Chicago Cubs: 2011 MLB Season Preview

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Chicago Cubs: 2011 MLB Season Preview
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

CHICAGO CUBS 

Last Year: 75-87, 5th in NL Central 

Manager: Mike Quade 

PROJECTED LINEUP

C- Geovany Soto (R)

1B- Carlos Pena (L)

2B- Darwin Barney (R)

3B- Aramis Ramirez (R)

SS- Starlin Castro (R)

LF- Alfonso Soriano (R)

CF- Marlon Byrd (R)

RF- Kouske Fukodome (L)

Generating offense was a problem for the Cubs last season. Aramis Ramirez, who really struggled in 2010, needs to have a better season after his OBP dipped below .300 in 2010. He still produces in terms of power, but the Cubs will need a line of .280/.350/.500 in order to contend.

Carlos Pena was brought in to hit behind Ramirez and provide some much needed left-handed power. Pena is coming off a terrible 2010 in Tampa where he hit .196. Pena has never hit for a high average, but that number was affected by his extremely low BABIP at .222. He never lost his power or his ability to get on base, so look for Pena to bounce back with 30-35 home runs and a line of .230/.355/.510.

Darwin Barney will start at 2B, but he has very little power and should only hit .270. DeWitt might take back his job if he hits well off the bench and Barney struggles. 

Starlin Castro will provide a lot of hits batting second in this lineup. While he doesn't have much power (3 home runs in 2010), Castro should hit over .300 and steal anywhere between 15-20 bases.

Geovany Soto is one of the better hitting catchers in baseball, but injuries limited him to 100 games last season. Soto possesses good power, and his plate discipline is fantastic. I expect Soto to hit 22 or so home runs with numbers around .285/.380/.485.

Alfonso Soriano is not the same player that he was a few years ago, but he he is still good for 25 home runs. Don't count on a average higher than .260.

Marlon Byrd is a solid hitter, but he should not be hitting in the third spot in the order. Byrd can be counted on for 12-15 home runs and a .285-.300 batting average, but his plate discipline leaves something to be desired.

Kouske Fukodome will start the year as the right fielder, but I expect Tyler Colvin to get some playing time there. Fukodome has not impressed during his first three years in the majors. While he has a very high OBP, he does not have enough power for a corner spot and he strikes out a lot.

Colvin will strikeout as well, but he has the 25 HR-power from the left side that the Cubs need. Colvin managed to hit 20 bombs in 398 ABs in 2010. The Cubs need to find Colvin ABs, and Fukodome looks like the obvious choice to spend some time on the bench. 

The Cubs ranked 19th in terms of UZR, and it looks like the team will struggle in the field again. Carlos Pena is considered a very good defensive first baseman despite his UZR rating. Barney should be a decent option at 2B, but he is better than DeWitt. Starlin Castro has the range to become a great defensive SS.

Aramis Ramirez is a poor defender at 3B. Soto is a solid defender behind the plate, but he needs to work on his caught stealing percentage. Byrd was the Cubs’ best defender in 2010, but he has been known to be inconsistent. Soriano has been known to butcher balls in the outfield, but UZR has rated him a plus defender in three out of the last four years.  Fukodome and Colvin are poor defenders in RF.

BENCH

IF/OF- Jeff Baker(R)

IF- Blake DeWitt (L)

OF- Tyler Colvin (L)

C- Koyie Hill (S)

OF-Reed Johnson (R)

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

STARTING ROTATION 

RHP- Ryan Dempster 

RHP- Matt Garza 

RHP- Carlos Zambrano 

RHP- Randy Wells

RHP- Andrew Cashner 

The Cubs have a solid of group of right-handed starters. Ryan Dempster, the Cubs' most consistent starter over the last three years, will get the nod on Opening Day. Dempster averages 91 MPH on his fastball and works a devastating slider and good splitter off of it. He is a safe bet to average 200 innings, have a 3.50 ERA, strike out 8 per 9 innings, and walk a little under 3.5 per 9.

