Every baseball article you read, every expert you see on television or hear on radio, there's a common consensus: The Cubs will win the National League Central crown.
With this being the case, I thought it'd be both insightful and fun to size up the Cubs to the rest of the NL Central, position by position. This article will compare the Cub infielders. In the upcoming days I'll compare the outfield and starting rotations.
Before I start, the Cubs 25-man roster hasn't been finalized yet, so there may be a few players I mention who may not make the cut come opening day.
As Tony Reali would say, let's go around the horn!
Cubs- Derrek Lee
Astros- Lance Berkman
Cardinals- Albert Pujols
Brewers- Prince Fielder
Reds- Joey Votto
Pirates- Adam LaRoche
Wow, what an impressive list! The list compiles of 4 all stars, an All Star in the making (Votto) and a solid bat to anchor the Pirates lineup.
- Pujols is easily the best hitter in baseball, and his defense isn't too shabby. You can bank on .340/40/135 and a solid glove for the Cardinals. Triple crown, anyone?
- Berkman is arguably the most underrated player in the game. A converted outfielder, Berkman only committed five errors in 152 games played last season. With Carlos Lee providing protection, Berkman is just below a notch compared to Albert.
- Fielder has a monster bat, and is very athletic on the field. You have to include Fielder as one of the top five young studs in the game. And the scary part about Fielder is that he's yet to hit his prime. Yikes!
- The ceiling's the limit for Joey Votto, who hit 24 homers and 84 RBIs in his rookie campaign. Look for Votto to grab a lot of attention for a vastly improved Reds ball club.
- A former Braves prospect, Adam LaRoche has kept his sweet swing consistent in Pittsburgh. Always a threat to split the gaps, and hit the occasional home run, LaRoche has as solid a swing as anyone.
- As for Lee, he'd be in the top two easily in most other divisions, but the competition in the NL Central is simply sick. Ranking fourth in the division isn't a bad thing!
My Rank: Pujols, Berkman, Fielder, Lee, Votto, LaRoche
Cubs- Mike Fontenot
Astros- Kaz Matsui
Cardinals- Skip Schumaker
Brewers- Rickie Weeks
Reds- Brandon Phillips
Pirates- Freddy Sanchez
Quite a drop off from the first base group, but the 2B pool in baseball is rather weak. There's plenty of speed and "small ball" guys in this group.
- Phillips is, in my opinion, the class of this group. A legitimate 30-30 threat, Phillips has the makings to be a superstar. He's projected to bat cleanup, and if Votto or Bruce can provide protection, watch out NL pitching!
- Like Phillips, Weeks has all-star potential, but has disappointed in Milwaukee. May issues can be contributed, the primary issue being health. Weeks is truly at a crossroads in his career.
- Sanchez is looking to find his 2006 all-star form, where he led the NL in batting average (.344) and doubles (53). A solid glove and stead bat, Sanchez is due to a solid year.
- Schumaker should be an interesting player to watch this season. Skip will make the shift from outfield to 2B. Cardinal nation can only hope Skip will make a smooth transition, since their outfield is crammed.
- You mention Kaz Matsui in Flushing, NY and you're bound to get yelled at. A flop in the Big Apple, Matsui help ignite the Rockies 2007 ball club to the World Series. Matsui cashed in a few months later with the Astros and has yet to live up to his 5.5 million dollar/year salary.
- Fontenot has the potential to leap to the top of this list in 2009. Mike has quietly become a fan-favorite at Wrigley. Assuming he holds on to the second base job, Fontenot should have a breakout season for Lou Piniella.
My Rank: Phillips, Sanchez, Fontenot, Schumaker, Weeks, Matsui
Cubs- Ryan Theriot
Cardinals- Khalil Greene
Brewers- JJ Hardy
Reds- Alex Gonzalez
Pirates- Jack Wilson
Quite an upgrade from second base, there's a good mixture of contact, power, and speed threats amongst the group.
- Despite steroid controversy and his decline in performance, Tejeda still remains a solid ball player. Combine his solid bat in an offensively-friendly ballpark, and Tejeda has the potential to return to form.
- Greene has had a tremendous spring for the Cardinals, batting .417 and slugging .567. He'll likely come back to earth, but I'll predict Greene could be a Comeback Player of the Year nominee.
- The player with the most upside is JJ Hardy, who showed power in 2008, slamming 24 dingers and 74 runs batted in. Most importantly, Hardy remained durable, playing in 146 games. Look for Hardy to assume a leadership role with the Brew Crew this season.
