For fans of the Chicago Cubs, 2014 looks to be a difficult season in terms of success. Already predicted to finish in last place in the National League Central, the Cubs face stiff competition in the St. Louis Cardinals, Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds.
All three teams made the playoffs last season as the Pirates knocked off the Reds in the National League Wild Card Game and lost to the Cardinals in five games in the NLDS.
If only the Cubs could spend $235 million like the Dodgers and become an instant contender.
Although the Cubs are not favored to make the playoffs in 2014, many, such as ESPN's Paul Swydan, predict that the playoffs will again return to Chicago's North Side in the as soon as next season (subscription required). This, of course, is contingent on the success of young prospects such as shortstop Javier Baez, third basemen Kris Bryant and Mike Olt and outfielder Albert Almora.
Baez had an impressive spring, clubbing five home runs while batting .298 in 15 games. He was recently placed on the seven-day Triple-A disabled list for an ankle injury. Almora went 6-for-14 in nine games with the team.
Despite an impressive spring from many prospects, the Cubs sent most of their core youth to minor league camp before the completion of spring training. Bryant, Almora, outfielder Jorge Soler and others were sent to minor league camp in mid-March, while Baez was sent over a week later.
So, if the prospects are so talented, why can't they just be promoted to the bigs now and end the Cubs' suffering?
Well, it doesn't work like that.
Remember Mark Prior, the "savior" who was pegged to take the Cubs to the promised land? How did that work out for him?
After being drafted in 2001, Prior made just nine starts in the minor leagues before being called up to the mother ship with the name "Savior" on the back of his uniform. Unfortunately, his career was in turn riddled with injuries and he retired in 2013 after only 106 starts in the major leagues.
Great job at USC, kid. Here's the reins to the club. Steer us to a championship.
Prior underwent practically no development in his transition for aluminum-bat college ball to the major leagues.
Besides developing their bodies for the game, prospects must also prepare for the 162-game season they may endure in the future. For teams that go on to play in the playoffs and World Series, the season lasts all the way from the beginning of spring training in February all the way through November. That's 10 months that World Series teams have to play, followed by only a three-month offseason, spread out across the entire United States.
Besides physical development, players must also be prepared mentally for the road ahead. Strategy is perhaps the most obvious development required to make a good player, but a prospect must also mature mentally before he can be called up to The Show.
Players face tremendous criticism, especially those playing on the most championship-deprived team in all of professional sports. Add a large Chicago media market to boot, and players might as well face the Supreme Court after a difficult game.
There is a way of life in the major leagues, a way of life that only select individuals get to experience in their life. It's not an easy life and it's not something that one picks up overnight. It comes with time.
To those Cubs fans who claim that the team should just call up the prospects and "end the losing now," please stop. It doesn't work like that. It works like a process, a long and patient one. Yes, it is frustrating that the Cubs are struggling. Yes, it is difficult to watch. But it will pay off.
There is such a thing as losing with a purpose, and the Cubs are doing exactly that. The Cubs are not the Yankees or Dodgers, who have millions of extra dollars to throw at any free agent that hits the market. The team needs to save money to pay its potential star players in the future while focusing on the farm system. Calling up prospects now would be an enormous risk and uneducated decision.
For now, Cubs fans must accept the fact that the team is going to struggle.
After 106 years of losing, it's more than difficult for fans to endure. However, the pool of young prospects in their farm system have tremendous potential to bring a much-needed championship to the North Side of Chicago.
Be patient, prospects. Your time will come.
That goes for you too, Cubs fans.
All statistics courtesy of MLB.com.
Jason S. Parini can be followed on Twitter: @JasonPariniBR