Chicago Cubs: Final Predictions for the Opening Day 25-Man Roster

Jeff Chase@@Real_Jeff_ChaseSenior Analyst IIMarch 29, 2012

Chicago Cubs: Final Predictions for the Opening Day 25-Man Roster

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    The 2012 Chicago Cubs will not be the best looking group in the MLB this season, but perhaps they will surprise a few people by putting together a decent season with expectations being so low from the start.

    It is no secret that the Cubs are rebuilding, but if guys can play well day-in and day-out, this team could likely give most of their competitors a run for their money.

    Of course, a 2011 record of 71-91 under manager Mike Quade wasn't exactly convincing, but this new regime headed by Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer, who famously turned the Boston Red Sox into champions, may just have something different to say this season.

    Manager Dale Sveum will have many different toys to play with as the season moves along, but here is how his roster will be looking come Opening Day.

First Base: Bryan LaHair

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    While many were hoping to see recently-acquired first baseman Anthony Rizzo in this spot to start the year, most knew it was more realistic that Bryan LaHair would get the nod to start on Opening Day.

    Rizzo was sent down to the minors in favor of development, while LaHair will look to improve upon his previous numbers to perhaps be the Chicago Cubs' staple at first base this season.

    In 59 at-bats with the club last year, LaHair batted .288 with two home runs and six RBI. That is a pretty small sample size, so it will remain to be seen how well he will perform given much more time on the field.

    LaHair had a nice spring, charging back late to lift his average to .310 in 58 at-bats.

Second Base: Darwin Barney

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    The surprise player from last season was second baseman Darwin Barney, who came out of nowhere to claim the position as his own, beating out the likes of Jeff Baker and Blake DeWitt.

    In 2011, Barney batted .276 while appearing in 143 games. While he isn't the greatest player in the world, he consistently got the job done, which was satisfactory for what people expected.

    He will have to play at that level once again, and hopefully somewhat better to prove that he deserves to be the everyday starter.

    If his spring numbers are any indication of that happening, the Cubs just may be in luck. Thus far, Barney is batting .389 in 36 at-bats.

    This is similar to the numbers he had last spring, so perhaps this season will come with even better results.

Shortstop: Starlin Castro

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    No guessing here. 

    Starlin Castro will once again be manning the shortstop position for the Chicago Cubs, as the 22-year-old will be looking to continue to find success in the batters box, as well as improving his game in the field.

    Castro looked like a true star last season, batting .307 while racking up 66 RBI in 207 hits.

    His fielding wasn't pretty, and neither were his base-running numbers. He did swipe 22 bags, but look for new manager Dale Sveum to get Castro running much more often this coming season.

    If he can get those numbers up, as well add a little power to his game, Castro will undoubtedly become one of the biggest forces in the MLB.

Third Base: Ian Stewart

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    The Chicago Cubs acquired Ian Stewart this offseason in a trade with the Colorado Rockies

    With the intention of him replacing the play of Aramis Ramirez at third base, fans shouldn't expect similar results.

    Ramirez was the team's big power hitter, and that isn't really Stewart's game. His career high was 25 home runs back in 2009, but no other season has been similar to that.

    He played a short season last year due to injury, and depending on how he plays, as well as Josh Vitters down in Triple-A, this season could be rather short lived as well.

Catcher: Geovany Soto

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    The Chicago Cubs have to be hoping to see the Geovany Soto of the past sooner than later, otherwise they may look to move him in favor of some of their younger options.

    Ever since being named the 2008 Rookie of the Year, the 29-year-old catcher just hasn't been the same guy.

    That award-winning season, he was named an All-Star while he batted .285 with 23 home runs and 86 RBI in 494 at-bats. Since than, his batting average has been .218 in 2009, .280 in 2010 and a poor .228 this past season.

    The team has Welington Castillo waiting in the wings, and they may decide to pull the plug on this situation if Soto continues to struggle early on in 2012.

Left Field: Alfonso Soriano

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    The Chicago Cubs' sensation Alfonso Soriano will be back once again this season, as he will either make fans happy or miserable each game.

    Soriano can be a beast at times, but those instances are slim and usually when it doesn't mean a thing.

