Predicting All Chicago Cubs Team Awards for 2013
With a new front office in place, the Cubs began a full-scale rebuilding last season, and the short-term results were tough to swallow.
The team lost 101 games, the Cubs' worst season since going 59-103 back in 1966, but beneath that dreadful record is a franchise heading in the right direction.
The farm system has already been vastly improved and should continue to get better as the team deals more veteran pieces.
As it stands, guys like Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo and Jeff Samardzija are solid pieces to build around, the team's offseason was spent bringing aboard stopgap options to make the team respectable in 2013 and to supply more trade chips come July.
It will likely be another long season, as the only team standing between the Cubs and last place is in the AL West—the Houston Astros.
There is plenty of reason for optimism long-term in Chicago though. The team has improved to the point that it should avoid a second straight 100-loss campaign.
With the season set to kick off on Monday, here is a look at my predictions for who will take home all of the major team awards in 2013.
Minor League Pitcher of the Year: SP Pierce Johnson
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Taken with the No. 43 overall pick in the 2012 draft, Pierce Johnson enters the season ranked as the team's No. 6 prospect, according to Baseball America.
Johnson played his college ball at Missouri State University, where he went 4-6 with a 2.53 ERA and 119 strikeouts in 99.2 innings in 2012.
He made six starts after signing between Rookie League and Low Single-A Boise, posting a 3.27 ERA and striking out 14 batters in 11 innings of work.
He projects as a No. 3 starter and is a power pitcher with a mid-90s fastball and hammer curve. He's relatively polished and should move quickly, so a big, first pro season could be in order.
Minor League Player of the Year: SS Javier Baez
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The No. 9 pick in the 2011 draft, Baez enters the season as the Cubs top prospect, and he is the No. 16 prospect in all of baseball, according to Baseball America.
He hit .294/.346/.543 with 16 home runs and 24 steals between Single-A and High Single-A last season, and he'll likely open the season in Double-A as a 20-year-old.
He got an extended look this spring, going 14-for-47 with four home runs and 10 RBI with a .908 OPS as he proved he could hold his own against big league pitching.
With perhaps the best bat speed in all of minor league baseball, Baez projects as an impact bat in the middle of the Cubs lineup. He may have to shift to third, but he'll continue on the fast track if he proves he can hit in the high minors.
An everyday job in 2014 is not out of the question nor is a September call-up. I expect big numbers from Baez in Double-A.
Worst Offseason Acquisition: SP Scott Feldman
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A 17-game winner as a 26-year-old in 2009, Feldman was the Rangers' Opening Day starter in 2010, but his career has gone down hill since then.
He's gone a combined 15-23 with a 5.15 ERA over the past three seasons, and he spent time in the bullpen last season while going 6-for-11 with a 5.09 ERA over 29 games (21 starts).
Despite those numbers, he got a one-year, $6 million deal from the Cubs this offseason that could be worth another $1 million with performance incentives.
He struggled mightily this spring, allowing 26 hits and 18 earned runs over 15.2 innings of work, but he'll still open the season as the team's No. 3 starter. My expectations are low, and I wouldn't be surprised to see him demoted to the bullpen once again.
Best Offseason Acquisition: SP Edwin Jackson
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While the signing of Scott Feldman was a questionable move, the Cubs did ink a durable, reliable veteran starter to bolster their staff in Edwin Jackson.
He signed a one-year, $11 million deal with the Nationals last season and turned a season in which he went 10-11 with a 4.03 ERA into a four-year, $52 million deal with the Cubs.
He's made at least 31 starts in each of the past six seasons, averaging 199 inning per season while going 59-52 with a 4.06 ERA.
Jackson is not a staff ace, but these days, spending $13 million per season on a pitcher you can count on isn't as crazy as it might sound. Expect numbers similar to last season over the duration of the contract, and that should help the Cubs staff move toward respectability.
Biggest Disappointment: C Welington Castillo
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After winning NL Rookie of the Year honors in 2008, catcher Geovany Soto struggled to match that production over the next three years, and he was finally dealt to the Rangers at the deadline last season.
