Why the Chicago Cubs Could Be Legitimate Contenders by 2016

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Why the Chicago Cubs Could Be Legitimate Contenders by 2016
Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

Just a year before the Chicago Cubs' infamous collapse after coming within five outs of a trip to the World Series, the Lovable Losers on the North Side were pitiful. Awful. Humiliating. Disgraceful.

Whatever you want to call it, they were bad.

The 2002 Cubs became the third team in four seasons to lose 95 or more games en route to setting the franchise record for the most strikeouts in a season. 

Perhaps history could repeat itself. Well, not exactly how it happened, please. Cubs fans couldn't handle another Steve Bartman-filled, Alex Gonzalez-bobbling collapse from the playoffs.

However, the Cubs have lost 90 or more games three seasons in a row prior to 2014 and are 14 games shy of 90 losses with 22 games remaining this season. The Cubs have played .500 ball since the All-Star break this season and currently stand at 64-76. If they were to play .500 ball for the rest of the season, they would finish at 75-87. It's not impressive, but it's progress.

Dare we mention Back to the Future II's comical prediction of the Cubs winning the 2015 World Series over Miami?

Now we're not exactly saying folks should run to Vegas and pull an ol' Pete Rose with the bookie. Anything could happen and there's quite a bit of progress and "what-ifs" in the Cubs organization. 

Realistically speaking, the chances of the Cubs contending in 2015 are very slim. The Cubs are planning to field a very young, inexperienced team with plenty of holes yet to be filled. During Jorge Soler's debut on August 27, five of the Cubs starters were born in the 1990s. Feel old yet?

However, any Cubs fan can't help but be excited for the team's future. If fans weren't pumped up at the beginning of the season, they should be so now.

Prospects have been arriving on the scene in movie-star fashion without even taking an at-bat in the major leagues. Players like Jorge Soler, Javier Baez and Arismendy Alcantara were household names before they could even call Wrigley Field home.

And it's just getting started.

The Cubs' first-, third- and fourth-ranked prospects haven't even gotten the call to the bigs yet. They likely won't arrive this year, as the Cubs have repeatedly stressed that third baseman Kris Bryant will remain in Triple-A for the time being, while Addison Russell and Albert Almora have yet to get the call to Triple-A.

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Bryant's performance in spring 2015 will likely determine where he starts the season next year, while it's likely that Almora and Russell will begin the season in Triple-A at best. Almora even has an ETA to the majors in 2016, according to the MLB.com top prospect chart. 

Besides outfielder Billy McKinney, the Cubs' top 10 prospects are all expected to arrive in the majors no later than 2016. Two prospects have already begun their major-league duties. Seven are ranked as a Top 100 prospect throughout all of baseball.

So far, the Cubs have their first baseman (Anthony Rizzo) and shortstop (Starlin Castro) signed to long-term deals. Both are sidelined with injuries but their ailments are not thought to be of long-term concern.

Which brings up the topic of the rest of the 2014 season.

The Cubs' elimination number for the division stands at 11, while the wild-card magic number is at 14. Sure, the Cubs are mathematically still in contention. But with Castro and Rizzo out for the season, it's not likely that the Cubs will do anything special. MLB.com's postseason probability shows a zero percent chance of the Cubs making the playoffs.

Sounds about right. So let's just talk about the future. 

Here is a likely starting eight, projected by end of 2015 or beginning of 2016 based off of MLB.com's prospect list and already signed players:             

Cubs Projected Starting Eight by September 2015
Position Player ETA
Catcher Kyle Schwarber 2016
1B Anthony Rizzo -
2B Javier Baez -
3B Kris Bryant 2015
SS Starlin Castro -
OF Jorge Soler -
OF Arismendy Alcantara -
OF Albert Almora 2016

Projections based off of current roster and MLB.com's top prospects

Of course, these are only projections. Predictions are just predictions, and anything can happen between now and then. One can only hope that the Cubs' top prospects pan out to be what they are hyped to be. Positions may also change, specifically those of Bryant, Baez or even Castro. Perhaps No. 3 Cubs prospect Addison Russell may be on the list.

The bottom line is that the Cubs are in an exciting position for the future. By September of next season, it's possible that the Cubs will have all of their top prospects and All-Stars at the major-league level.

Give them a little time to develop, gel and adjust to a 162-game season and there may be red, white and blue bunting in Wrigley Field in just a few Octobers. It won't be immediate, but the Cubbies' top prospects have begun to prove that they are the real deals.

Hopefully, the Cubs will not be a one-and-done like the 2005 edition of cross-town counterparts the Chicago White Sox. However, as the youngest team in baseball with an average age of 26.5, the Cubs look to be in a good position for a number of years.

All statistics courtesy of MLB.com and Baseball-Reference.com 

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