    At $18 million this season, Soriano better be looking good, otherwise Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer are going to have a big mess to clean up all season long.

    Things were no different with Soriano last season, as he batted .244 in 137 games. The nice thing is that he knocked 26 balls out of the park; the bad thing is he struck out 113 times.

    It is no secret that Soriano is inconsistent. Fans may be optimistic though, as No. 12 had a very nice spring.

    In the Cactus League, Soriano has knocked six out of the park in 44 at-bats while batting .341. That also includes 15 RBI, but it will remain to be seen if he can produce anything close to that once the season actually gets underway.

Center Field: Marlon Byrd

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    It will remain to be seen if Marlon Byrd sticks around for long on the 2012 Chicago Cubs squad, as he is the most trade-able outfielder to open up a spot for promising prospect Brett Jackson.

    In the meantime, he will be the starter in center field to get the year started.

    Byrd missed most of last season after he was hit in the face by a pitch, which fractured bones in his face. He returned later on in the season to finish out the year, but he still came nowhere close to his 2010 production.

    In his first season with the Cubs, Byrd batted .293 in 152 games. 2011 wasn't as kind, as he batted just .276 in 119 games, along with his on-base percentage dipping from .421 to .324. 

    Byrd's spring was nowhere close to what he did a year ago, as this year he batted just .255 in 51 at bats. If he can find some of that magic from two years ago, one could imagine the team would be reluctant to let him go.

    Then again, his value would certainly be much higher.

Right Field: David DeJesus

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    David DeJesus was one of the few acquisitions the team made this past season who had actual MLB experience, but his abilities are still arguably raw.

    Last season with the Oakland A's, DeJesus batted .240 in 131 games with 442 at-bats. He doesn't really do anything special in terms of power hitting or stealing bases, but DeJesus could be a guy who can fit the mold of leadoff hitter for the Cubs this season.

    The team is likely rather skeptical though, as this spring DeJesus batted .167 with 11 strikeouts and just eight hits in 48 at-bats.

    If he doesn't pick things up early, it may be DeJesus who Brett Jackson replaces versus Marlon Byrd.

Starting Pitcher: Matt Garza

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    The Chicago Cubs ace this season will once again be Matt Garza, whom they acquired last season from the Tampa Bay Rays.

    Garza led the entire team last season while posting an ERA of 3.32 in 198 innings, as well as striking out 197 batters. His ERA and strikeout numbers were the best of his career, so the team can only hope to see him have even better results in 2012.

    Garza has been the talk of the town lately, as many are unsure if the team will look to move him or lock him up for the long run.

    Either way, as long as Garza is wearing the blue and red cap, expect big things from him on the mound this coming year.

Starting Pitcher: Ryan Dempster

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    Whether or not he is here because of the $15 million option he had in his contract, Chicago Cubs longtime pitcher Ryan Dempster will once again be helping the North Siders in their rotation for 2012.

    Dempster will be the team's Opening Day starter and can only hope to get things off to a better start than he did last year.

    In last year's Opening Day game, Dempster gave up six runs in 6.1 innings to the Pittsburgh Pirates, so it will remain to be seen how he holds up against the Washington Nationals.

    Last season, Dempster was a workhorse, pitching 202.1 innings, but his ERA of 4.80 was way too high, so hopefully for the Cubs it was just a minor setback in his career.

Starting Pitcher: Chris Volstad

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    The Chicago Cubs acquired Chris Volstad from the Miami Marlins when they sent over Carlos Zambrano, so the team is hoping that the 25-year-old will be able to fill the void left by the departure of their tempered pitcher.

    Volstad has never seen consistently good numbers in the MLB, including a 2011 campaign where he went 5-13 with an ERA of 4.89 in 29 starts. 

    His numbers this spring were much more promising, as he recorded an ERA of .90 in three starts. Don't get too caught up though, as Volstad only pitched 10 innings.

    Still, it is better than those numbers being out of control, so perhaps Volstad will find better luck on the North Side in 2012.

Starting Pitcher: Paul Maholm

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    The lefty of the Chicago Cubs 2012 rotation will be Paul Maholm, who has spent his entire career with the Cubs' rival Pittsburgh Pirates.