As a result, the Cubs have a hole at catcher, and they are hoping the 25-year-old Welington Castillo can be both the short-term and long-term answer at the position.
Castillo hit .265/.337/.418 with 11 doubles, five home runs and 22 RBI over 170 at-bats last season for a solid 1.2 WAR (per FanGraphs).
Despite that solid showing, Castillo has hit just .265/.330/.433 with 63 home runs over seven minor league seasons, so his ceiling may only be so high. Over a full season of at-bats, he could struggle to produce better numbers than what the team was getting out of Soto.
An 8-for-44 (.182 BA) showing this spring did little to quell the concerns surrounding his performance, though he did have two home runs and six RBI.
Biggest Surprise: SP Travis Wood
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A second-round pick in 2005, Wood broke into the minors with the Reds in 2010 and showed plenty of upside with a 5-4 record and 3.51 ERA over 17 starts.
His ERA jumped to 4.84 the following season, and the Reds shipped him to the Cubs as part of the package to acquire setup man Sean Marshall last offseason.
Over 26 starts last season, he went 6-13 with a 4.27 ERA, but he finished the year strong with a 3.25 ERA and .208 opponent batting average over his final nine starts in what could be a sign of things to come.
The 26-year-old has a chance to be a key part of the team's long-term plans if he can build off last season's strong finish, and I'm expecting him to be a pleasant surprise in his second go-around in Chicago.
Rookie of the Year: RP Kyuji Fujikawa
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The Cubs will once again open the season with wildly inconsistent Carlos Marmol in the closer's role, as he enters the final season of his contract.
He will likely be shopped at the deadline, a time when veteran relievers with even a shred of potential upside have value, and due $9.5 million this season.
As a result, the team signed a potential replacement for Marmol in Japanese right-hander Kyuji Fujikawa to a two-year, $9.5 million deal with a vesting option for 2015.
During his time pitching for the Hanshin Tigers, Fujikawa racked up 220 saves with a 1.77 ERA and 914 strikeouts in 692.1 innings of work.
Given the high probability that Marmol is either traded or struggles, Fujikawa seems likely to see time in the ninth-inning role at some point this season. Even if he doesn't, he'll be a top-flight setup man and a valuable addition to the team.
Cy Young: SP Jeff Samardzija
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After three seasons of bouncing between the minors and majors, Jeff Samardzija finally locked down a spot with the big league club in 2011 when he served as the team's primary setup man and posted a 2.97 ERA and 8.9 K/9 over 75 appearances.
When the new front office took over last offseason, Samardzija was given a rotation spot out of spring training, and he was the Cubs' best starter last season before being shut down at the end of the season.
All told, he threw 174.2 innings over 28 starts and went 9-13 with a 3.81 ERA and 180 strikeouts, and those numbers could have looked even better.
If not for a pair of horrendous June starts in which he allowed 17 earned runs over eight inning of work, his ERA would have been 3.12.
Now, the 28-year-old will be looking to take the next step and emerge as a true staff ace, and pitching for a big contract extension, all signs point to a big season from the former Notre Dame All-American wide receiver.
MVP: 1B Anthony Rizzo
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On the overall baseball landscape, the 2012 MLB offseason will be known as the winter when Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder changed teams for massive contracts.
In Chicago, however, it will likely be remembered as the offseason the Cubs stole Anthony Rizzo from the Padres.
After acquiring Yonder Alonso from the Reds in the Mat Latos trade, the Padres had an abundance of promising young first baseman, and they opted to trade Rizzo to Chicago for hard-throwing right-hander Andrew Cashner.
Rizzo opened 2012 in Triple-A, where he annihilated minor league pitching to the tune of a .342/.405/.696 line and 23 home runs over 257 at-bats before making his Cubs debut on June 26.
He went on to hit .285/.342/.463 with 15 home runs and 48 RBI in 337 big league at-bats, and after starring for Team Italy in the World Baseball Classic, he looks poised for a big year in his first full big league season.
A 30-HR, 100-RBI season is not out of the realm of possibility, and the 23-year-old could quickly emerge as one of the best first basemen in all of baseball.