shortstop had 10 home runs. In 2012, however, I would expect Castro get closer to the 20 home run mark. Even if that is not the case, Castro is one of the best all-around hitters in the game today.
- LaHair, 1B–Judging by his minor league numbers, LaHair would be a strong candidate to be the team’s cleanup hitter. The issue is that LaHair has yet to have sustained success on the Major League level. But LaHair will be given that opportunity, at least until Anthony Rizzo is ready to make his debut with the Cubs.
- Alfonso Soriano, LF–I may be a Cubs’ optimist, but I get the sense that Soriano is going to surprise some folks during the 2012 season. There is no question that Soriano should be playing in the American League, but, the Cubs will be depending on the vereran to be one of the few run producers in the lineup. Soriano will not hit for much of a batting average nor will he have a high on base pecentage, but he still may be capable of hitting 25 home runs.
- Marlon Byrd, CF–It is fair to suggest that Marlon Byrd will not be the Cubs’ starting center fielder for the entire season. With top prospect Brett Jackson‘s Major League debut fast approaching, it would seem that Byrd’s days in center field may be numbered. Jackson is expected to be called up to the Major League roster by June. Byrd has drawn interest from the Boston Red Sox and Washington Nationals this off-season, if the veteran center fielder hits around his career averages this season (.281/.339/.420/.759) he likely will be the first Cubs’ player to be traded this season.
- Ian Stewart, 3B–Ian Stewart may be the key to the Cubs’ offense this season. Sure they have Castro, but the Cubs need to have the power input from first baseman Bryan LaHair and third baseman Ian Stewart. Stewart is two seasons away from when he hit 25 home runs and drove in 70 runs for the Colorado Rockies. Stewart battled with a wrist injury for most of the 2011 season and that may have played a factor in the third baseman hitting below the Mendoza line last season with the Rockies. Stewart will likely start towards the bottom of the Cubs’ lineup, but could be bumped up if he regains his power display.
- Geovany Soto, C–A theme is developing with Soto. The theme being that the current season Soto is playing in is a make or break season for the Cubs’ catcher. 2o12 appears to be the last chance for Soto. If Soto can not improve upon the .228/.310/.411/.721 line that he had during the 2011 season, the Cubs will likely turn to Steve Clevenger or Wellington Castillo.