I’ve covered the Cubs Bullpen and the Cubs Starters before, today I’d like to focus on how I think the lineup shakes out. With Choo gone it makes this unit perhaps a bit more stable than the other units. There will be a lot of fluidity here, lineups are rarely ever set in concrete and there are enough platoon candidates here to justify a revolving door policy. I didn’t include the bench guys yet, there are a few names that we will touch on later as the season gets closer. I expect there to be more than a few updates to this version as well. Ditto the guys in the minors who will be knocking on the door in 2014. Those guys will be profiled later.
1. Luis Valbuena (2B) – (391 PAs .218/.331/.378)
The 28 year old Venezuelan enjoyed some through the early parts of the season before completely falling off the table in June and never fully recovering his April-May form. Valbuena maintained good plate discipline throughout his malaise however, and finished the year with a 13.6 BB%. I doubt he’ll ever hit for much average but a .331 OBP isn’t anything to scoff at either. It’s for these reasons that I think Valbuena will supplant the light hitting defensive maven Darwin Barney. While I do think Barney is a useful player I also think his value is marginalized on a team with as many offensive holes as the Cubs currently have. With Shin-Soo Choo off the market the Cubs will need as much supplemental offense as they can muster and Valbuena fits the bill.
2. Starlin Castro (SS) – (705 PAs .245/.284/.347)
There wasn’t a player as disappointing as Starlin Castro was in 2013. I had him tabbed for a breakout year at the plate but he took several steps backwards complete with high profile lapses in concentration and issues with the coaching staff. The latter led to Dale Sveum‘s dismissal. The Cubs are invested in Castro and will seek to give him as many plate appearances as they can. Hitting second will do that for Castro. 2014 will be a very important year considering the middle infield talent that figures to be knocking on the door by September. Any combination of Mike Olt, Kris Bryant, Javier Baez and Arismendy Alcantara will make for a crowded infield and Castro needs to show that he belongs at the front of that conversation. I doubt you build a team around Castro but I also think his skillset is such that he’s a useful player to have around. It’s been gradual but his defense has improved from year to year. Let’s just hope that the bat return to form.
3. Anthony Rizzo (1B) – (690 PAs .233/.323/.419)
Rizzo hit one of the most metal homeruns in Cubs history (475′ of pure loud) and then proceeded to never get on track. He’s a curious case. Rizzo hit 65 XBH showcasing some impressive gap and some over the fence power, but the average hovered around .240 before cratering down to .233 in July and August. Rizzo had a low BABIP (.258) but that might be due to defensive shifting more than bad luck. Rizzo also has an ugly platoon split against LHP (.189/.282/.342) which is a concern moving forward. I never thought he would hit for much average but I had Rizzo tabbed in the .260 range more than the .230 range. He has legit power and good loft in the swing. There was a concern that he might be dropping his hands too low which would explain some of the missing singles. The on base skills are there, the power is there, the contact rates need to show up just a bit more.
4. Nate Schierholtz (RF) – (503 PAs .251/.301/.470)
Schierholtz showed up and supplied a surprising amount of power considering the player’s recent history. He’ll have to continue moving forward considering that northside pariah Alfonso Soriano isn’t around anymore. Schierholtz hits like Soriano when he’s pitted against RHP (.262/.300/.499) but he turns into bad Adam Dunn against LHP (.170 .308 .245). John wrote about this but here’s where a platoon makes a lot of sense especially with new acquisition Justin Ruggiano who hit .248/.329/.504 against lefties last year. We know what Nate is at this point, righty masher with a good arm. I doubt there will be any surprises with his production this year.
5. Junior Lake (CF) – (254 PAs .284/.332/.428)
2013 was the year of Lake puns; Lake effect and…well really that’s about it. It was also the year that Junior Lake rose from the prospect grave and came back to haunt Kevin Goldstein’s ghost. Kind of. Anyway, Lake surprised in a big way last year. In my opinion he also surprised in an unsustainable way. I like Lake, I appreciate his aesthetic and I desperately hope that I’m wrong about him because he is so very fun to watch. From an analysis standpoint I don’t think I’m wrong and I think he’ll settle into a utility role at some point this year after Kris Bryant comes up. Lake has loud, obvious tools and no idea what to do with them. I have him in center because of the tools but it’s just as likely that he swaps with Sweeney because of his rough edges.
6. Mike Olt (3B) – (432 AAA PAs .201/.303/.381)
If Mike Olt has a tremendous spring training (dumb as it sounds) he wins the 3B job and the Cubs have some decisions to make. Olt was the Rangers top prospect just a year ago. Vision problems hurt him last year and the hope is coming into 2014 that those issues are behind him and he’ll return to form. The Cubs are hoping that the Olt who posted a .288/.398/.579 in 2012 shows up in 2014.
7. Welington Castillo (C) – (428 PAs .274/.349/.397)
The Beef was a good surprise in 2013 as he provided solid defense and showed up well enough with the stick. Castillo’s power disappeared in 2013 and the OBP was inflated by hitting in front of pitchers but he hit well enough in the 6th hole (.274/.349/.397) to make 2014 an intriguing one. The Cubs were reportedly seeking out upgrades at catcher all offseason and haven’t landed one yet. That’s fine, I think they have a fine backstop in Castillo. Catcher’s tend fluctuate wildly so some regression with the bat wouldn’t be unexpected, but the glove plays.
8. Ryan Sweeney (LF) – (212 PAs .266/.324/.448)
Sweeney isn’t outstanding, but on this Cubs team it doesn’t really matter. He’s a good defensive outfielder who might be miscast as an everyday CFer, but this Cubs team doesn’t have one of those so he might end up there anyway. He hits for ok power, has ok on base skills, doesn’t run particularly well but he has an OK walk rate (8.0 BB%) and might make an argument for being the leadoff hitter.