‘Tis the time of year we are asked to put on our swami hats, numerous gold bracelets, sparkly vests, and gaze into a crystal ball to predict the 2013 season futures of each player on a specific team.
So I have donned my stereotypical best and have cast proclamations that will surely come back to bite me in the tookus.
There are some I have cheated and made combined predictions such as Welington Castillo and Dioner Navarro, and the bullpen.
Some may be bold and some may be regular font-like. So without further ado, I present to you my predictions for each Cub in 2013…
Jeff Samardzija will win 15 games
Last season saw Jeff Samardzija make 28 starts before being shut down after nearly 175 innings. And for 2012 being his first full season as a starter, he performed very well.
Samardzija may have struggled early out the gate in 2012—highlighted by a very rough June. His June struggles had more to do with him trying to develop his curveball on the job than anything else.
Consider this: In his June starts, he gave up 27 earned runs. But once he ditched trying to develop his curve, in his July, August, and September starts, he surrendered a combined 25 earned runs.
With the experience he gained in 2012 to go along with the Cubs not controlling his innings limit and the much improved bullpen, Jeff Samardzija will easily reach the 15-win mark.
Edwin Jackson will not miss a start
If for any other reason, Edwin Jackson was signed to be a pillar of consistency in the rotation.
Since 2007, Jackson has averaged 31.5 starts and 201 innings per season. In 2013, the Cubs will rely upon him to make 30+ starts and pitch deep into games.
He won’t light up a box score, but he gives the Cubs a guy in the starting rotation they can count on to trot out there every fifth day and give them six innings of work.
Travis Wood will be the season’s surprise starter
Travis Wood closed out 2012 as a solid addition to the Cubs’ starting staff. There were questions of whether he would begin the 2013 season as part of the rotation or in the ‘pen.
But with Matt Garza’s injury and Scott Baker still not fully recovered from Tommy John surgery, any uncertainty of where Wood would begin the season vanished.
Improving his 6-13 record with a 4.27 ERA will not be difficult. Travis Wood has the ability to again be a solid member of the rotation and could surprise some people by winning 10 or 11 games for the club with a previously projected ERA in the high-three range with an innings total a shade under 200.
Scott Feldman will not end the season as part of the starting rotation
Out of all the Cubs' offseason pitching acquisitions, Scott Feldman will struggle the most this season.
As the season progresses and Matt Garza returns from his lat injury and Scott Baker’s elbow eventually heals up, Scott Feldman will become the odd man out.
If Matt Garza is traded at the deadline, Feldman could see his fortunes change. However, if the Cubs plan on having Arodys Vizcaino start for them once he becomes available in August or September, then Feldman would find himself in the bullpen at season’s end.
Carlos Villanueva will end the season as part of the starting rotation
There were a lot of questions of whether Carlos Villanueva would start for the Cubs.
It was believed the Cubs had intended to use Villanueva in the bullpen or as a spot starter when they signed him. However, all of that changed when Matt Garza strained his lat.
Once that occurred, the Cubs went to work preparing Carlos Villanueva to begin the season as the club’s fifth starter.
As the season goes along and injuries/performance/trades dictate the Cubs' makeshift rotation, Carlos Villanueva will—one way or another—finish the season as part of the starting staff.
Anthony Rizzo will enter the conversation for best first baseman in the N.L.
Each league—American and National—has their fair share of great players. But when it comes to first basemen, the A.L. has Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder, and Mark Teixeira; whereas the National League has only Joey Votto—Ryan Howard and Adrian Gonzalez were once great, but now fall in the “good” category.
The 2013 season will serve as Anthony Rizzo’s official coming-out party. This year, baseball observers will take notice of the young left-handed infielder.
He may not surpass Joey Votto as the best first baseman in the division—let alone the National League—but when it comes down to it, Rizzo will propel himself into the conversation of best first baseman in the N.L.
