Chicago Cubs’ youth staying hungry after championship

Feb 15, 2017; Mesa, AZ, USA; Chicago Cubs outfielder Albert Almora Jr. during a Spring Training workout at Sloan Park. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 15, 2017; Mesa, AZ, USA; Chicago Cubs outfielder Albert Almora Jr. during a Spring Training workout at Sloan Park. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports /

A good portion of the Chicago Cubs’ roster is under 25 and already have a World Series title under their belts. Despite this, the group remains hungry.

The Chicago Cubs defied all odds last season when they won the first World Series in 108 years. And they did so with a wily, new-school manager and a historically-young roster.

So, heading into 2017, Chicago’s roster is full of players hovering around a mere 25 years of age with a championship already under their belts. It might be tempting, for some, to settle. This group already made history, so, really, what else is left to accomplish?

Building a dynasty, for starters.

Pieces such as Javier Baez, Albert Almora and Addison Russell refuse to simply accept what they’ve already accomplished so early in their careers. Instead, the trio is pushing hard to improve all aspects of their game.

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Russell ready to evolve as an offensive player

They spoke with the Chicago Tribune recently about what specifically they’re looking to improve upon from last season. For Russell, it comes down to a strong running game.

"“Definitely base running. I think I can get better at base running. I think it would take my game to the next level. … All facets, from rounding the bag to taking the lead to knowing who’s playing where and who’s on first, second, third. Also, knowing when to go first to third, second to home; the ball’s hit in hole and you read it and instead of just staying on second, you make hard turn for third."

Russell swiped just three bases last season and, given his age and athleticism, he has the opportunity to be a perennial 20-steal threat. His offensive emergence was a big piece of the Chicago offense in 2016, as he drove in 95 runs – the second-highest total ever for a Cubs shortstop.

Joe Maddon will happily take that from Russell, who brings Gold Glove-caliber defense on a daily basis up the middle for Chicago. Improvements in regards of average would be a welcome adjustment, but smarter base running still adds value to his game.

Health is everything for surging Baez

Alongside Russell on a semi-regular basis, Javier Baez will be slapping tags as the other half of the Chicago double-play combo.

But, for that to happen, he’ll have to stay healthy – something he’s struggled to do at times during his still-young career.

"“To be honest, I’m just trying to stay healthy the whole year. Last year, I wasn’t there for Opening Day. I jammed by thumb little bit and had to stay (in Mesa) two or three series.”"

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Chicago Cubs

Last postseason, Baez emerged as yet another star on a youthful Cubs team chasing a title. He shared NLCS co-MVP honors with Jon Lester, thanks to a .318/.333/.500 batting line and a game-winning Game 1 home run.

This season, his role is a bit less defined. Last year, veteran utility player Ben Zobrist saw a large chunk of time in left field, due to the injury to Kyle Schwarber. With the latter back in the lineup on a daily basis, though, Baez will have to fit in where he can, likely playing multiple positions for Chicago.

That versatility, though, is what makes Baez so attractive to the Cubs’ front office. He has light-tower power, a brutally powerful cut that sometimes works against him. But when he makes contact, fireworks ensue.

Almora ready to join the party

Another young piece of the Cubs’ puzzle arrived in the form of Albert Almora, who perhaps saved the team in the NLDS, making a spectacular catch to keep Game 4 tied in San Francisco.

He’ll likely split time with veteran Jon Jay this year in center; this also gives him the opportunity to improve his plate approach and learn from a talented big leaguer in the process.

For Almora, it’s just a matter of his bat catching up to his glove, which already ranks as above-average.

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"“I’d be lying to you if I said there’s just one thing. I’m a baseball junkie. I like getting better at every aspect of my game. It might seem like that’s just the right answer to say, but it really is what I’m really focused on — everything in the game. I feel like the day I get complacent in one aspect of the game is the day I start going downhill.”"