Chicago Cubs: Getting to Know the Opening Day Roster

Jim WeihofenCorrespondent IApril 6, 2012

Chicago Cubs: Getting to Know the Opening Day Roster

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    Coming off a 2-1 loss to the Nationals on Opening Day, the Cubs didn't exactly have a perfect opener. However, Dempster was strong in his debut, striking out ten, and only allowing two hits over 7.2 innings, even if he did get a few assists from the strong winds coming off of Lake Michigan.

    With the new season, came new management—both on the field and in the front office—and with them, a whole slew of new players.

    Without further ado, here's your guide to the 2012 Cubs opening day roster.

SP #46 Ryan Dempster

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    Who he is:

    Dempster, who hails from British Columbia, will turn 35 in early May. He's been a Cub since 2004, and in the starting rotation since 2008.

     

    How the Cubs got him:

    Free agency (January 2004).

     

    2012 Outlook:

    After a forgettable 2011 campaign that saw Dempster's ERA swell to 4.80, he's out to prove that he's still a solid contributor to a major league rotation. 2012 is Dempster's second straight opening day start, and his fourth overall in the major leagues. As the veteran of the staff, he'll also be looked to to help mentor the younger arms on the staff.

SP #22 Matt Garza

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    Who he is:

    Garza, a 28-year-old California native, will be the second starter for the Cubs. Garza's always been a starter, and was ALCS MVP in 2008, helping the Tampa Bay Rays get to their first World Series.

     

    How the Cubs got him:

    Trade (January 2011).

     

    2012 Outlook:

    Garza will look to build upon a strong 2011 campaign. Many felt he should have gotten the opening day start. Whether or not he will remain a Cub all season remains to be seen, but his season goal will be to prove that he truly does have ace potential.

SP #29 Jeff Samardzija

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    Who he is:

    Samardzija, a 27-year-old Indiana native, is entering the starting rotation after having finally found MLB success in 2011 as a relief pitcher. The former standout Notre Dame wide receiver is finally living his dream of being a starter for his beloved Chicago Cubs.

     

    How the Cubs got him:

    Amateur draft (2006, fifth round).

     

    2012 Outlook:

    In his first season as a major league starter, Samardzija will try to prove that he's able to handle a starter's workload (200+ IP), and that his success in 2011 wasn't a fluke. A strong spring in which he showed great command bodes well for the regular season.

SP #32 Chris Volstad

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    Who he is:

    Volstad, 25, is a Florida native entering his first season with the Cubs after being on the other end of the Carlos Zambrano trade.

     

    How the Cubs got him:

    Trade (January 2012).

     

    2012 Outlook:

    Rushed to the major leagues at 21, Volstad had to learn on the job from some rather poor Florida Marlins teams. For the Cubs, he'll look to improve upon his success in inducing ground balls and attacking the strike zone. Though, as long as he has a solid campaign and doesn't cause the clubhouse to have a chemistry not unlike Chernobyl, it'll be seen as a win in many Cub fans' eyes.

SP #28 Paul Maholm

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    Who he is:

    Maholm, who will turn 30 in June, is entering his first season with the Cubs after having spent his entire career in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization, who drafted him eighth overall in 2003.

     

    How the Cubs got him:

    Free agency (January 2012).

     

    2012 Outlook:

    As the Cubs' fifth starter, Maholm will simply look to continue his strength of getting deep into a ballgame and inducing ground balls. With the question marks of Volstad and Samardzija—and the potential for Garza and Dempster to be traded, should the Cubs struggle—Maholm could find himself in a much bigger role than just the fifth starter. He'll also try to get his $6.5 million team option exercised with a quality season.

RP #52 Lendy Castillo

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    Who he is:

    Castillo, a 22-year-old native of the Dominican Republic, was a Rule 5 pick of the Cubs from the Phillies. He'll try to make the jump from A-ball to the majors and stick around all season to remain Cubs' property.

     

    How the Cubs got him:

    Rule 5 draft (December 2011).

     

    2012 Outlook:

    Castillo will likely fill the long reliever spot in the bullpen, trying to prove he's at least competent at this level for the season.

RP #54 Shawn Camp

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    Who he is:

    Camp, a 36-year-old Virgina native, will be entering not only his first season with the Cubs, but his first season with a National League team.

     

    How the Cubs got him:

    Free agency (March 2012).

     

    2012 Outlook:

    Camp will look to hold down a middle relief role for the Cubs. In 2010, he posted a 2.99 ERA for the Blue Jays. Both Camp and the Cubs will likely be thrilled if he can find that touch again. Moving from the AL East to the NL Central should help Camp try and revitalize his career after being cut by the Mariners on March 21.

RP #48 Rafael Dolis

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    Who he is:

    Dolis, a 24-year-old Dominican, will enter his first full season as a Cub, after making a lone appearance against the Padres in 2011 for his MLB debut.

     

    How the Cubs got him:

    Amateur free agent (August 2004).

     

    2012 Outlook:

    With a lively fastball, Dolis will try and cash in on his high potential with in the Cubs bullpen. At worst, he gets sent back down to AAA for more work. At best, he has Carlos Marmol looking over his shoulder quite nervously.