Darwin Barney will become the eighth Cub to win multiple Gold Glove awards
What do Mark Grace, Greg Maddux, Ryne Sandberg, Andre Dawson, Ron Santo, Derrek Lee, and Don Kessinger all have in common? Each had won multiple Gold Glove awards as a member of the Chicago Cubs—and all except for Lee have won them in, at least, a back-to-back fashion.
So, at the end of the 2013 season, Darwin Barney will be included as the newest member of this exclusive club.
**Multi-Gold Glove Award Winners in Cubs History
Grace – 92, 93, 95, 96
Maddux – 91, 92, 93 and 04, 05, 06
Sandberg – 83, 84, 85, 86, 87, 88, 89, 90
Dawson – 87, 88
Santo – 64, 65, 66, 67, 68
Lee – 05, 07
Kessinger – 69, 70
Starlin Castro will duplicate his 2011 season but with fewer errors
In 2012, Starlin Castro was counted upon to do much more than what he should have been. But with the emergence of Anthony Rizzo as the team’s big bopper, Castro can re-focus on hitting for average and getting on base, and less on hitting a bomb.
Castro—much like Mark Grace back in the day—is capable of hitting 25 to 30 home runs a season, but better serves the team by taking pitches, hitting for average and getting on base.
In 2011 Castro hit .307 with a .341 OBP as opposed to his .283 average and .323 OBP in 2012. The 2013 season will see Starlin Castro eclipse his 2011 average and OBP with the help of Anthony Rizzo batting behind him.
Luis Valbuena will end the season as the club’s primary third baseman
After a rough start as the Cubs' everyday third baseman last season—five errors out of 47 chances from June 14 to June 30—Valbuena committed only two errors the rest of the season (out of 142 chances).
He continued his second-half success to a successful season in the Venezuelan winter league and into spring training.
Beginning the season as the club’s starting third baseman will only help him play better. By the time Ian Stewart comes off the DL, it will be too late to wrestle the everyday job away from Valbuena.
Brent Lillibridge will play every position except catcher this season
Brent Lillibridge was brought in because of his versatility to play nearly all positions on the field
But with Welington Castillo, Dioner Navarro and Steve Clevenger on the roster, the likelihood of him being used even in spot duty at catcher is a little farfetched.
However, we’ve seen in the past that in the occurrence of a blowout, managers will use position players as relief pitchers at the tail end of a game.
That, my friends, is how Brent Lillibridge will fulfill playing eight of nine positions on the field.
Welington Castillo and Dioner Navarro will be a substantial defensive upgrade from 2012
The Cubs will see a marked improvement in their defense behind the plate.
They signed Dioner Navarro, if for nothing else, to stymie the opposition’s base-runners, mentor Welington Castillo, and improve their catcher defense. It was a surprise he performed as well offensively as he did in Cactus League play. But that’s beside the point.
His defensive prowess and Castillo’s progressing defensive capabilities will allow the Cubs to better control the opposition’s base-running threat than last season. The team will see better game calling and an overall better handling of the pitching staff than in 2012.
Steve Clevenger will last the entire season on the MLB roster
For one reason or another, the Cubs seem to really like Steve Clevenger. And he showed his gratitude for their support by having a hot spring training.
But as a bench guy, and given his three positions (catcher, first base and third base) are well represented, his time in the field will be limited.
That being said, his value as Rizzo’s primary backup and use as a pinch hitter will afford him the privilege to remain on the roster through the season’s entirety.
Alfonso Soriano will duplicate his surprise 2012 performance
Last season, a lot of eyes were opened by how well Alfonso Soriano played.
He looked to be more disciplined at the plate and played the outfield very well. It seems that Soriano has really bought in to the team’s new philosophy.
Last season, Soriano posted the highest fielding percentage of his career (.996). He also ranked in the top five in all of the following categories for left fielders: putouts, assists, double plays turned by an outfielder, range factor/game, range factor/nine innings and fielding percentage.
Fans should expect to see a performance much the same from Alfonso Soriano this season. Last year he appeared comfortable accepting a leadership role with the players and led by example. In 2013, there is no reason not to expect the same.
