Predicting the Chicago Cubs Opening Day Roster in 2015

Jacob Kornhauser@@KornSportsCorrespondent IIISeptember 9, 2014

Predicting the Chicago Cubs Opening Day Roster in 2015

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    The Chicago Cubs took clear steps forward this season and have built up momentum moving into 2015. When they get some more prospects at the big league level and some top line pitching in free agency, this team could compete. 

    Several things are still up in the air for next season, such as potential free-agent signings, but the future certainly looks bright. Based on indications the team has given and how their current roster has performed, here is the projected 25-man roster for the Cubs on Opening Day next season.

1. CF Arismendy Alcantara

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    USA TODAY Sports

    2014 MLB Numbers (54 G):

    HRRBIRSBBAOBP
    821257.210.265

    Alcantara has struggled since being called up by the Cubs, but he's still shown flashes of the reasons the team has so much hope in him. He's the only player on the roster currently with enough pure speed to be the team's leadoff man.

    Even though his numbers in the majors wouldn't indicate he's a leadoff man, his numbers in Triple-A did, and manager Rick Renteria believes he can lead off at this level, according to MLB.com's Carrie Musk-at.

    Says Renteria, "I think that comes with experience and time. [Alcantara] does have the skill set to allow him to be a lead off hitter."

    While he may have to take his lumps first, there's no doubt Alcantara's raw skills measure up to that of a leadoff hitter. Without logical leadoff options in the minor leagues, Alcantara may get an extended audition for the spot next season.

2. LF Chris Coghlan

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    USA TODAY Sports

    2014 MLB Numbers (106 G):

    HRRBIRSBBAOBP
    631396.278.348

    Coghlan has been one of the most pleasant surprises for the Cubs this season, and as premier prospect Albert Almora continues to be groomed in the minors, he deserves a starting spot in the outfield. He's a possible short-term option in the leadoff spot because he can get on base. 

    The 2009 Rookie of the Year has had a bounce-back year in 2014 and at the very least, he should be a solid veteran fourth outfielder next season. You can never underestimate the value of having someone like that in the locker room full of young, talented and impressionable young players.

3. 1B Anthony Rizzo

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    USA TODAY Sports

    2014 MLB Numbers (129 G):

    HRRBIRSBBAOBP
    3071814.278.375

    Without a doubt, 2014 was the best season in the short career of Anthony Rizzo. Even though he's out for the rest of the season with a lower back injury, he put together a solid campaign this year. His .375 on-base percentage is exactly what the Cubs need given their lineup as a whole isn't very patient. 

    It's clear the Cubs aren't getting enough guys on base ahead of Rizzo, who has 30 home runs, but just 71 runs batted in. As top prospects filter their way through the system, that could change quickly. Once it does, Rizzo could be a safe bet for 30 home runs and 100 RBI a season for quite some time.

4. RF Jorge Soler

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    USA TODAY Sports

    2014 MLB Numbers (9 G):

    HRRBIRSBBAOBP
    31160.382.405

    The most impressive thing about Jorge Soler is that he has an extremely professional approach at the plate. He's a rare Cubs prospect who is patient and gets on base consistently. Group that with the fact he has 30 home-run potential and he's very exciting for the Cubs moving forward. 

    Once Kris Bryant gets called up, likely in late April or early May, he will slide down in the order, but likely to the No. 5 hole. Here's some food for thought: Since 1900, only three players have hit three home runs combined over the first three games of their career. Two of those players were called up by the Cubs this year in Javier Baez and Soler.

5. 2B Javier Baez

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    USA TODAY Sports

    2014 MLB Numbers (33 G): 

    HRRBIRSBBAOBP
    715152.169.215

    Baez started his career off with a bang, launching a game-winning home run in his first carer game, but it's been downhill ever since. Sure, we've seen the flashes of his truly raw power, but if he doesn't stop swinging at every single pitch thrown his way, he's not going to last in the major leagues.

    The youngster is never going to be completely patient, but pitchers need to be kept honest by not knowing he's going to swing at everything. Moving him down in the order could benefit him because he will see more fastballs.

    Even though he's struggled, this is why the Cubs wanted to move him up when they did. You'd rather he takes his lumps now than next season or in 2016 when it will matter.

6. SS Starlin Castro

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    2014 MLB Numbers (134 G):

    HRRBIRSBBAOBP
    1465584.292.339

    Starlin Castro had the bounce-back season that all Cubs fans hoped he would this season as he got back to being one of the best pure hitters in the game. Before the age of 25, Castro is now a three-time all star. That being said, those who say the Cubs should trade Castro are just plain crazy. 

    There are a couple reasons those people are crazy. First of all, has anyone seen Baez play this season? Sure, he's taking his lumps, but has he convinced you he's good enough to replace Castro yet? The other option to replace Castro is Addison Russell who has never played as high as Triple-A. 

    Simply put, you don't trade an asset when you don't know you'll be able to instantly replace that asset. Don't expect the Cubs to trade him anytime soon because he's a staple of the future in Chicago.

7. 3B Luis Valbuena

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    USA TODAY Sports

    2014 MLB Numbers (131 G):

    HRRBIRSBBAOBP
    1648581.249.330

    Valbuena is very quietly having his best season as a pro this year. His .330 on-base percentage has been overlooked, but if he's getting on base, he's helping his team win as evidenced by the 58 runs he's scored, which is equal to Castro.

    Everyone wants top prospect Kris Bryant to be starting here Opening Day, and rightfully so, but the team will wait about a month to call him up. That's because his agent, Scott Boras, historically doesn't negotiate contract extensions. By waiting for a month to call him up, he will have an extra year of team control. 

