There were few bright spots for the Chicago Cubs in 2012, a season which saw them lose 101 games. If there was any consolation for Cubs fans it would be that they weren’t expecting to contend in the first year of the Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer era; however, there is a huge difference between not contending and losing over 100 games. With an unofficial team slogan of “Wait Til’ Next Year” there’s no doubt that Chicago Cubs fans are among the most patient in all of sports, but even they will expect to see improvement on the north side in 2013.
Since the Chicago Cubs haven’t done much to upgrade the roster that lost them 101 games in 2012, there seems to be little to be excited about in Wrigleyville going into spring training. To find the excitement in the Cubs franchise you have to look deep into the minor league system. The Cubs have slowly been stockpiling extremely talented young players since Theo Epstein took over. Most of the Prospects won’t see the major leagues in 2013, but if the team struggles some of them could find themselves in the majors sooner rather than later.
Best Case Scenario for 2013
The main goal of the 2013 season for the Chicago Cubs will be to see development in all of their young players. The Cubs enjoyed seeing Anthony Rizzo blossom into a middle of the order threat in 2012, and they hope to see more of their prospects make that kind of impact moving forward. Starlin Castro needs to stop swinging at every ball that has seams on it and start to hit only pitches that he likes. This would help get his average back above the .300 mark and provide the lineup with a much needed complement to Rizzo.
There is no doubt that the Cubs lack talent all around the diamond, most specifically in the starting rotation where they will lean on Jeff Samardzija as the ace of the staff. This does not mean that the Cubs are destined for the cellar in the NL Central however. The Baltimore Orioles and Oakland Athletics showed the baseball world in 2012 that it is possible to have a winning team without superstars at every position. While it is extremely unlikely that the Cubs compete for a playoff spot in 2013, if Dale Sveum can build a clubhouse atmosphere like that of Oakland or Baltimore last season there is no reason the Cubs can’t have a respectable 2013 campaign.
Most Important Cubs
It has been made clear that Starlin Castro is the centerpiece of the Cubs rebuilding process, and at 23 years old he seems to be on the cusp of becoming a true superstar. Castro will be entering his third full season in 2013, which means that it is about time the brainless mistakes he is known for come to an end. Focus will be a main key for Castro both in the field and at the plate. Castro needs to cut down his errors and be more selective at the plate if he wants to continue to develop into a franchise player for the Cubs.
Jeff Samardzija is undoubtedly the key for the Cubs rotation in 2013. Samardzija vastly improved in his first year as a starter in 2012 and the Cubs are depending on him to develop into a top of the rotation type of pitcher. It is imperative that Samardzija limits the bad outings that plagued his 2012 campaign. A way that he can become more consistent is to rely less on his powerful fastball and more on location and pitch selection. While injuries haven’t been a problem for Samardzija in his career so far (knock on wood), he won’t be on an innings limit in 2013 so it is vital that he stays healthy throughout the season. The Cubs need Samardzija to be the foundation of the rotation if they hope to improve in 2013.
Potential Breakout Players
Brett Jackson had a rough stint with the major league club in 2012 hitting .175 with 59 strikeouts in 120 at bats. There is much hope within the organization however that Jackson can turn things around in 2013 much like Anthony Rizzo did after struggling in 2011 after being called up by the San Diego Padres. Like Rizzo, Jackson has overhauled his swing and hopes it will be his ticket to the major leagues. If Jackson figures things out, he could end up being a mainstay in the Cubs outfield for years to come.
Arodys Vizcaino is coming off of Tommy John surgery, which means he is a big question mark entering the 2013 season. He has the talent to be a top tier starter in the major leagues, but he will have to prove that he has what it takes to get major league hitters out on a consistent basis especially after his injury. If he is able to maintain his elite stuff, he should find that the road to the show is not a tough one for pitchers in the Cubs system these days. Whether it is in the bullpen or the rotation, Vizcaino will most likely find himself contributing to the Cubs in 2013.
Worst Case scenario for 2013
The worst case scenario for the Cubs in 2013 is not that the team misses the playoffs, or even losses 100 games for the second consecutive season, but rather that the young players fail to improve and mature. The Cubs have put a lot of effort into acquiring young talent, and in 2013 if none of these players seem to have made great strides it will be extremely disappointing for the organization. This is not to say that the season is a failure if all the top prospects don’t get called up and succeed in the majors, but rather that they need to stay on course and become better players than they were in 2012.
Area of Concern
There are many to choose from, but there is no doubt that the pitching staff is the weakest spot for the Cubs in 2013. The Cubs lost Ryan Dempster and Paul Maholm and replaced them with a slew of mediocre pitchers coming off of injury. It will be interesting to see if the starters can go deeper into games in order to help out the bullpen, which they were unable to do for most of the 2012 season. As far as the bullpen is concerned, there is still a lot of uncertainty regarding the closer role. Marmol has been wildly inconsistent his entire career and it is impossible to predict how Fujikawa will adjust to the major leagues. This could end up being a fatal problem since the Cubs won’t find themselves blowing teams out on a consistent basis.
Who needs to Bounce back from a down 2012?
While most Cubs fans would rather see him bounce back to Colorado, Ian Stewart has to make drastic improvements for the Cubs in 2013. Stewart hit just a shade over .200 in 55 games in 2012 before missing the rest of the season with his signature wrist injury. With the injury supposedly solved for good, Stewart needs to get back to putting up the numbers he did with Colorado in 2009-10. With several top prospects waiting to take his spot, Stewart needs to prove his worth to the club if he wants to keep his job at the hot corner in Chicago.