Ladies and Gentlemen, the day has finally arrived! Pitchers and Catchers report! We, the fans of the Chicago Cubs, have suffered through a long couple of months since the depressing end of the 2011 season but that is officially in the past. Now, we can officially call all that took place a part of last year and look forward to this year; and what a bright future we have in front of us.
While the Cubs do not appear to be a contender for the World Series crown in the 2012 season, there is still plenty of reason to be excited about the year a head of us, as well as the many years to come. For one, we have Theo Epstein at the reigns instead of Jim Hendy. While Hendry built us a team that brought us closer to the World Series than any team has ever been since 1945, his efforts to bring us the title included putting the Cubs behind the not so magic eight ball when building the division winning teams of 2007 and 2009. But Epstein, he is a different breed of baseball genius who knows how to draft and knows how to build a champion! That is exactly what he has started to do in the brief time he has been a part of the Cubs organization!
With Epstein sitting as the new President of Baseball Operations, he brought in Jed Hoyer the Cubs are on the right track to building the best farm system in baseball. Look at what these two have done with the minor league systems they have been in control of!
We all know what Epstein has done with the Boston Red Sox, but have you seen the latest rankings of farm systems? Hoyer built the Padres into the best farm system in baseball! That can only mean good things are to come for our beloved Cubs in the years to come. These brilliant men will not have forgotten how to build a farm system just because they are now members of the Cubs, though there is a long history of players and managers being “Cubbed” as soon as they put on a Cubs hat. Just look at Dusty Baker, as soon as he put on the blue hat he instantly looked dumber. Thankfully, I don’t think Epstein or Hoyer have put on one yet, at least I haven’t seen a picture of them doing so yet. If this has taken place, please do not share the picture!
Back to the players on the field for the 2012 season. We have a few familiar faces coming back for another season of Cubs baseball. The outfield is brining back two every day starters and likely both backups for the upcoming season. Everyone’s favorite target Alfonso Soriano will once again lead the team while playing Left Field while Marlon Byrd will platoon Center Field in the final year of his three year deal. David DeJesus is the only new addition to the mix, and he will play every day in Right Field! The Bench will see the return of fan favorite Reed Johnson, and OBP challenged Tony Campana who has blazing speed that saw him capture many hearts on the North Side. Not too much change here, and the Cubs have not really gotten younger out there either. Kosuke Fukudome is two years older than DeJesus, but everyone else in the outfield has aged a year so the Cubs are in fact older now than they were on opening day last year.
Keep in mind that the Cubs do have a budding star in the minor leagues who fans are waiting for with baited breath. Brett Jackson is likely to make his debut this season for the Cubs, which could see Byrd getting traded sooner than some fans would like. If the Cubs are as bad as many people predict, you could easily see him brought up by the end of June or July with someone else being given a ticket out of town.
The infield has seen the most change as there will be at least two changes to the everyday starters. With the departure of long tenured third baseman Aramis Ramirez and one year stop gap Carlos Pena, the Cubs needed to fill those gaps. I was hoping we would finally see the emergence of 22 year old Josh Vitters at third, but baseball insiders say that he still has some growing to do and might be used as compensation for Epstein. So Epstein traded away Tyler Colvin to the Colorado Rockies for Ian Stewart to fill the void at third. I will guarantee you that as much as fans bitched and complained about him, at some point this season fans will call out Epstein and Hoyer for not bringing back Ramirez.
First base is an interesting position, they allowed Pena to walk away and replaced him with Bryan LaHair who announced his presence with authority last year. He collected several awards last season, including Minor League MVP and more recently Winter Player of the Year! Add in to that what he was able to do in September last year and you have fans salivating over what he can do given a full season of at bats at the major league level. There are only a few problems here though. For one, he is already 28 years old. While that is not really old in real years, in baseball years that is the beginning of their prime. How many players make their rookie season debut at the age of 28 and turn into a solid player who teams depend on? I can not think of anyone off the top of my head. That is not to say that he will fail, just saying that I do not expect him to be much more a stop gap until the second problem comes to light.
Another piece of the future that Epstein and Hoyer brought in is minor league super stud Anthony Rizzo who also plays first base. Like with Jackson, and depending on just how well LaHair is doing, Rizzo could be up by the end of June or July and given his chance to once again prove that he is the dominant slugging first baseman many baseball insiders predict him to be.
The middle of the infield will see the return of Starlin Castro who will obviously be playing shortstop, and ready to take the next step in his development in his career. Hopefully that means improved defense as every time he gets ready to throw the ball I hope my breath and close my eyes. I also expect him to continue adding some power to his game.
Second base looks to be the only spot that is open for competition among the every day starters. The Cubs are bringing back Darwin Barney who started of the 2011 season with a bang before falling off the map after getting injured midway through the year. However he will have competition as the Cubs brought in Matt Tolbert and Adrian Cardenas for the starting second base job. Nothing wrong with a little competition between kids, after all you want the best players out there every day. Blake DeWitt who was recently designated for assignment has also apparently accepted a demotion back to Iowa and will be a non-roster invitee to camp so he has a slight chance to make the team again, though I would not bank on that.
Plenty of reason to be excited about the offensive possibilities of the Cubs going forward. But today, today is all about the pitchers and catchers!
The Cubs lost a few pitchers in the off season when they traded Carlos Zambrano to the Florida Marlins for starting pitcher Chris Volstad, Sean Marshall for starting pitcher Travis Wood, and Andrew Cashner in the deal that brought us Rizzo.
There will be a lot of competition for a starting job this year as the only two players guaranteed to have a spot in the rotation are Matt Garza and Ryan Dempster. However with as many trade rumors we have heard about him, I would not be surprised if Garza is traded before opening day.
The Cubs will see Volstad, Wood, Paul Maholm and Randy Wells all compete for three spots in the rotation. If I were a betting man I would say that Wells is the odd man out unless he really impresses new Cubs Manager Dale Sveum.
The bullpen will see the return of sometimes loved and sometimes hated but always giving you a panic attack closer Carlos Marmol. You will also see the return of fan favorite Kerry Wood and a player who really started to emerge last year Jeff Samardzija. Another player who will certainly be a lock of the bullpen is James Russell who will hopefully never see the starting rotation again. As a starter all he did was get rocked, to the tune of a 9.33 ERA with a whip over two! But as a relief pitcher you could not have seen a more dramatic change. He posted an ERA of 2.19 with a WHIP just over one! Say hello to your new left handed setup man.
The rest of the bullpen will decided by a slew of pitchers in camp, like Manny Corpas, Chris Carpenter and Casey Coleman. Keep in mind whoever does not make the rotation will likely be sentenced to the bullpen.
Catchers, obviously Geovany Soto will be the every day starting catcher, and the competition for the backup role should be fun to watch. With young budding stars Wellington Castillo and Steve Clevenger in camp they might very well be in the lead for the backup gig. However the Cubs did bring in Jason Jaramillo (no relation to hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo) so he could provide competition for the backup role!
As Spring Training goes on, you can count on us at World Series Dreaming to give you an in-depth breakdown of the Cubs roster moving forward. For now though, the dream starts anew, and all things are possible. While not likely, this year could be the year. All teams start fresh, and we all get a new beginning.