RP #40 James Russell

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    Who he is:

    Russell, a 26-year-old Ohio native, will enter his third season in the Cubs' bullpen.

     

    How the Cubs got him:

    Amateur draft (2007, 14th round).

     

    2012 Outlook:

    After a terribly failed experiment with Russell as an emergency starter for the Cubs in the early parts of the 2011 season, he settled in nicely in the bullpen, posting an ERA below three once he was able to move back to a relief role. He'll be counted on as the rotation's lone left-hander, though nobody's asking him to be quite up to Sean Marshall's caliber of play.

RP #34 Kerry Wood

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    Who he is:

    Wood, who will turn 35 in June, is a Texas native who will be entering his 12th season as a Cub.

     

    How the Cubs got him:

    Free agency (December 2010). Wood was also the Cubs first-round pick (fourth overall) of the 1998 draft.

     

    2012 Outlook:

    "Kid K" returns as the primary right-handed set-up man for 2012. After a knee injury derailed the end of his 2011 season, he'll try to prove that he's healthy enough to handle a full-time bullpen role. In all likelihood, he'll also be asked to be the team's de facto captain.

CP #49 Carlos Marmol

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    Who he is:

    Marmol, a 29-year-old Dominican native, is entering his seventh season with the Cubs, his sixth as a reliever and third as the full-time closer.

     

    How the Cubs got him:

    Amateur free agent (July 1999).

     

    2012 Outlook:

    Coming off a disappointing 2011 campaign, Marmol will try to make good on the second year of his three-year extension handed to him by former GM Jim Hendry. Making $7 million this season, Marmol will try to make his fastball into a weapon again and regain his status as an elite closer. Should he falter, he'll be a very expensive middle reliever.

C #18 Geovany Soto

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    Who he is:

    Soto, a 29 year old Puerto Rican, is entering his fifth season as the Cubs starting catcher.

     

    How the Cubs got him:

    Amateur draft (11th round, 2001).

     

    2012 Outlook:

    Much like his battery mate Marmol, Soto had a down year in 2011, seeing his batting average drop 52 points from 2010. He'll try to recapture his all-star form this season. Should he fail to do so, he could be shipped out of town in favor of a platoon of youngsters Steve Clevenger and Welington Castillo.

1B #6 Bryan LaHair

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    Who he is:

    LaHair, a 29-year-old Massachusetts native, is entering his first full-time MLB season, after having spent 65 games in the majors between the 2008 Mariners and 2011 Cubs. He'll be the everyday first baseman for the time being.

     

    How the Cubs got him:

    Free agency (January, 2010).

     

    2012 Outlook:

    LaHair's fate for the 2012 season lies in a weird combination of his own production, Anthony Rizzo's production and Rizzo's service time. Should LaHair prove the Cubs' front office right and be able to put up good numbers at the MLB level, he'll either force Rizzo into a full season at AAA Iowa, or get himself traded to a contender. His ability to play the outfield could also make him a potential replacement for Alfonso Soriano, should he be traded.

2B #15 Darwin Barney

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    Who he is:

    Barney, the 26-year-old Oregon native, enters his second season as the Cubs starting second baseman after stealing the job from the expected platoon of Jeff Baker and Blake DeWitt in 2011.

     

    How the Cubs got him:

    Amateur draft (4th round, 2007).

     

    2012 Outlook:

    With the Cubs suddenly stocked with guys able to play second (DeWitt, Baker, Luis Valbuena and Adrian Cardenas amongst others), Barney will have to prove that his 2011 production wasn't a fluke. Also, after struggling down the stretch last season, he'll have to prove that he's able to handle the rigors of a full-time major league job. At worst, he's a scrappy utility infielder. At best, he's a quality 2nd/7th/8th spot hitter.

SS #13 Starlin Castro

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    Who he is:

    Castro, 22, enters his third season as the Cubs primary shortstop, and as one of the best young players in the major leagues.

     

    How the Cubs got him:

    Amateur free agent (October 2006).

     

    2012 Outlook:

    After leading the NL in hits in 2011, Castro's main focus will be improving his defense, as he committed 29 errors in 2011. New manager Dale Sveum has worked hard with Castro on his defensive prowess, and the results looked to be paying off in spring training. While LaHair is a solid fielder at first, he's no defensive wizard like Carlos Pena was, so the pressure is on Castro to get it done with the glove, as we all know the bat will be there.

3B #2 Ian Stewart

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    Who he is:

    Stewart, a California native, celebrated his 27th birthday on Thursday by making his Cubs debut as the starting third baseman.

     

    How the Cubs got him:

    Trade (December, 2011).

     

    2012 Outlook:

    In a trade involving a trio of struggling 1st rounders (and a 2nd rounder with upside), the Cubs acquired Stewart for Tyler Colvin. In 2012, he'll try to rebound from an awful 2011 season with Colorado. His defense should be an upgrade from longtime third baseman Aramis Ramirez's, and if he's fully healthy and confident, his offense could match. The main objective, however, will be for Stewart to stay healthy and be productive, letting great offense come if it may.