    Maholm comes over with a career ERA of 4.36 while recording an overall record of 53-76 in 185 starts. His innings pitched have been on a steady decline since 2008, but luckily for the Cubs' relievers, the other three previous pitchers could eat up a lot of innings.

    His spring was actually similar to Chris Volstad's, as both had ERA's of .90 in their three starts, totaling just 10 innings as well.

    Maholm may not be great, but he will certainly get the job done for the Cubs in the latter parts of their rotation.

Starting Pitcher: Jeff Samardzija

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    The surprise winner of the fifth rotation spot is looking to be Jeff Samardzija, who made a strong start in his last outing of spring training to quite possibly earn himself this spot to start out the year.

    Samardzija got lit up against the Colorado Rockies this spring, as he gave up seven runs and 10 hits in just four innings. With his spot on the line, he responded in his last start by going six innings while striking out six batters and allowing no runs.

    That last start proved he wasn't rattled by the situation and that he was finally ready to start the season in the rotation, rather then bouncing back and forth between relief and starting.

    Just because he may get this spot, though, expect Samardzija to be on an extremely short leash. Players like Travis Wood and Randy Wells, heck even Rodrigo Lopez, will be fighting for this spot in the rotation all season long.

Reliever: Randy Wells

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    The odd man out of this year's starting rotation is Randy Wells, who has never been quite the same pitcher since he stunned the MLB during his breakout season in 2009.

    That year, Wells recorded an ERA of 3.05 in 27 starts, striking out 104 batters in 165.1 innings. The only thing is, 2010 and 2011 weren't quite the same, as his ERA shot up to 4.26 and 4.99 respectively.

    He has been lights out this spring, allowing zero runs in 7.1 innings. The thing is though, his track record hasn't been exactly lights out, so the team may decide to add his veteran presence to the bullpen while getting a guy like Jeff Samardzija a chance.

    If anyone is struggling early on, don't be surprised to see Wells return to the rotation.

Reliever: Rafael Dolis

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    Getting his first real shot this spring, reliever Rafael Dolis has pitched phenomenally for the Chicago Cubs, and dare I say, could compete with Carlos Marmol for the closer spot down the line—especially if Marmol struggles once again.

    This spring, Dolis has pitched just eight innings, but he has yet to give up a run or even a hit at that.

    With Marmol being in and out with injuries, Dolis has been closing games, racking up three saves. While he is still likely extremely raw, the club may decide to give him a shot on the Opening Day roster to see what he can actually do at the major league level.

    If he keeps things up like he has this spring, well, the Cubs may have found themselves a true shutdown reliever. That will be nice, especially with the team moving Sean Marshall this offseason.

Reliever: Scott Maine

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    The Chicago Cubs don't have a whole lot of left-handed options in their bullpen, so Scott Maine may get this spot first and foremost for that exact reason.

    It also doesn't hurt that he had a strong spring, allowing just one run in 7.2 innings.

    His first taste of the MLB came in 2010, when he appeared in 13 games for the Cubs. He struck out 11 batters in 13 innings, recording an ERA of 2.08. 

    Maine made a brief appearance with the Cubs in 2011, but he was rocked, allowing eight runs in just seven innings. 

    Hopefully, the team will see a mixture of his spring and 2010 results versus last year's performance.

Reliever: James Russell

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    Another left-handed pitcher for the Chicago Cubs is James Russell, who has seen much more success in the reliever role than the starting role, so this is where he should rightfully be for the 2012 season.

    Russell has been seeing better numbers over the years, but he still has much to prove and could certainly be optioned back to the minors if he struggles early.

    He definitely needs to get his consistency up, but if he can stay strong in the reliever role, Russell could stick around for most of this season and beyond.

Reliever: Casey Coleman

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    Casey Coleman also pitched in both the rotation and bullpen for the Chicago Cubs in 2011, and despite having some success as a starter, it looks as if coming in as relief will be his job for the 2012 season.

    Coleman is still somewhat of a project, but when he looked good—well, his stuff was tough to get by. The team will have to hope he will be able to do just that brief appearances next season, as he just wasn't able to keep it up throughout his starts last year.

