Three Up, Three Down: Chicago Cubs Spring Training Outlook
Every single Major League team comes into spring training expecting to win the World Series. Cubs fans and players having been doing that for 100 years now.
Peering into the 2009 looking-glass, it's interesting to see where the Cubs need to improve, and where they already have during the offseason. This is what I'm looking for during spring training.
Mixing it Up: The Cubs have had a logjam of right-handed hitters in their lineup for a few years now, and GM Jim Hendry finally made some moves this year to add some variety to the lineup.
During the spring, it will be interesting to see where Piniella slots them in.
Milton Bradley will likely be located in the fifth spot, adding a solid switch-hitter to the middle of the order.
While Aaron Miles may not strike fear into the heart of any opposing pitcher, he is yet another switch-hitting bat that Lou Piniella can utilize in 2009.
Mike Fontenot will see more playing time, as well as new addition Joey Gathright.
The Cubs will likely still have four right-handed hitters leading off the lineup with Soriano, Theriot, Lee and Ramirez.
However, after those four, it will be harder for managers (I'm looking at you, La Russa,) to bring in situational relievers late in games.
Moving On: Goodbye, Felix Pie. So long, Kerry Wood. Adios, Rich Hill.
It started last year with guys like Mark Prior and Corey Patterson being removed, and has continued into 2009. Who else isn't going to make the cut this spring?
For years, Cubs fans were clinging to the hope that some day, these guys would develop into the stars that they were drafted as.
Piniella and Hendry are continuing to change the culture by launching players that don't perform.
Baseball is quite possibly the most difficult sport to scout talent in. Sure, Alex Rodriguez was a "can't miss" that panned out.
Mark Prior was drafted No. 2 overall behind Joe Mauer. He's pitched 43 2/3 innings in three years. He just can't miss the disabled list.
Not everyone is going to have the great stories like Josh Hamilton on their club.
Let's Turn Two: The Cubs employ a plethora of ground-ball pitchers.
With the exception of Ted Lilly, most of the Cubs' staff either pitches for strikeouts or ground-balls. Those pitchers are going to have a stellar defense behind them.
Aaron Miles is a significant upgrade at second base. He's committed just eight errors in 1090 and 2/3 innings at second in the last two years.
Mark DeRosa was a great bat and employed incredible versatility throughout the infield. But he did have an iron glove, and at the worst possible times last year.
Miles will join gold-glover Derrek Lee, and a vastly improved Aramis Ramirez on the infield. Ryan Theriot's arm isn't quite what we'd like to see at short. But, if it's hit near him, he can get to it.
Now, can they show us this defense and instill some confidence in the pitching staff during the spring?
Lights Out?: Last year, the back-end of the bullpen for Chicago was incredible.
Kerry Wood got off to a shaky start and other than some blister problems in August, he was a shut-down closer for most of 2008.
This year, the Cubs are counting on youth, and a newly-acquired arm in Kevin Gregg. An arm that blew nine saves and chalked up eight losses last season.
Carlos Marmol has the stuff, but in a series down in Tampa midseason last year, he had a mental meltdown that hampered him for about a month.
Jeff Samardzjia will (and should) start the season in AAA at Iowa. He has the potential to be a top-tier starter and the Cubs are developing him as such. So, who does that leave the Cubs with in the bullpen?
Chad Gaudin, Luis Vizcaino, Neal Cotts and Aaron Heilman. Go ahead, It's okay to panic just a little.
Grand Marshall: It's about time that Sean Marshall got a chance to start at the major league level. I have to wonder though, what was wrong with innings-eater Jason Marquis?
During his two-year stint with the Cubs, Marquis pitched 358 2/3 innings and spent a total of zero days on the disabled list.
There are a lot of better pitchers than Jason Marquis, but not too many with his durability slotted into the fifth spot in a rotation.
Marshall is another left-hander for the rotation and he's gained a lot of experience since his last term as a starter in 2006 (6-9 in 24 starts.)
He's had a problem with gopher balls in the past and pitching in the "Friendly Confines" isn't a place for that. He'd be wise to look to get more ground-ball outs than fly-balls.
Can Marshall win the job this spring? Or will Aaron Heilman or even Jeff Samardzjia take the spot?
The NL Mediocre: The NL Central has been a fairly competitive division over the last two to three seasons for the Cubs.
This year, the teams that the Cubs play the most will have the least amount of talent in the National League. It would be wise for the Cubs and their fans to watch these teams this spring to see who shows promise.
The Brewers' pitching staff is decimated. The Cardinals need someone to hit behind Albert Pujols. The Astros need starters two through five, not to mention Miguel Tejada's distraction.
The Pirates and Reds? Combine the squads and they might finish .500.
While this will allow the Cubs to pile up a lot of wins, it could also soften them up come playoff time. I know, I know. Let's not get ahead of ourselves.
These are the Cubs, after all.
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