The Cubs' biggest offseason acquisition was trading for Tampa Bay starter Matt Garza. He is mostly a fastball pitcher (avg. 93.3 MPH) who works in a slider, change, and curveball. Garza has been impressive the last few years, but he is a flyball pitcher and he only struck out 6.6 per 9 last season. In addition, Garza has benefited from a below average BABIP (.270) for the last three years (.290 is league average), and he could be in for a higher ERA this season. 

Zambrano had a bizarre 2010 season after being inexplicably sent to the bullpen by Lou Pinella, and caused trouble by lashing out at teammates in dugout incidents.

With that said, Zambrano is still a very good and consistent major league pitcher. He has lost a little velocity on his sinker, which was down to 90 MPH in 2010, but he still uses his splitter, cutter, and slider effectively. His command is still iffy (4 walks per 9 is the norm), but I like Zambrano to pitch 200 innings hovering around a 3.70 ERA and recording a little less than eight strikeouts per nine innings.

Randy Wells has been accused of pitching poorly in 2010, but he pitched better than his final stat line. His FIP was 3.90, and he did increase his strikeout rate from 5.67 to 6.67 per 9. Wells is a solid number four pitcher who should pitch around a 4.00 ERA. Andrew Cashner is profiled in the breakout player section. 

BULLPEN

RHP- Carlos Marmol (Closer)

RHP- Kerry Wood 

LHP- Sean Marshall 

LHP- John Grabow 

RHP- Jeff Samardzija 

LHP- James Russel 

RHP- Marcos Mateo  

The Cubs do not have a lot of depth in the bullpen, but Marmol, Wood, and Marshall may be the best group in the National League. Marmol has one of the best sliders in baseball, a 94 MPH fastball, and the highest strikeout rate in baseball at 16 K per 9 innings. He might walk too many, but it is negated by his amazing ability to miss bats and keep the ball in the park.

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Cashner

Kerry Wood was one of the best set-up men for the Yankees in the second half of the season after he was traded by the Indians. Wood strikes out more than a hitter per inning by using his 94-96 MPH fastball, great cutter, and curveball.

In addition, Sean Marshall was one of the best left-handed set-up men. His strikeout rate increased to 10.31 K/9 after average velocity increased to 90.1 MPH. Marshall's amazing curveball makes him a weapon against right and left-handed hitters. 

John Grabow will primarily be used as a left-handed specialist. Grabow struggled with a shoulder injury which kept him out for most of 2010, and rendered him ineffective when he did pitch.

Jeff Samardzija has been struggling to find a role with the Cubs since being called up late in 2008. He has the repertoire to be a starter, but he has not been given a chance to start because of his struggles in the bullpen.

James Russell and Marcos Mateo will fill out the rest of the bullpen. Russell doesn't have the best fastball (average 88.5 mph), but he has a good slider that can help him strikeout left-handed batters. He also allows too many home runs. Marcos Mateo averages 93.8 mph on his fastball and he features a good slider. He should strikeout close to a hitter per inning, but he is also prone to the home run ball.  

PROSPECT TO WATCH- OF Brett Jackson (L)

Brett Jackson, the Cubs' first round draft pick in 2009, will start the season in AA. He has been projected as a 20 HR and 20 SB type of player who has solid OBP numbers. He projects to wind up in either CF or LF, depending on how he works on his routes this season in the minors. I don't see Jackson getting any time in Chicago this season, but he should make his debut sometime in 2012.  

BREAKOUT PLAYER- Andrew Cashner

If given the opportunity to start for the entire season, Andrew Cashner has the ability to become an above average starter. Cashner struggled at times in the bullpen during 2010, but he showed an excellent fastball that averaged 96.3 MPH to go along with a very good slider.  

PROJECTED FINISH- 4th in NL Central 

The Cubs pitching should keep them contending for most of the year, but the Brewers and Reds have better teams overall. The team has enough talent to compete for a Wild Card spot, but they ultimately will battle it out with the Cardinals for the number three spot in the division, finishing somewhere above .500. 

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