    His spring wasn't terrible, recording an ERA of 2.84 in 12.2 innings—one of which was a start. His worst game this spring came against the Milwaukee Brewers, as he allowed four runs in just 1.2 innings. 

    Except for that game, he has shut down his opponents each game.

Set Up Man: Kerry Wood

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    Longtime Chicago Cubs pitcher Kerry Wood is always loved on the North Side, and things won't be any different in 2012.

    He will have to stay healthy, but if he can do just that, he should have no problem leading this young team with his status as a veteran.

    His spring wasn't great, but then again he only pitched 3.1 innings. Don't let that get you down though, as Wood should be ready to go by Opening Day.

    Even if the Cubs do end up having a bad season, it is just always good to know Wood will be on the mound at some point in the game. 

Closer: Carlos Marmol

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    Cubs closer Carlos Marmol has been rather sporadic over the last couple of years, but when his stuff is on, oh boy, it is nearly impossible to touch.

    That will be the name of the game for him this season, as consistency will be the only way Marmol will be able to keep his spot in the closer role, as well as keeping the team alive in close games.

    Marmol had a really bad spring—giving up seven runs in 7.1 innings, but fans will have to hope that he will have it all worked out by the time Opening Day rolls around.

    If not, Marmol could be on his way out of Chicago sooner than many would have initially thought.

Bench: Welington Castillo

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    The only man that will be able to replace Geovany Soto behind the plate is Welington Castillo, and after the spring he has had, he just might.

    This spring, Castillo has batted .324 in 37 at-bats, including two home runs and four RBI. He has struck out 10 times, but at least he was getting on base.

    Castillo definitely has a shot, but expect the team to at least give Soto a chance to start out the year as the man behind the plate.

    Don't be surprised if Castillo starts to get a few more starts here and there, as the team may just decide it is finally time for a change.

Bench: Jeff Baker

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    Jeff Baker has been a perfect piece for the Chicago Cubs bench over the last two years, and he will continue to be important as the team will always have question marks at both first and third base to start out the year.

    Not to mention, he could spell Darwin Barney at second base whenever needed.

    Baker is nothing special, but he is a perfectly fine guy to use when needed. This season he clearly isn't in the running for a starting position like last year, but don't be surprised to see Baker used often in 2012.

Bench: Tony Campana

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    There is still much to be tested of Tony Campana, but one thing is for sure—he is fast.

    It never hurts to have a guy like Campana on the bench to pinch run or play the outfield when needed, so it is a no-brainer that the club will keep him up in the big leagues for 2012.

    His spring numbers haven't been great—batting .235 in 34 at bats—but he has his other uses for being here.

    It will remain to be seen how much time the team will really give him in the outfield in 2012, but they will have some nice depth when needed—it also doesn't hurt that he is a lefty.

Bench: Reed Johnson

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    Another veteran that the Chicago Cubs have to fall back on is Reed Johnson.

    Honestly, if the team wasn't looking to let guys like Josh Vitters, Anthony Rizzo or Brett Jackson develop in the minors, Johnson likely would be looking for a job elsewhere.

    Fact of the matter is, the team is being smart with their young assets, which opens up a spot for Johnson to stick around yet again.

    His spring has been quite atrocious, as he batted just .220 in 41 at-bats. Considering he will mostly just be pinch hitting, the Cubs will have to hope he will be able to find a little more consistency given his likely limited amount of chances.

Bench: Blake DeWitt

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    With not a whole lot of great options left, the Chicago Cubs may have no other choice than to keep Blake DeWitt on the 25-man roster.

    Whether or not he sticks around remains to be seen, but for now Dewitt will likely fill out the squad to start the 2012 season.

    Dewitt has seen actually good numbers this spring, batting .289 in 45 at-bats—much better than his .186 in spring of last year.

    It isn't that he is a bad piece to have, but between Starlin Castro, Darwin Barney, Ian Stewart, Jeff Baker and Bryan LaHair, the Cubs just have too many infield options to really keep Dewitt around and make him productive.

    Jeff Chase is a Featured Columnist for the Chicago Cubs and Arizona State football.