Chicago Cubs: 2012 Preseason Player Award Predictions

Matt Eurich@@MattEurichAnalyst IMarch 29, 2012

Chicago Cubs: 2012 Preseason Player Award Predictions

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    2012 marks the beginning of a new era in Chicago. With the additions of Theo Epstein as President of Baseball Operations and Jed Hoyer as general manager, for the first time in a long time, fans have something to be hopeful about.

    Despite the new management, the organization has a lot to work on, and results are not expected to be immediate, but a team with a mix of young talent and experienced veterans could cause some trouble in a weakened National League Central.

    There is no way of knowing how the season will play out, but here is a list of my preseason player prediction awards.

Most Likely to Be Traded Before the Season Opener: Marlon Byrd

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    In two seasons with the Cubs, Marlon Byrd has a .285 batting average and has played great defense in center field. Despite consistency in his first two seasons, the Cubs may be looking to move Byrd after the strong showing by top prospect, 23-year-old Brett Jackson.

    The Cubs would be better suited waiting a few weeks to call up Jackson so that, due to MLB rules, it would then add another year he would be under team control and push back his free-agency eligibility.

    As of now, both the Washington Nationals and Atlanta Braves are interested in acquiring Byrd, and it will be up to the organization to figure out if it is worth it to trade Byrd now. They could platoon at center field until they are ready to bring up Jackson, or hold on to Byrd, assuming that when Jackson is ready, there will still be a market for him.

Biggest Surprise Position Player: David DeJesus

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    In nine major league seasons, David DeJesus has been a lunch-pail player. He punches in, hits near .280 every season and averages eight homers and nearly 50 RBI. Nothing flashy, nothing spectacular.

    After watching Kosuke Fukudome struggle for three-and-a-half years to be the consistent player we thought he would be, DeJesus will be welcome sight in right field. Although DeJesus' defense is not at the same level as Fukudome's, he offers a player with more consistency at the plate as well as experience.

    Having already been tabbed as the Cubs leadoff hitter, the combination of DeJesus' solid on-base percentage and his batting average, along with guys like Starlin Castro batting behind him, should factor into DeJesus scoring a lot of runs and becoming a surprise player at the top of the order.

Biggest Surprise Pitcher: Jeff Samardzija

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    After passing up a chance at the NFL to sign with the Cubs in 2007, Jeff Samardzija has had an up-and-down major league career.

    After breaking in to the big leagues in August of 2008, many thought Samardzija had found his role at the back of the bullpen, and could eventually pan out to be a setup guy or closer. After his struggles in the following spring training, though, he was again sent down to Triple-A Iowa.

    Since that time, Samardzija has jumped back and forth between Iowa and the big leagues. Coming into this spring training, he was seen as a long shot to claim a spot in the starting rotation.

    After a solid spring in which he compiled a 4-1 record to go along with a 4.50 ERA, it is expected that he will fill the rotation at either the No. 3 or 4 spot. 

    Samardzija probably will not put up the type of numbers that many expected him to when he initially joined the club, but a 12-win season with a 4.00 ERA is very achievable, which would come as a surprise to many of the Cub faithful.

Most Anticipated Call-Up: Brett Jackson

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    In a close call, Cubs center field prospect Brett Jackson narrowly beats out first base prospect Anthony Rizzo as the Cubs' most anticipated call-up.

    Jackson is credited as being a five-tool player, who will likely start the season in the minors solely based on financial decisions, not because of his inadequate play. In just 15 spring training games this season, Jackson batted a modest .276 and coupled with his 2011 season at Iowa (.274, 20 home runs, 58 RBI and 21 stolen bases), he is poised to take the next step at the big-league level. 

    With Marlon Byrd ahead of him, many Cubs fans will be waiting for the day the Cubs trade Byrd to allow Jackson to take over in center field, where many believe he will stay for the next decade.

Most Valuable Pitcher: Matt Garza

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    When the Cubs traded for Matt Garza before the start of the 2011 season, the club finally got a young, talented pitcher to build around. In his first season, Garza went 10-10 with a 3.32 ERA and a career-high 197 strikeouts. Although his win/loss numbers were average at best, Garza's 3.32 ERA was a career best and good enough for 14th in the National League.

    Despite his solid first season with the Cubs, rumors were flying this offseason saying the Cubs were shopping Garza. Although Garza would be able to bring in a considerable haul in terms of prospects, Garza is better suited sticking with the organization through its growing process, as he is still just 28 years old.

    If Garza can continue to adapt to pitching in the National League and can get more solid run production, he should be able to flirt with a 3.00 ERA and should push the 15-17 win range.

Most Valuable Player: Starlin Castro

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    At just 22 years of age, Starlin Castro is poised to become one of the best young shortstops in the game.

    Castro's rookie season of 2010 saw him finish with a .300 batting average and in his first full season in 2011, he finished with an average of .307, as well as leading the major league in hits, with 207.

    The biggest flaw in Castro's game has been his defense. Castro can often make the spectacular play look routine, yet struggles on the simple plays, having committed 56 errors in just two seasons. If Castro wants to become the top-level shortstop he believes he can be, it starts and ends with his defense.

    Having been bounced around in the first three spots in the lineup these past two seasons, Castro figures to be a lock at the No. 3 spot. He should be able to raise his batting average as well as add to his power numbers. 

    The best thing about Starlin Castro is his age, as he's already entering his third season at the young age of 22 offers and advantage and room for him to grow. If Castro can tighten up his defense and add power to his swing, he could become one of the best players in the game.