- A solid, underrated gloveman, Gonzalez brings experience to the Reds youthful lineup. Having missed the entire 2008 season due to injury, Gonzalez looks to return and anchor the Reds infield.
- Once touted as an elite shortstop, Jack Wilson has stumbled the past couple of seasons. Batting .272, Wilson once again failed to live up to expectations. Wilson, along with double-play partner Freddy Sanchez, could be strong candidates to be dealt before the trade deadline.
- Theriot provides the most stability amongst the shortshops in this group, in my opinion. Regardless of where he hits this season, Theriot will put the ball in play, bunt the runner to 3rd, and make the routine plays at short.
My Ranks: Tejeda, Theriot, Hardy, Greene, Wilson, Gonzalez
Cubs- Aramis Ramirez
Astros- Geoff Blum
Cardinals- Troy Glaus
Brewers- Bill Hall
Reds- Edwin Encarnacion
Pirates- Andy LaRoche
Finally, a no-contest group and in the Cubs favor!
- A career utility man, Blum will get the opportunity to play everyday at the hot corner for the Astros. Most Chicago fans remember him for his big homer for the White Sox in the '05 World Series against, who else, the Astros.
- Glaus, when healthy, would be the only true threat to ARam in this group. Troy will begin the season on the 15-day DL (surprise surprise). Until he can prove his health can remain consistently on par, don't expect much from the '02 World Series hero.
- Another solid utility player, when healthy, Bill Hall still can turn things around. The Brewers have solid depth backing up Hall with Mike Lamb and Craig Counsell, so if health or lack of performance becomes an issue, look for Bob Melvin to have a short leash on Hall this season.
- Despite only hitting .251, Encarancion managed to hit 26 homers and drive in 68 runs. Much like Rickie Weeks, Encarnacion has superstar written all over him, but time will tell whether or not Edwin can put everything together.
- Once a can't miss prospect with the Dodgers, Andy LaRoche gets the cool opportunity to share the corners with his brother, Adam. Unfortunately for Andy, he has yet to prove he's ready to claim the third base job in the major league level. The jury is out on the youngster.
- The class of the NL central third basemen, and in the Top five in all of baseball, ARam simply blows away the rest on this list. Just imagine if he batted third in the Cubs lineup. Make it happen, Lou!
My Ranks: Ramirez, Glaus, Encarnacion, Hall, Blum, LaRoche
Cubs- Geovany Soto
Astros- Ivan Rodriguez
Cardinals- Yadier Molina
Brewers- Jason Kendall
Reds- Ramon Hernandez
Pirates- Ryan Doumit
Arguably the best catcher-crew in baseball, there's a good mix of experience (Pudge/Kendall), young power (Soto/Doumit) and solid defense (Molina/Hernandez).
- The fountain of youth must exist, because every year, Pudge seems to find his way onto a major league roster. After an impressive WBC performance, Pudge found a starting gig with the Astros. In the warm Houston ballpark, Pudge could have an all-star caliber year.
- When the name "Molina" is uttered, one word comes to mind: defense. Yadier Molina is no exception. His bat may not be powerful, but his glove more than makes up for any offensive shortcomings. Watch out for his bat, it could turn around. After all, he's only 26.
- One of my personal favorite players, Jason Kendall defines a catcher: hard nosed, grindy, rugged and just a pure baseball player. I enjoyed his tenure with the Cubs, and with the Brewer pitching staff in disaray, Kendall should bring much-needed veteran leadership to the staff.
- One of the primary off season moves that has been overlooked by most, the Reds acquired Ramon Hernandez from the Baltimore Orioles. He should improve on his '08 numbers offensively, and is a solid defender. People shouldn't sleep on Hernandez in a new division.
- Big, powerful, and young, yep that's Ryan Doumit. Those fantasy owners, like myself, who took a chance on Doumit last season were handsomely rewarded. Batting .318 in 431 ABs, Doumit was a pleasant surprise last season for Pittsburgh. If he remains healthy, Doumit is a strong all-star candidate.
- Another Cub, another all star. Soto, like teammate ARam, is the class of the NL at his position. Soto will likely bat 6th, which should keep the pressure to the minimum. As long as he takes care of the staff and puts up similar offensive numbers to his Rookie of the Year campaign, Cub fans will be "Soto" ecstatic (thank you, thank you).
My ranks: Soto, Doumit, Hernandez, Kendall, Pudge, Molina
Next time I'll preview the three outfield positions. How will Soriano fair against Carlos Lee? Will Fukudome step up and head the Centerfield class? Check out my next article! Thanks for reading.