It's getting clooooser, Spring Training is wrapping up and teams prepare for Opening Day in Major League Baseball. Nobody is more anxious than yours truly about the Chicago Cubs first season under new management. So as we approach the the kick-off, let's take a look at some expectations that I have for the Cubbies going into the 2012 regular season.
But before we get into that, make your own prediction on the Cubs chances this season,
4. Matt Szczur will see some immediate time in the Bigs..
22yr old Daytona Cubs center field prospect Matt Szczur has been on many beat-writer and blogger spotlights in the past two seasons. The 6'0'', 195lb prospect from Cape May, New Jersey is a subtle blend of speed and mechanics, with a very high ceiling. Szczur (.303BA, .781OBP, 99 runs in minor league ball) has been a high grade prospect to everyone whose kept an eye on his performance since being drafted in the 5th round in 2010 by the Cubs.
I think conventional wisdom says that both Marlon Byrd and Alfonso Soriano's days are numbered as Cubs and Brett Jackson is the favored replacement at center. So it is safe to say for Matt that his best opportunity is to move over to left field where he could replace Soriano. Tony Campana would be the gravest competition, but I don't think his skill set is nearly as good as Szczur.
3. The Cubs starting rotation will look like this...
This rotation will be the key to Cubs success. Jeff Samardzija will have an opportunity this season to solidify a regular spot in Chicago's rotation. Samardzija is far away from his mystery days of opting out of the NFL Draft to become a full-time baseball player. Once a standout at the University of Notre Dame, the 6'5'', 225lb, right hander out of Merrilville, IN has been toiling in relief for the Cubs and has posted a record of 12-9, and has pitched for a career ERA of 4.40. He will also be the only featured lefty in the rotation.
Matt Garza is not mentioned in this rotation, because as a prediction I see Matt being moved via trade. However, this particular trade could - in fact - bring a capable starter to the Cubs who would be inserted in the lineup. However, this would be the construction of the lineup that I see bringing the Cubbies the most success moving forward this season.
The X-factor of this particular starting core is Randy Wells. Wells has pitched pretty good this spring, but with deep competition for right handed pitchers and the possibility of Randy being used as trade bait, his performance while in a Cubs uniform is paramount to the clubhouse getting out of the gates quickly in the NL Central.
Ryan Dempster will be the head of the Cubs starting charge. His consistency, veteran leadership and work-ethic, will resonate with the Cubs new management and he will embody what Dale Sveum and pitching coach Chris Bosio want the staff to follow and motivate from. Dempster is also the odds-in favorite to start for the Opening Day game for the Cubs.
2. Dale Sveum will immediately make a name for himself in the clubhouse...
Former World Series Boston Red Sox bench coach and new Cubs manager Dale Sveum was a dark-horse pick for skipper. As many Cubs fans and others had a laundry list of applicants better suited to take the helm in the new Theo era of Chicago Cubs baseball. However, the more you get to know Sveum, the more he appears to be apt for being "that guy" to change the culture of the Cubs organization.
From his "Give Em' Hell" tattoed arms, to his reported confrontation with Ryan Braun during the his days in Milwaukee, Sveum appears to be change of pace with his rugged, new school approach. Add in the new "Brat-Pack" regime, and the young Cubs roster, and I wouldn't be surprised to see the young talent buy into his philosophy early and Dale become a favorite in the clubhouse and can also quickly earn respect from management across the league.
The talent currently comprised on this Cubs roster isn't enough - in the eyes of many - to be considered pre-season contenders in the Central or National League. And without clubhouse aberration's Carlos Zambrano and Milton Bradley, Sveum should be able to assume complete control of the team, and consequently lead them to unexpected success, immediately.
1. The Cubs will have 3 or more All-Stars
Starlin Castro and Marlon Byrd both earned All-Star nods in past seasons for the Cubs. However, my prediction is that Northside will have one or more extra All-Star representatives this season. Albeit this B-list squad doesn't seem flooded with All-Star talent, the bright spots (Byrd, Castro, Darwin Barney, Ryan Dempster, Matt Garza, Carlos Marmol) are very bright spots on this squad, each with the potential to put up numbers - good for making the game.
Barney and Marmol are my picks to make the All-Star game outside of Castro and Byrd. Darwin Barney will have a full off-season under his belt, with the expectation that he will be the starting second baseman for the Cubs. Barney was somewhat of a surprise last season with the Cubs as he assumed a permanent spot in the daily lineup (posting a .276BA, 43RBI's, 66 runs scored in 143 games) and has preformed well during spring training ( .476BA, 8RBI's in 21 plate appearances).
Carlos Marmol has long been predicted as one the NL's best closers, but he has struggled with control on his high velocity fastball. Nonetheless, in the past two seasons, Marmol has saved 72 games. I expect for Carlos to break 40 saves this season while the Cubs work on backing up the bullpen with offense.
Tags: Boston Red Sox, Carlos Marmol, Carlos Zambrano, Chicago Cubs, Chris Volstad, Dale Sveum, Darwin Barney, Jeff Samardzija, Marlon Byrd, Matt Garza, Matt Szczur, Milton Bradley, Paul Maholm, Randy Wells, Ryan Dempster, Starlin Castro