    Until then, Valbuena will hold down the fort at the hot corner. If he performs like he did this season, the Cubs will be just fine until their top prospect is ready to make his much-anticipated debut.

8. C Welington Castillo

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    Brian Kersey/Getty Images

    2014 MLB Numbers (96 G):

    HRRBIRSBBAOBP
    1139250.236.296

    As evidenced by their drafting of catcher Kyle Schwarber and trade for catching prospect Victor Caratini, the organization is slowly losing faith in its current back stop. Castillo has been shelved with injuries a lot over the past couple seasons and hasn't been great when he has been on the field. 

    Given Castillo's underperformance, don't be surprised if the Cubs seriously pursue a veteran catcher to start over him this offseason. Here are a few upcoming free agents at the position:

    • Russell Martin (31 years old)
    • Nick Hundley (31 years old)
    • Jeff Mathis (31 years old)

Bench

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    Norm Hall/Getty Images
    • C John Baker
    • OF Matt Szczur
    • OF Ryan Sweeney
    • IF Chris Valaika
    • IF Mike Olt

    Clearly, the Cubs need a backup catcher, and that's where Baker comes in. He's been solid this season and there's no reason for the team to look elsewhere in that department. 

    Szczur has plenty of potential and has now gotten a little experience at the big league level. He's not a superstar talent, but he certainly could become a fourth outfielder very soon, so it makes since to acclimate him to that role starting next season. 

    Even though he's had an injury-plagued 2014 season, Sweeney is still under contract with the team and should be back next year. He's getting older, but he's still a great locker room guy and can fill in when the outfield needs it. Just like Coghlan, the team could use some veterans like him to mature the young players as they make their way up.

    One pick that may be surprising on here is Valaika. He's here because he, like Szczur, isn't an elite talent, but he's certainly the quality of a fifth infielder on a team. He's a solid pinch-hitting option and is versatile in the infield. That versatility is what can earn guys roster spots.

    Many thought that Mike Olt would be a great power hitter this season, and they really weren't that wrong. However, with his power came an average below .200. He's been given time to improve his plate approach in Triple-A and will get the final month of the season to get more reps at the major league level. If he shows he can get the job coming off the bench, perhaps he will be given another chance to start at another position.

Rotation

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    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
    1. LHP Jon Lester
    2. RHP Jake Arrieta
    3. RHP Kyle Hendricks
    4. LHP Travis Wood
    5. RHP Jacob Turner

    Obviously, the key component of this projection is the Cubs' ability to lure Lester to Chicago. As previously reported on Fox Sports by Ken Rosenthal, the Cubs are favorites to land the lefty this offseason. The move makes sense for a lot of reasons. 

    First of all, Lester is familiar with the Cubs front office, which he had for several years in Boston. Secondly, the Cubs are willing to spend big on pitching as evidenced by their pursuit of the Phillies Cole Hamels, who would've been owed $22.5 million a year over the next several seasons. Third, with Lester, the Cubs would be ready to win right now.

    Naturally, Arrieta slides down to the two-slot as he's been pitching like an ace for most of this season. If he can stay healthy and sustain his play, the top of the rotation will be more than solid. 

    Young Kyle Hendricks has certainly pitched well enough to earn a spot in the rotation next season because all indications point to him being special in the future. He has 10 wins in just 17 starts with a 3.59 ERA. That's certainly not bad for a pitcher seeing his first major league action. 

    Travis Wood had an off year in 2014, but he is still good enough stuff to be in the back end of the rotation. Plus, Wood is still under contract with the team. Should he have another disappointing season next year, perhaps the team will consider making changes in 2016.

    Based on his age and potential, Turner could win the No. 5 starter spot. The big righty is just 23 and was a steal from the Marlins earlier this season. Anybody given this role could have a short leash with the volume of back-end rotation candidates. 

    Other potential No. 5 starters: 

    • LHP Felix Doubront
    • RHP Zach Rosscup
    • LHP Tsuyoshi Wada

    All of this is also dependent on the team's ability to trade estranged starter Edwin Jackson in the offseason. They will likely have to eat most of his contract in any potential deal, but expect the team to shop him around in an effort to get other starters a shot at the big league level.

Bullpen

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    Middle Relievers: 

    • LHP Felix Doubront
    • LHP Wesley Wright

    7th Inning Guys:

    • RHP Justin Grimm
    • RHP Neil Ramirez

    Set Up Men:

    • RHP Arodys Vizcaino
    • RHP Pedro Strop

    Closer:

    • RHP Hector Rondon

    It's been a while since Cubs fans could say the bullpen was a strength, but that's where the team has gotten in a relatively short period of time. Several young arms have stepped up and been shut down guys for most of the season. 

    Having two lefties in the bullpen is invaluable, and even though Doubront is better suited for the rotation, he gained experience pitching in the bullpen in Boston. He could be valuable in that role. Both he and Wright could be called upon late in games to get one out against a left-handed batter. 

    Pitchers like Grimm and Ramirez have been extremely pleasant surprises this year. They have ERAs of 3.73 and 0.94 respectively. Ramirez has been truly amazing and could progressively move into a set-up role if he sustains his success. 

    A new face the Cubs will see this September is Arodys Vizcaino. The flamethrower was acquired from the Braves back in 2012. After recovering from Tommy John surgery, he's finally ready to go. Since he's able to hit triple digits on the gun, he has the makings of a closer. However, he will need experience in the set-up role in order to step into the closer role eventually.

    Strop continues to be a solid option out of the bullpen and will continue to be given chances to preserve leads late in games.

    The most impressive member of the Cubs bullpen this season has easily been Hector Rondon. With 23 saves and a 2.60 ERA, he's the team's closer until further notice. Since he's shown the ability to pitch well under pressure, Rondon should easily be the team's closer heading into next season.