Chicago Cubs 2011 Season Preview: Plenty of Upside in Young Guns

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Chicago Cubs 2011 Season Preview: Plenty of Upside in Young Guns
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

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The Chicago Cubs have spent the past few years treading water in the middle of Major League Baseball.  They haven't been going on tears, but they also haven't been at the bottom of the league.

Although this isn't necessarily a bad thing, it is something that is very frustrating for Cubs fans who want to get some sort of identity out of a team that refuses to give itself one.

That may be changing this year under new, full-time manager, Mike Quade.  He is giving a young Chicago Cubs team some fire and might actually get them to play up to their full potential this season.

That being said, this is still a team that is going to have issues because of youth, and they aren't exactly looking like World Series contenders this year.

Let's break down the Cubs position by position.

 

 

Infield: Geovany Soto C, Carlos Pena 1B, Darwin Barney 2B, Starlin Castro SS, Aramis Ramirez 3B

 

For as long as most Cubs fans remember, Aramis Ramirez and Derek Lee have been the stars of the infield.  They held down the corner bases and were easily the two most popular players on the team.

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Last season, Derek Lee was traded away, and Aramis Ramirez spent a good chunk of the season on the disabled list and put up average numbers.

Thanks to this, there is a new sheriff in town, and his name is Starlin Castro.  He came in last season as a rookie and played extremely well, now it is time for him to completely take over the reigns, not only as shortstop, but as the face of the infield.

At just 21 years old, Castro has the ability to become one of the most popular players in Cubs history if he stays with the team and lives up to his potential, which is seemingly limitless.

He has been playing very well this spring and has really improved his defensive game, something that should make Cubs fans giddy.  Although there isn't much to look forward to this season, watching the development of Castro will be very interesting.

It will also to be interesting to see if Ramirez can get back on track after a down year last season.  He is in a contract year and could be gone after the season and will likely be trying to get the best contract possible. So, if he puts in the work, he could have a big year.

A big surprise in this infield was the announcement that Darwin Barney will be the Opening Day starter at second base.

Barney took the job this spring from early favorite Blake DeWitt, who had issues both offensively and defensively this spring.  Don't be surprised if DeWitt is able to prove his worth and get back the starting job, though.

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It seems likely that there will be a three-man rotation at second base with Barney, DeWitt and Jeff Baker all getting time.

Geovany Soto had a good season last year and has been one of the better offensive catchers in baseball lately. The Cubs are hoping that he can drive in more runs this season, and Quade said he will possibly be moving him back and forth between the five and six spot in the rotation with Carlos Pena.

 

 

Outfield: Alfonso Soriano LF, Marlon Byrd CF, Kosuke Fukudome RF

 

Alfonso Soriano has had a very up-and-down career with the Chicago Cubs.  When they initially signed him, he was a speedy power hitter with decent defense and could give the Cubs a jolt into serious playoff contention.

What he turned out to be was a streaky hitter who makes mental mistakes and is either loved or hated if you are a Cubs fan.

Expect much of the same this year and for the next few years, as he is under contract until 2014 and probably won't be heading somewhere else with his bloated contract.

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Speaking of overpaid and underproductive players, Kosuke Fukudome came to America with hopes of being the next Dice-K.  He ended up being just an average player getting paid the price of a superstar.

He has been very good at getting on base but lived up to the hype that surrounded him when he first came to the Cubs.

He will be the lead-off hitter for the Cubs this season, which might be his final season in a Cubs uniform.  His contract is up after the year, and the Cubs will likely want to make room for Tyler Colvin to become a full-time starter.

He has shown good power, hitting 20 home runs last season while playing a part-time role.  Playing a full season should give him the time to become the legitimate home run threat the Cubs missed last season.

Marlon Byrd has been a good surprise for the Cubs since they picked him up.  They were hoping for a good player to start, they got an All Star.

He has also been a good clubhouse guy who helps young players and doesn't get threatened when other players get playing time.

 

 

Starting Pitching: Ryan Dempster, Carlos Zambrano, Matt Garza, Randy Wells, Andrew Cashner

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

 

This is going to be the first time in years that Carlos Zambrano was not the Cubs' starter on Opening Day, and it will hopefully turn out better than the disasters that have been Zambrano's last few season opening starts.

There is a silver lining to the Zambrano demotion, however, as he has pitched better under less pressure to perform.  After spending time in the bullpen, Zambrano came back stronger than ever for his last 11 starts of the season, going 8-0 with an ERA below 2.00.

If Zambrano can play at that level again this season, he might be able to earn the label as the ace of the rotation back.

Until then, Dempster's reliable pitching will lead this pitching staff.  He has played very well the past few seasons after resurrecting his career in the bullpen a few years ago.

Matt Garza was the marquee signing this offseason for the Cubs.  He spent the last few seasons in Tampa with the Rays, but will be making his debut for the Cubs this season.

Last season he went 15-12 with a 3.91 ERA and the Cubs are hoping that he can stabilize a rotation that has been up-and-down lately.  As a young pitcher, the Cubs are hoping he can get near 20 wins this season.

Randy Wells had a break out season in 2009 when he had a 3.05 ERA and went 12-10, but, last season, he won just eight games and had an ERA of 4.26.  If he can return to '09 form, the Cubs might have one of the better pitching rotations in the MLB.

The Cubs are also hoping for a surprise season out of rookie Andrew Cashner, who was drafted just three years ago in 2008.

He has a lot of power in his fastball, which hits 97 mph.  If he can command that and his slider, he is in for a good rookie season.

 

 

Bullpen: Carlos Marmol, John Grabow, Sean Marshall

 

It seems like just yesterday when the Cubs were a closer away from a World Series.  The Cubs now have a great closer and two dangerous set-up men and are no closer to a World Series.

Marmol has been streaky in the past, but it seems as though he has settled down and is ready to dominate as a closer.

He pitched very well last season and has every right to be mentioned with some of the best closers in the game right now with a good enough season.

Sean Marshall and a healthy John Grabow will allow the Cubs to not worry about a close lead in the seventh, as they are two extremely capable set-up men who can get the game into Marmol's hands no problem.

Kerry Wood continues to treat the Cubs like Michael Jordan treated the NBA, leaving, then changing his mind, and coming back.  The bullpen is to Wood what the Wizards were to MJ—something to do to still be involved in the sport.

News from camp says that Wood has done a good job of working with young pitchers, however, and it seems like he might have been a good pick up after all.

 

 

Season Outlook

 

The Cubs have been hanging out near .500 for what seems like forever.  That probably won't change this season.  The difference now is that we have young players to look forward to and expensive players leaving soon.

My prediction for this season is 83 wins, but a good feeling throughout Wrigleyville all season.  Good times are ahead for the Cubs, it's just not going to be this season.

I'm Joe W.

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