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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

MLB 2013 Team Preview: Chicago Cubs

Wild on Sports
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MLB 2013 Team Preview: Chicago Cubs
By Wild on Sports Baseball Analyst Aaron Dorman
Chicago Cubs
2012 Record:
61-101
The Cubs were bad, as expected, but year one of the Theo Epstein brought in some promising prospects and a great deal of hope for the future.

NOTABLE ADDITIONS: Edwin Jackson, Scott Baker
NOTABLE LOSSES: Bryan LaHair (if that even counts?)

Keys to Success: What growth is in store for Starlin Castro and Tony Rizzo? Both are solid young everyday players right now but neither is a star just yet. Castro in particular has become a popular player due to his youth and immediate success, but he could improve upon an aggressive approach. Will Alfonso Soriano and/or Matt Garza perform well enough to land the Cubs decent prospects later on in the season? Is there gold to be mined from Scotts Feldman and Baker? Can anyone spell Jeff Samardzija without looking?

Prospect Watch:
Prospect Key 
TBD= Work in Progress
X= Posses the Tool
XX= Excels at Tool
 
JAVIER BAEZ, SS:
Power
Speed
Hitting
Plate Discipline
Defense
Arm
xx
x
x
 
TBD
x
Baez is one of the most exciting prospects in the minors right now, for reasons good and bad. He has tremendous power, and not just for a shortstop, and his hitting game overall looked great in 57 games at low-A Peoria, as the teenager (he’s 19) hit .333/.383/.596 with 12 HR, 33 RBI, and 20 SB. He fell off quite a bit at the end of the season with High-A Daytona: .188/.244/.400 with 4 HR and 4 SB in 80 AB/23 games. The raw numbers do not indicate just how aggressive he was at the plate: his overall .346 OBP is boosted by 11 HBP, and he walked just 14 times in 321 PA (he struck out 69 times). Baez is the kind of talent who could never walk and still hit .300 with power, but he will probably have to make adjustments, as his time in Daytona proved. If he starts being more selective, watch out.
JORGE SOLER, OF:
Power
Speed
Hitting
Plate Discipline
Defense
Arm
x
x
x
TBD
x
x
Soler, 21, is a talented Cuban import who could move relatively quickly but spent his playing time in 2012 between rookie-ball and Low-A Peoria. Overall he hit .299/.369/.463 with 5 HR and 12 SB in 134 AB, getting better as the season wore on. Despite his limited playing time, scouts were high on Soler who got a large contract from Chicago despite his rawness. The signing shows a strong commitment by Theo Epstein and his team to invest in developing talent via the draft and international market (he also added Kyuji Fujikawa this year), a better use of resources than signing veterans to fill in the gaps during a losing season. Soler is very athletic and fits best in right field. He’ll probably start in High-A this year.
AL ALMORA, OF:
Power
Speed
Hitting
Plate Discipline
Defense
Arm
x
x
x
TBD
x
x
Almora is an incredible athlete and he was Chicago’s top draft pick last summer. He debuted in rookie-level with the AZ Cubs and Boise, overall hitting .323/.331/.464 with 2 HR, 19 RBI, and 5 SB in 140 AB. The numbers are not as important at this point as the scouting reports, which praise his all around ability and attitude. He only walked twice, which is a concern, but his very low strikeout rate is very encouraging. Almora is just 19 this year and could start the season with low-A Peoria, although Chicago could have him work on pitch recognition in extended spring training, as they did with Javier Baez last year. Either way he’s a great prospect.
ARODYS VIZCAINO, RHP (rookie watch):
Velocity
Second Stuff
Command
Control
Strikeouts
Health
x
x
x
x
x
 
Vizcaino missed all of last year with Tommy John surgery. Before that stalled his timetable he was a hot prospect with Atlanta, and when he was traded last year for Paul Maholm he instantly became Chicago’s top pitching prospect.  Before he went down, Vizcaino was on the verge of pitching in the majors-in fact, he threw 17 innings with Atlanta in 2011 at the end of the year. A crowded rotation almost forced Vizcaino to the bullpen, but with Chicago he could start again, and there is no reason not to at least let him try. His overall minor league numbers pre-2012 are strong: a 2.91 ERA, 279 K in 269 IP, and a low 2.3 BB/9. Health concerns could also move him to the bullpen, but he should have some role with Chicago by midseason.
KYUJI FUJIKAWA, RHP (reliever, rookie watch):
Velocity
Second Stuff
Command
Control
Strikeouts
Health
x
x
x
x
x
x
Fujikawa, 32, was signed to a two-year contract and comes to America after some very successful seasons with the Hanshin Tigers in the Japan Central League. In his last six seasons for the Tigers, Fujikawa had a 1.36 ERA, 202 saves, and 12.4 K/9. He could be Chicago’s closer if Carlos Marmol continues to be wild and ineffective in the role.
BRETT JACKSON, OF (rookie watch):
Power
Speed
Hitting
Plate Discipline
Defense
Arm
x
x
 
x
x
x
Jackson is a talented, athletic center fielder who’s success could easily be undone by his excessive strikeout totals, usually not a great indicator for having a long major league career. At his best, he offers good defense and a solid power/speed combination and if everything goes right he could have a 20/20 season in the majors. Unfortunately, he might not hit enough to play every day, or even play at all. Jackson hit .256/.338/.479 with 15 HR and 27 SB last year in 106 games with AAA Iowa. Included in those numbers are 12 triples (good), 47 walks (also good), and 158 strikeouts (very bad) in just 467 PA. His 33.8 K% was the second most in AAA, behind only journeyman and ex-big leaguer Bill Hall. His numbers got even more extreme when he moved to Chicago: in 44 games and 120 AB, he hit .175/.303/.342 with 59 K, striking out in almost half of his plate appearances. Even the most notorious hackers who play every day are not so prolific at wind generation: among those who qualified for the batting title, leader Adam Dunn struck out in “only” 33.8% of his plate appearances. Jackson will get a second chance to show he can be an asset of some kind this year, perhaps a (very) poor man’s Curtis Granderson if things turn out right.

2012 Top Draft Pick: Almora

Sleeper MLB Contributor: 3B JOSH VITTERS is a long-shot to overcome his problems with pitch recognition, as he swings at everything. However, his natural hitting ability could still allow him success. He’s a good bet to hit better than his .121 mark last year, at least!

2013 Outlook and Prediction: The Cubs approach since Epstein took over has been to quietly rebuild until the team looks good enough to strike. They’ve signed a handful of role players over the past two winters, nice additions like David DeJesus and Travis Wood, but these are not the kinds of guys who will propel them back to the playoffs. The Cubs have tried to trade veterans at opportune moments, and got lucky when Ryan Dempster put together three strong months, good enough to land them a solid prospect in third basemen Chris Villanueve. Might Alfonso Soriano be able to land them a similar package if he continues to hit for power? The Cubs might have to chip in a lot of money to get someone back who could help them. The real blue-chip asset the Cubs have to deal is Matt Garza; they gave up a lot to acquire him two years ago and if he shows enough this year he will be all over trade rumors, especially around the deadline. The Cubs already have some young players on their major league roster who they can build around, and Edwin Jackson was signed long-term with an eye towards the future as well. Still, 2013 will be spent determine where their holes are in the lineup and the rotation. Their minor league talent is very lopsided towards position players-only Tommy John ‘veteran’ Arodys Vizcaino is close to the majors-so they still might have to spend a few years finding the right guys to fall in line behind Jackson and Jeff Samardzija.
REBUILDING (could contend by: 2015)
 

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