Miguel Montero........the Cubs major trade chip should be behind the plate for about 130 games if he's healthy. The two time all-star battled back issues in Arizona. He projects to hit around .250, with 10 homers and 50 ribbies, and his left handed bat struggles against southpaws Those numbers aren't great, but he walks a lot, and his bat won't be bad for a bottom of the order hitter. But there much more here on the defensive side, as Montero scores among the best catchers in baseball in pitch framing, and he's thrown out 31% of base thieves in his career. Montero will give the Cubs a needed left handed bat to balance the lineup, and a superior defensive catcher in both framing and throwing than they've had in Castillo. He's 31, and is signed for three more years at about $13M per. Just enough time to see in Kyle Schwarber can man the plate.
David Ross.......Ross will catch every fifth day, or about 30 starts. His job is to make Jon Lester comfortable, and he's done it well for a long time. Doesn't matter what he does behind the plate. Just take care of Mr. Lester. Put him down for .220, maybe 5 homers and 20 ribs. 37 year old is signed for two years at $5M total. Let's be honest, he hit .180 at 36. Who cares? He comes with Lester.
Wellington Castillo......this may take all of spring training to play out. He's only 27, and is only carrying a $2M tag for 2015, so he's moveable. 13 homers last year, and a career .250 hitter. But his defensive profiles aren't great, and teams know the Cubs need to move him. He's strictly insurance through the spring until the phone rings.<
Rafael Lopez.......Lopez becomes the catcher in waiting, the emergency bridge between Montero and Schwarber once Castillo is dealt. He is surely ticketed for Iowa. 27 year old has worked his way thru the Cubs system, splitting time between Tennessee and Iowa. But at 27, he's way past prospect stage, and no matter what he does on the farm, he doesn't play on this year’s team, and he soon gets passed by both Schwarber and Caratini.
Anthony Rizzo........put him down for .270/.350/30/90. The ribbie numbers could be better, but with uncertainty at the top of the order, Rizzo figures to be shy of the 100 mark. Still, he's now one of the best young left handed hitters in the game, and he figures to man the position for years to come. 25 years old, signed thru 2019 at the bargain rate of $6M per. Homers have gone from 15 to 23 to 32 the past three years for the Cubs, so the projection of 30 could have room to grow. batting average projection is also on the safe side, but he doesn't look like a .300 hitter yet, and he's not topped 80 ribbies. Rizzo is a poster child for the Cubs because he was Theo's big trade with the Padres for Andrew Cashner, then signed the long term deal before he had really produced. When those things work out, it gives the organization credibility.
Javier Baez......22. Cubs first pick in 2011 out of high school, Baez has been on everybody's top 10 prospect list. He could hit 30 homers, and he could hit under .200. That's what he showed in his call up last year. His red-hot minor league track shows the power, with bases, and an average around .280. But a power hitting middle infielder is rare, thus the hype for Baez. He played more shortstop than second in the minors, but second is where the opening is now. He has tremendous bat speed, with power to all fields. It's conceivable he could league the league in homers.......and strikeouts. He's not fast, but could swipe 10-15 bases. And he won't be winning any gold gloves at second for a while, but he makes the routine plays. The Cubs will be challenged by where to bat Baez. The low OBP takes him out of the top of the order. The incredible power puts him in the middle, but the strikeouts can be rally killers. He will be among the most interesting players in all of baseball. The upside can be incredible. I'm going to project him to hit .225, with 30 homers, 60 RBI's, and 15 bags. You can live with that at 2B, especially from a young player. If the average gets much south of that, Baez will be hitting homers in Iowa for another year. When the day arrives that he can hit north of .250 with those 30 homers as an infielder, he'll be one of the most valuable commodities in baseball.
Arismendy Alcantara.......23 year old showed well as a rookie, playing multiple positions, flashing power and speed to go with his switch hitting edge. He certainly looks the part, and now the Cubs need to figure out where. It appears he can play all over the infield and outfield. Of course, the infield looks crowded, especially with Bryant and Russell soon adding to the Castro/Baez mix. So he really projects long term as a possible leadoff hitter in left or center. But until Baez locks down second base, Alcantara is standing by as insurance. And unlike Baez, he can bat at the top of the order. He would project to be around .230-15-50 and probably 20 bases, so he's another player that has tools. Compact swing with surprising power for 160 pounds. He's been a little lost in the shuffle, but he looks like a real building block to me. It's the rare player that has five tools and can play almost anywhere on the diamond. Of course, it also makes him a trade chip if Baez is solid at second.
