In times of need, true heroes rise to the occasion.
During the 2011 World Series, a fellow by the name of Mike Napoli put on an absolute clinic on how to be a clutch player, keeping the Rangers ahead of the curve and in good position to defeat the eventual winners, the St. Louis Cardinals. Strong offensive ball placement, effective base running and good defense at home plate (Napoli is a catcher in case some of our more casual ball fans are reading) made him a hero among the team and the fans alike.
Not to say that the 2012 Cubs need a hero, but after a mediocre 2011 performance, any bit helps.
In athletics especially, a breakout performance is met with the highest regard of respect. These men and women realize how to optimize their performance and help their team achieve a single universal goal that bridges the gap between all sports: to win the game.
So how can something that’s so simple on paper be so complicated in real life?
The intense complexities of baseball aside, its a difficult harmonization of raw skill, physical fitness and mental preparedness that allow any athlete to excel. Some ball players show more promise than others in all of these departments, but it always boils down to those 3 basic components.
How to harness all 3 remains the issue for the Chicago Cubs.
Taking all the off season moves into account, the Cubs seem to have a better team on paper in 2012 than they did in 2011 (but that is strictly from a “on paper” point of view). Some of these acquisitions are meant to have an immediate impact on the Cubs ailing issues (DeJesus, Volstad, LaHair) vs those who are expected to go through the Cubs newly revamped farm system and flourish into baseball stars by the time they hit the big leagues (Conception, Szczur, McNutt).
The Cubs will need some players to step up to the plate (no pun intended) and have strong seasons for the Cubs to have a progressive 2012 compaign. The real question is who’s the most likely to break out in 2012? If you’re still reading this article, then you must have some interest in what my opinion is (bless your soul).
- Bryan LaHair: For a young guy? He’s not bad. Playing first base will be a slight challenge for him this year, but I think his skill will shine through as he gets used to the defensive systems of the bigs. He’s no slouch at the dish either, posting a respectable .288/.377/ .508 line in 2011 in 20 big league games. Not too shabby for the kid… but that’s about where the good news ends. LaHair struck out almost a quarter of the time in his 69 plate appearances. Discipline at the plate will have to be number one on his priority list in order to become a real impact player at the MLB level
- Alfonso Soriano: He’ll be good for ~20 jacks and maybe 90 RBI if we’re lucky. Will he be the breakout player the Cubs need? Put simply… no. He’s aging and his number are showing it, with a .302 BABIP in 2008 vs .266 in 2011. I really like Soriano personally, but the fans are growing tired of his high paying salary and lack of performance.
- Starlin Castro: Castro really grew into his talents in 2011 with a .307 AVG and 207 hits for the Cubs’ 2011 campaign. He’s got great speed running the bags too, and with 22 stolen bags in 2011, its not much but its enough to make a pitcher think twice about checking first base. Castro shows real potential with the cubs coming into spring training with a brand new work ethic towards his game. If anything is going to let him down, its his power. He only hit 10 homers in 674 at bats accompanied by 36 doubles. If he can get some more mustard in that bat, he could be a real weapon.
- Geovany Soto: Its spring training and he’s already pulled his groin… sigh. Next.
- Jeff Baker: Call me crazy, but I have a hunch about this guy. He’s had consistent numbers throughout his career with a.270 AVG, .758 OPS and 167 runs in only 460 games. His work ethic seems to be decent, but he has big holes in his game. He’s notorious for hitting ground balls… and when I say “ground balls” I mean like pounding them into the ground. He also cannot hit of right handed pitchers, but is great against lefties (it may be the only reason he’s still in the majors). By no means is Jeff Baker going to be the breakout player the Cubs need, but I mean… really… his game can really only go up! Im trying reaaaally hard to be optimistic here…
Well… is it just me or did that list accomplish nothing?
You’d be somewhat correct. There isn’t much in the way of potential “breakout” players on the cubs roster right now, but don’t lose hope. No one picked Castro to do anything in 2011, and yet there he was making an impact! Its incredibly difficult to predict when it will “click” for an athlete. The mental and physical implications of high performance are strictly in the hands of the ballplayer.
Lets just hope that the Cubs’ new coaching staff can help their players “click” into a winning baseball team. And just like you, I’ll be sitting in my apartment watching every game on my laptop (the problem with being an out-of-market fan) praying for someone to take the reigns and lead the Cubs to victory…