Chicago Cubs' Biggest Early Season Surprises and Disappointments
At the beginning of every Major League Baseball season, hope springs eternal. That is, of course, until the first couple weeks of games are played.
Once that grace period is up—a period that has been all too short for Cubs fans in recent years—it's interesting to take a less emotionally charged look at the team. After all, many players on teams will fall short of lofty expectations while others will put on performances that nobody saw coming.
It's only three series into the year, but players on opposite ends of that spectrum have emerged—or descended—for the Cubs. Since it's only been about a week and a half, it's nothing to get too caught up in, but if these trends continue, the club could be forced to head in a different direction entering the final years of its rebuild.
Here are the Cubs' three most disappointing players and three most surprising players at this point in the season.
Disappointment No. 3: 3B Mike Olt
It's strange to call Olt a disappointment thus far, as he's tied for the team lead in home runs with two. However, he only has one hit this season outside of those two home runs.
There's still plenty of time for him to start seeing the ball better, but with six strikeouts already this season, Olt is revealing he may not hit for a high average at the big league level.
Olt's 2014 Stat Line:
- .136 batting average
- 2 Home Runs
- 4 RBI
- 6 Strikeouts
In order to stay in the lineup past 2014, Olt is going to have to start getting things going by the time summer is in full swing. Even though it's a lot of pressure to have to produce in the only full season Olt has been given in the majors thus far, prospect Kris Bryant is waiting in the wings.
Bryant will move to the outfield if Olt excels at his position. If Olt struggles, however, Bryant will swiftly replace him.
Disappointment No. 2: C Welington Castillo
One of the most dependable Cubs a year ago, Castillo clearly hasn't been seeing the ball well so far this season. He just isn't putting the bat on the ball, striking out at a higher rate than normal. Last season, he not only hit for a .274 average, but he also drew walks consistently, something the Cubs weren't good at doing as a team.
Castillo's 2014 Stat Line:
- .179 batting average
- 1 Home Run
- 2 RBI
- 11 Strikeouts
In addition to not converting on opportunities for base hits, Castillo is just flat-out whiffing. He only had 97 strikeouts a year ago, so his 11 strikeouts so far this season put him on pace to more than double his strikeout total from last season.
While he has plenty of time to turn it around, that's not good news for a Cubs team that's banking on Castillo, as it has no notable catching prospects at the moment.
Disappointment No. 1: Closer Jose Veras
When he was signed in the offseason by the Cubs, Veras was supposed to solidify an already much-improved bullpen.
However, the bullpen has been shaky so far this season, and he's been the worst of the bunch. There's no doubt a pitcher is struggling when people are calling for a switch at the closer position less than 10 games into the year.
Veras' 2014 Stat Line:
- 12.27 ERA
- 2.45 WHIP
- 0/2 in save opportunities
Before being traded to the Tigers last season, Veras hadn't done much closing over the course of his career. He only had five career saves before racking up 21 a season ago, so maybe he's just not cut out to be a closer.
The Cubs have had established setup men who have failed as closers before, such as LaTroy Hawkins. Another shaky outing or two for Veras, and the club should seriously consider a switch at the closer spot.
Surprise No. 3: SS Starlin Castro
The main reason why Castro is a surprise so far this season isn't because he's already bouncing back from a shaky 2013 campaign, but because he's shown an improved ability to drive the ball out of the park as well as drive in runs. In the past, Castro had been a run-scorer who was a good natural hitter. Now, he's showing he can be a run-producer as well.
Castro's 2014 Stat Line:
- .310 batting average
- 2 Home Runs
- 7 RBI
- 6 Strikeouts
Castro leads the team with seven RBI, and he is showing he can hit from anywhere in the lineup. Based on the numbers he's putting up so far, Castro could fit nicely in the No. 3 spot in the order. However, manager Rick Renteria has been plugging him into the No. 6 hole regularly, and it's been working.
Wherever he's hitting in the order, Castro has shown he can be a difference-maker in the lineup in 2014 and beyond.
Surprise No. 2: Reliever Justin Grimm
Not even a lock to make the team going into spring training, Grimm is doing all he can to keep a roster spot now and in the future.
As one of the players acquired in last year's Matt Garza trade, Grimm is making that deal look better and better for the North Siders. Appearing in six of the team's first nine games, Grimm has been a lone bright spot in a so-far shaky bullpen.
Grimm's 2014 Stat Line:
- 0.00 ERA
- 7 IP
- 9 Strikeouts
As the rest of the bullpen continues to struggle, Grimm could be asked to take on a bigger role. Not too far from it now, Grimm could become the everyday seventh-inning guy if no other reliever can match his productivity.
For now, the Cubs have to look to Grimm for hope that the rest of their bullpen will figure it out before relief pitching becomes a problem once again in 2014.
Surprise No. 1: 2B/SS/3B/OF Emilio Bonifacio
When the Cubs brought Bonifacio in, they thought his versatility would make him valuable. Well, if the season ended today, there's a good chance Bonifacio would win the National League MVP award.
He is absolutely on fire to start the season, as he became the first player in major league history to record a one-hit game, two-hit game, three-hit game, four-hit game and five-hit game within his first seven games of a season.
Bonifacio's 2014 Stat Line:
- .435 batting average
- 3 Doubles
- 9 Runs
- 7 Steals
In addition to having the third-highest batting average in the National League so far, Bonifacio's seven steals leads all of baseball. His steal of second on Thursday showed off his hustle. The throw down to second was sailed into center field, and as Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen jogged over to the ball, Bonifacio sprinted home and scored a run.
Even past his insane statistics so far, "headsy" hustle plays like that are why Bonifacio has been the most important player on the team up to this point.