Of all the young players we talk about at length: Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, Albert Almora, Jorge Soler...none of them will be with the Cubs on opening day in 2014.
One top 10 prospect who has a chance to break camp as the starter is Mike Olt, the 3B acquired from the Texas Rangers.
Obstructed View posted Bill James' projections for Cubs players in 2014 and while there isn't a ton of offense expected outside of Anthony Rizzo, there are a couple of nice surprises. (Disclaimer: Bill James projections tend to be a bit more optimistic than the norm)
One is that Javier Baez (were he to make the team, of course) projects to have better numbers than incumbent Starlin Castro. In fact, he has the second highest wOBA (.332), as calculated by DMick. James calculates Baez to hit .270/.324/.438 with 22 HRs. The Cubs could certainly use that kind of production, but it's still around average to a bit below average overall, so despite the temptation, the Cubs should let Baez develop in AAA and improve on that production -- perhaps as early as mid-season.
The other player is Mike Olt.
Mike Olt is a surprisingly (potentially) productive player that emerges from that analysis. James has him at just a .225 batting average, but a strong 12% walk rate puts him at a passable .318 OBP to go with a .429 slugging percentage with 24 HRs. DMick calculates his wOBA at .327, below average but better than Luis Valbuena's .315 mark last year and not terrible considering he should provide much needed RH power and above average defense.
In fact, the .327 wOBA would have ranked 7th last year among NL 3Bs -- pretty much the middle of the pack -- and Olt will be a better defender than all but at least two of those 6 players ahead of him (Chase Headley, Martin Prado being the possible exceptions).
Somewhat related is that Darwin Barney is considered a non-tender candidate after an abysmal year offensively. The likelihood that he'll be due for an arbitration raise that will further curtail his value. If the Cubs non-tender him, it may be just to save money and perhaps re-sign him at a reduced rate.
But the reason I say the Barney idea is related is that the Cubs could conceivably improve their offense internally by moving their productive 3B platoon of Luis Valbuena and Donnie Murphy to 2B, where their offense plays better. Both are capable of defending the position, though obviously not as well as Barney, so that must be taken into consideration as well.
Even if you assume no other changes that alone should improve the offense and most specifically, the OBP and quality of ABs in the lineup. Of course, as have noted on numerous occasions, we do expect the Cubs to make some changes.
Olt, however, may end up being the best -- and potential long-term-- addition the Cubs make to open the 2014 season.
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