In a matter of days we will finally have baseball. Even as the Cubs compete in the NL Central, a lot of the focus during 2011 will be on the minor leagues. There is no doubt that the Cubs are in a sort of a rebuilding year. Instead of attempting to reload with free agents as they did at the end of the Tribune Company’s ownership, they are restocking with the farm system and building from within. It may take a few seasons, but the future looks bright for the Cubs.
How bright? To try to get an idea of where the Cubs are headed, I attempted to project what the Cubs twenty five man roster will look like on Opening Day 2014. I am allowing for the Cubs to resign their own free agents, but not to sign any other (such as Prince Fielder or Albert Pujols). I am also not assuming any trades. For that reason, look at this the baseline roster for the 2014 Cubs, the one that the front office will be trying to improve on. What it should do is give an idea what areas the Cubs will need to shore up and which players we want to keep an eye on. This is likely to be an ongoing project that will change to reflect what happens on the field, in the draft, or with the arrival and departure of players. All in all, I think you’ll like what you see.
The Line Up
CF – Brett Jackson. We should get a look at this guy sometime this season.
SS – Starlin Castro. Still the star of the team. By this time he may well be the best shortstop in the National League.
2B – DJ LeMahieu. Should arrive in late 2011 or 2012. Not the best defensive second baseman, but I think his bat will translate to the majors well. He may not develop enough power to hit third in the order, but I’ll slot him here for now. His batting average should easily be high enough.
1B – Tyler Colvin. He belongs in right field, but with the rules I gave myself there is no one else to put at first. I don’t think he is a cleanup hitter, either, but LeMahieu is a right hander, so the lefty Colvin goes here.
C – Geovanny Soto. This spring Mike Quade began to experiment with batting Soto higher in the order. I think that experiment pays off. Soto may not have all the power the Cubs would like here, but his consistent approach should yield results.
3B – Josh Vitters. We have a good chance of seeing Vitters in 2011 as well. With the injuries behind him he can focus on winning the 2012 third base job, and I think he does so easily. If LeMahieu doesn’t show much power, Vitters could wind up batting third.
RF – Michael Burgess. Coming over in the Gorzelanny trade, Burgess does not lack in power. I think this lefty slugger arrives in 2012, if he can make enough contact to put his power to use. If he can cut down on the strike outs, he could slot in as a clean up hitter.
LF – Alfonso Soriano. Yep, he’s still here. Finally in the last year of his deal, his replacement is already on the roster.
I’m assuming one extra catcher, two extra infielders, and two extra outfielders.
C – Wellington Castillo. In 2012 he takes the back up job. By now he could be feeling the pressure from Micah Gibbs, but I think Castillo is safe at least for Opening Day.
Inf – Darwin Barney. Now considered a veteran of the infield, he sees plenty of playing time giving Castro a day off or as a defensive replacement for LeMahieu.
Inf – Ryan Flaherty. Very tempting to slot Logan Watkins in here, but Flaherty’s left handed power will be nice coming off the bench. He will back up third and maybe first.
OF – Matt Szczur. The only reason he isn’t starting in center is because Soriano is still in left. He will see plenty of playing time as a defensive replacement. When he starts, he could lead off.
OF – Jae Hoon Ha. Toughest call of the roster. Arriving in 2013, Ha should platoon with Burgess in right field.
RHP – Andrew Cashner. Of the aces, he got here first so he earns top billing. Could be a candidate for Rookie of the Year in 2011. Will be a feared pitcher as long as he stays healthy.
RHP – Trey McNutt. The second of the Cubs big three, he arrives about a year after Cashner. He should be very good for a long time.
RHP – Hayden Simpson. Arriving in the second half of 2012, he draws more comparisons to Greg Maddux than to Kerry Wood.
RHP – Matt Garza. When your number four starter is a threat to lead the league in both innings and strikeouts, you probably have a very good pitching staff.
LHP – Brooks Raley. Arriving in 2013, Raley gets the nod because he is a lefty. While he may not have the raw stuff of McNutt or Cashner, he should do just fine as a starter for the Cubs.
Closer – Carlos Marmol. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.
Set Up (LHP) – Sean Marshall. See above.
Set Up (RHP) – Chris Carpenter. Arriving in 2011, he might be the hardest throwing pitcher in the bullpen. He could close for a lot of teams.
RHP – Aaron Kurcz. Rising rapidly through the farm system, he claims a bullpen job in 2012 and never lets it go.
RHP – Jeff Samardzija. When allowed to stay in the bullpen and focus on being a reliever, Samardzija is a good one.
LHP – Scott Maine. He comes back to the majors quickly and holds a job for a long time.
LHP – James Russell. With so many other quality starters in the system, the Cubs decide to just leave Russell in the bullpen, where he does very well.
A first baseman by trade or free agency could move Colvin back to right and would probably improve the roster. Reggie Golden could arrive during the 2014 season, and that would almost certainly improve right field. Logan Watkins and Pierre LePage could be waiting for a chance on the infield, as will Micah Gibbs at catcher.
There are plenty of other pitchers who could steal one of the starting or bullpen slots.
Also not on this list are players that the Cubs will draft in 2011 and 2012. A college player could easily make the major league roster by 2014 from either of those draft classes.
So, how good is that team? The pitching should be fantastic, and I think that offense will be much better than the 2011 edition. I think that is a roster that could push for the division title, but might be one star offensive player away from being a World Series contender. Insert a big bat in right or at first base, and this team could be very, very good.