David DeJesus will be one of the team’s most valuable hitters
David DeJesus’s plate discipline last season was very important to the club. In 2012, he ranked eighth in the league in pitches seen per plate appearance at 4.08 and drew 58 walks—leading the team.
Opening Day notwithstanding, the Cubs should expect to see DeJesus show similar plate discipline in 2013. But while DeJesus will incur more strikeouts as he takes more swings and raises his batting average to around .270, DeJesus will be able to maintain or even increase his OBP.
Nate Schierholtz and Scott Hairston will be effective in platooning right field
If you could take the tools Nate Schierholtz and Scott Hairston bring to the table and put them into one player, you’d have a pretty good right fielder.
Nate Schierholtz offers great defense and ability to hit from the left side, and Scott Hairston offers a little extra pop at the plate.
Hitting in the five-spot behind Castro, Rizzo and Soriano, there will be plenty of RBI opportunities for Schierholtz to rack up as the team’s primary right fielder.
And if Hairston can let the pop in his bat take advantage of his spot starts and pinch-hit at-bats, then the right field position should become an asset to the club.
Dave Sappelt will do what he was added to do: Hit lefties
And he will do it hard. Known as “Mighty Mite,” Sappelt will fulfill his role as the guy who can hit lefties.
Throughout the season, Dave Sappelt will be the Cubs' go-to guy when they need a big hit against a left-handed pitcher. In his brief MLB career, Sappelt has a stat line of .345/.410/.545 against lefties.
If he wants more playing time, and thus at-bats, he will need to raise his average against right-handed pitching.
The Cubs bullpen will be an asset to the club—unlike last season
Do you want to know how deplorable the Cubs’ bullpen was in 2012? Just read this excerpt from an article of mine posted January.
“The near incompetence of the Cubs’ 2012 bullpen was one of the main reasons the team finished with 101 losses. Remember when Ryan Dempster was 0-1 after six starts with a 1.74 ERA?
In four of those six games he left with either a lead or tie only for the bullpen let him down. Dempster did not earn his first personal win until June 5 in Milwaukee.
In 2012 the Cubs tried using everyone and their mothers to help solve their bullpen woes.
The closer situation was a complete catastrophe. The Cubs used 10 pitchers—10!—in their 49 save opportunities, converting only 28 saves.
The Cubs bullpen had the fourth highest total number of blown saves in 2012 with 21. And as it stands now, there will not be much improvement in the 2013 bullpen over the 2012 version.
There are two stats that are quite remarkable concerning the Cubs bullpen. The MLB average in converted save opportunities last season was 70 percent. The Cubs: 57 percent. The MLB average number of save opportunities in 2012 was 60. The Cubs: 49.
If the back end of the bullpen would leave the door cracked just a hair or closed halfway instead of leaving it wide open the club would automatically see a marked increase in wins.
Think of this: If the Cubs were able to match the league average in SV% while still only having 49 SVO, the Cubs could see a win total increase of 7 wins. That means their record would improve to 68-94; that may not seem like much of an improvement, but an additional seven wins because there was an upgrade in only one area is exceptional.
But if they could match both MLB averages of SVO (60) and SV% (70 percent) then their win total would increase by as many as 14 wins. Doing this would boost their record to 75-87 simply by attaining MLB averages.
You see, the Cubs do not need to have one of the best bullpens in the MLB to make a notable improvement from last season, just average.”
This year, there are three new additions to the 2013 bullpen to go alongside 2012 standout relievers Shawn Camp and James Russell to go along with Michael Bowden and Carlos Marmol to round out the bullpen.
Bowden made the roster by a combination of his solid finish to the 2012 season and good spring (Patrick Mooney insinuated that he was also helped by the fact that he is “out of options”—unsure whether or not that means he cannot be optioned again without becoming a free agent) and Carlos Marmol remains because…well…I don’t know.
You should expect the Japanese imports to be as reliable as the vehicles produced by their compatriot car companies, and the addition of the Cubs’ best Rule 5 draftee since Josh Hamilton in 2006 should prove to remedy the ills that had befallen the bullpen last season.