For the first time since 2008, the fans of the Chicago Cubs have something to be excited about at the end of July and for the final two months of the season. No, the Cubs are not in contention for the playoffs this season, nor will they even finish close to a .500 record, but there is reason to be excited and to watch Cubs baseball down the stretch. In fact, you might even find yourself enjoying yourself watching Cubs baseball, even the losses. For the first time this season, the Cub fans can start seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, and how potentially bright the future could be.
If you have been watching Cubs games the last two weeks, you might be wearing a smile, even though the team has only won three games since the trade of Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel. If you have been watching, you have seen Anthony Rizzo have an offensive explosion which has seen him win National League Player of the Week, as well as hitting out his 24th and 25th home runs last night. The 25 home runs are a new career high for Rizzo, and by the way there are still two months left in the season. Rizzo could potentially hit 40 this season. His 25 homers are also good enough to give him the most in the National League. That is pretty special if you ask me, especially because he is still so young and a member of my beloved Cubs.
You also have seen Starlin Castro growing more into an offensive threat, and looking like a good RBI threat. Even though many fans want nothing to do with him because of the young prospects in the system, hall of fame short stop Barry Larkin believes Castro has the potential to be dominant. That is pretty high praise from one of the best in the games long history. He may still be shaky on defense, but man has he grown into an offensive threat this season.
These last few weeks, we have also gotten a cookie from Theo Epstein. We have gotten a taste of just how promising the Cubs future might be in the form of Arismendy Alcantara who have been running wild since being recalled. Splitting time between second base and center field, he has been making the most out of his playing time, which did what I thought was impossible. He forced Theo’s hand, and earned his 25 man roster spot for the remainder of the season, which ultimately came at the expense of Darwin Barney. Last night was another big night for Alcantara as he continued to swing a hot bat, which included clubbing his second home run over the right field bleachers and onto Sheffield. That ball might not have come down yet.
Then we have last nights winning pitcher, Cubs minor league pitcher of the year for 2013 Kyle Hendricks. While he did not freeze hitters with anything that could be confused with a fireball, he had amazing control and looked as though he could be the real deal throwing seven innings of five hit, shut out ball. Even though he was facing the San Diego Padres, he looked damn impressive and I cannot wait for his next start.
If you want more excitement, last night the Cubs welcomed back Emilio Bonifacio to the team, which meant the Cubs had to say goodbye to Barney. I was happy to see Bonifacio back because he gave the Cubs something they had been lacking for a long time, speed at the top of the lineup. Sure, they had Bonifacio before, but now they have speed in the top two spots in the order. A team can do a lot of damage when they have a speedy 1-2 punch at the top of the order.
While I am not celebrating the end of his Cubs career or dancing on “his grave” this was the right thing for the Cubs to do as he had no place on the Cubs going forward. All he was doing was keeping second base warm for the future.
That future is not Bonifacio, who played second base last night, and maybe not Alcantara who can play second but might be best suited for center field. In fact, Bonifacio might not even be on the roster much more than a week. According to Bruce Levine who was on the Score this morning, there were at least 11 scouts watching the Cubs and Padres last night. Some could have been watching the Padres, but I wonder how many wanted to see how healthy Bonifacio was, and he passed the test with flying colors. I cannot imagine him being around much longer if the Cubs get an interesting offer.
I was wondering who was going to be sent to Iowa to make room for tonight’s starter Tsuyoshi Wada. I thought the Cubs would send down either Junior Lake or Ryan Sweeney since the Cubs had six outfielders on the roster. Along with Chris Coghlan, Justin Ruggiano, Nate Schierholtz, Alcantara the outfield is jammed. If you count Bonifacio, that is seven (even though he is playing second base right now). Maybe the choice to send Mike Olt down to make room instead is a sign that a trade of Bonifacio is close, getting them back to a five man outfield with Alcantara moving back to second base.
Who replaces Bonifacio on the roster when he traded is a fun question to think about though. Even though he was just promoted to Triple A Iowa, and both Javier Baez and Kris Bryant have been there longer, Jorge Soler might be the first of the original “core four” to be called up. While a promotion to the big leagues likely does not come until September, some might wonder if he could come up sooner than expected. I doubt this, only because a week in Triple A is not enough to see if he can handle that type of competition. More likely we are going to are Brett Jackson or Logan Watkins get one last crack at the majors before Soler does after a possible trade of Bonifacio; at least as an immediate call up anyway.
With Soler being promoted to Triple A though, the Iowa Cubs have an offense that makes you salivate at the mouth. With Soler, Bryant and Baez that is a dominating offense and gives Cub fans a taste of what they can do together in the same lineup.
Albert Almora also got a promotion to the Tennessee Smokies, which was well deserved after his hot bat helped carry the Daytona Cubs. He finally looks as though he is putting everything together, and might not be too far from Triple A himself, though that likely waits until 2015 or a Soler call up.
Things are finally starting to brighten up for the Cubs, and even the biggest Theo criticizer has to be able to recognize the potential. They have to be able to recognize that the future looks very bright, especially with the three young position players already on the roster.
Now, I am not foolish enough to believe every prospect will work out. Alcantara might be a one year wonder for all I know. But you can see the potential in him. He has to perform for the rest of the year and continue this next year as well. Pitchers will adjust to him and he needs to readjust. How well he does that remains to be seen as he is still an unknown to most of baseball. But even if he does struggle next year, he cannot be written off; Rizzo and Castro this year are proof of that. Both have had amazing rebounds after a devastating season in 2013.
I may be getting ahead of things, and might be getting to excited, but now is the perfect time for excitement. Sure, the major league team sucks, but those prospects are making serious noise and grabbing the attention of the wider baseball world. The Cubs currently have the best ranked farm system in franchise history, the best current farm system in all of baseball and this may be the best farm system in all of baseball history. Having three top 10 prospects is unprecedented.
You may not be a fan of the plan, but you have to see that so far things look like they are working. Perhaps Epstein and Jed Hoyer knew what they were doing after all.