LF #12 Alfonso Soriano

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    Who he is:

    Soriano, a 36-year-old Dominican, enters his fifth season as the Cubs starting left fielder.

     

    How the Cubs got him:

    Free agency (November 2006).

     

    2012 Outlook:

    As his eight year contract (thanks, John McDonough!) drags on, Soriano will try to at least be somewhat productive, as living up to his $19 million salary will be just about impossible. Unlike the Hendry regime, Theo Epstein's front office seems to applaud and appreciate Soriano's contributions. He was the opening day cleanup hitter and will be looked upon as a leader on and off the field.

    However, as he's not part of the long-term answer, should a team be willing to take on a decent portion of his salary and offer a minor leaguer with some upside, Soriano will find himself in a new uniform. That said, Epstein isn't actively looking to move him for the sake of moving him.

CF #24 Marlon Byrd

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    Who he is:

    Byrd, a 34-year-old Florida native, is entering his third season as the Cubs starting center fielder.

     

    How the Cubs got him:

    Free agency (December 2009).

     

    2012 Outlook:

    Entering the last year of his contract, Byrd will be playing for what could very well be his last big payday. Having shed a significant amount of weight in the offseason, Byrd again looks more like a center fielder and less like a running back. A self-driven player, Byrd will put up numbers out of pride, lead by example and possibly be traded to a contender.

RF #9 David DeJesus

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    Who he is:

    DeJesus, a 32-year-old Brooklyn native, is entering his first season as the Cubs' starting right fielder, and his first in the National League.

     

    How the Cubs got him:

    Free agency (November 2011).

     

    2012 Outlook:

    While not a prototypical leadoff hitter, DeJesus' name will likely be atop the Cubs' lineup for no less than 120 games this season. He'll be asked to get on base, play solid defense and score runs. Coming off a disappointing season in Oakland—or as most hitters call it, "a season in Oakland"—he'll look to rebound in his first season in the Senior Circuit. 

C #51 Steve Clevenger

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    Who he is:

    Clevenger, a Baltimore native, celebrated his 26th birthday on the bench for the Cubs. He enters the season as the backup catcher.

     

    How the Cubs got him:

    Amateur draft (7th round, 2006).

     

    2012 Outlook:

    Clevenger will try to fight Geovany Soto for playing time this season. With all of five MLB plate appearances to his name, Clevenger will try to prove Sveum right in picking him over Welington Castillo and Jason Jaramillo as the backup catcher.

2B/SS #21 Luis Valbuena

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    Who he is:

    Valbuena, a 26-year-old Venuzuelan, enters his first season as a Cubs backup and National League player.

     

    How the Cubs got him:

    Waiver claim (April 2012).

     

    2012 Outlook:

    Valbuena will try to get his offense back on track as a backup infielder for the Cubs. He'll likely keep Darwin Barney from having to shift from second base to shortstop, should Starlin Castro need a breather. His left-handed bat and good speed should prove useful.

2B/3B/LF #11 Blake DeWitt

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    Who he is:

    DeWitt, a 26-year-old Missouri native, enters his third season as a Cubs backup.

     

    How the Cubs got him:

    Trade (July 2010).

     

    2012 Outlook:

    DeWitt will try to get in the same good standing as he was in with former manager Mike Quade, who made him the team's most used pinch hitter. He'll get some starts at second, third and possibly in left field, while providing a left-handed option off the bench.

    DeWitt has yet to make good on his potential that saw him picked in the first round of the 2004 draft. Should he finally put it all together, the Cubs will be thrilled.

LF/CF/RF #5 Reed Johnson

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    Who he is:

    Johnson, a 35-year-old California native, is entering his fourth season in five years as the Cubs primary backup outfielder.

     

    How the Cubs got him:

    Free agency (January 2011).

     

    2012 Outlook:

    Johnson will return in the role he's thrived in: as the Cubs' fourth outfielder. A solid hitter and solid defender, expect to see a lot of hard play out of Johnson. His style of play should highly endear him to new manager Dale Sveum's aggressive style.

UTIL #3 Jeff Baker

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    Who he is:

    Baker, a 31-year-old who was born in West Germany but raised in the U.S., enters his fourth season as a utility player for the Cubs.

     

    How the Cubs got him:

    Trade (2009).

     

    2012 Outlook:

    Baker, the destroyer of all pitchers left-handed, will likely get a lot of starts against southpaws. Able to play first base, second base, third base, right field and left field, his versatility has always been a plus. He'll be a valuable bench piece if he isn't traded to a contender looking for the exact skill set he brings.

UTIL #16 Joe Mather

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    Who he is:

    Mather, an Idaho native who turns 30 in July, is in his first season as a Cubs backup after having spent his career in the Cardinals and Braves systems, getting a few cups of coffee in the process.

     

    How the Cubs got him:

    Free agency (January 2012).

     

    2012 Outlook:

    After playing his way onto the roster, Mather's speed, defensive play and versatility—he says he's able to play seven positions—will fill a major bench role for the Cubs in 2012. He's endeared himself to Sveum, and will likely get a fair number of starts and a lot of late-game insertions.