Tommy La Stella.........La Stella becomes a real sleeper here. Baez would have to struggle, and Alcantara would have to be needed elsewhere. But this is a player the Cubs liked in the draft before Atlanta took him, and then the Cubs traded for him. So you know he's going to get a look. Left handed hitter has a good bat, and should project to around .275, without much pop or speed. That might not sound like much, but he gets on base to a team that is desperate for it, with a minor league career batting average around .300, and an OBP around .400, so he could bat near the top. Not a great defensive player, but makes the routine plays. But he's 25 now, so the clock is ticking. He doesn't project as a long term answer, but on a contending team with a hole, his bat could slide him in without a problem. It's also possible LaStella could get time in April at third base, as the Cubs wait on Kris Bryant.
Starlin Castro.......We forget he's only 24, and he's already been in two All-Star games. Castro suffers by being the face of the franchise with Rizzo thru some terrible years. That team friendly deal runs thru 2019 at only $7.5M per. Those are numbers that will make Castro a coveted piece if the Cubs decide to move him. Until then, he remains a center piece, and no matter what the noise, one of the best shortstops in baseball. The off field issues are less of a concern than the fact he has stopped running. His stolen base attempts have dropped from 38-15-8 the past three years, while his hitting has remained consistent. He projects for a steady .280/15/60, but I doubt he runs. He's clearly talented enough to bat in the two or three hole. What I like best about Castro is two things: first, he's already logged a lot of playing time at a young age, and there is an assumption he still has room to grow, and second, I think his basement is not far from his projections, meaning he's a low risk player at a crucial position. And It's certainly possible he hits more than 15 homers. On the downside, I don't see Castro winning any gold gloves, although his defense is average. And if he gets moved from short to third, with Bryant heading to left, his value drops considerably. The bottom line is the Cubs are in a real good spot with Castro. He's either their long term answer at short at a bargain price, a player without much of a bottom, but still upside, or he's a prime chip they can dangle for pitching.
Kris Bryant........It's hard to know where to start. Even when you lower his projections by missing the first month, Bryant slots around .260-25-70 as a rookie, and he'll probably steal around 10 bases. Those numbers alone will put him near the top of all major league third basemen. Consider these year and a half minor league numbers for the 23 year old lottery pick: .330-58-159. His on base is .430, and his OPS is 1.1. Those are unheard of minor league numbers. Anything less than an All-Star career at this point would be both a surprise and a letdown. He's a 6-5 masher of the ball who projects to bat in the middle of the order for a long time. His major league comparable is probably Ryan Braun, and it could be Miggy Cabrera. And those cats don't play third base, and they aren't 23 years old. The only issues are can he stick at third, and can he cut down on the strikeouts. Even if the answer to both is now, Bryant stands as the center piece of the Cubs rebuild. As much as I can't wait for April, I really can't wait for May.
Mike Olt........former first round pick was a prized prospect a few years back. Now, not so much, not after playing half a season last year and hitting a buck-60. There's plenty of power, but incredibly, Olt struck out in nearly half his at bats. He probably gets the first chance in April, but with so many other Cubs having contact issues, it's just not a good fit. Like Villanueva below, his only shot is to start hot, and hope Bryant moves to left, and neither of those is likely. Olt may have never fully recovered from vision issues in 2012, as he has skidded badly since. Olt is a good athlete, and flashes a very good glove at the corner. He's still only 25, but his hot prospect days are gone. We'll see what happens when the bell rings. But there's no room in baseball for crying, and there's certainly no room for somebody hitting .160. It's now or never for Olt out of the gate.
Christian Villanueva........he's only 23, out of the Rangers system, like many other Cubs. He projects as a solid contact guy as good a glove as any minor league third baseman, so he has value. But let's face it: he's buried behind Bryant, so at best he's a trade chip. Of course, it's possible Bryant can't handle third, and is moved to the outfield. He should start the year at AAA, and with his glove could work his way up to a super utility role. His 2014 season was a step backwards, but at 23, he still has time. Still, his real shot at the big leagues is Bryant heading to left, or a trade to another team. If the Cubs opt to move him, they'd need to do so fairly soon based on his age.
Chris Coghlan........former first round pick and Rookie of the Year saved his career with the Cubs last year, and grabbed the left field job heading into the spring. He's 29 now, but hit a nice .280 last year with a .350 OBP in the leadoff spot. In fact, things were so bad last year, you could argue Coghlan was our second base performer after Rizzo. He's only making $2M, so he's a bargain. Projections this year would be around .260/10-50 and 10 bags. He doesn't steal as much as you would like from the top of the order. He's only keeping left field warm until another Cub prospect passes him by, but he projects as our leadoff hitter from the left side, with a short leash. He's sound defensively, without a strong arm. With a young team, the Cubs can use a veteran leader, especially one who was also once a hot prospect, then struggled, then battled his way back.
Chris Denorfia........34 year old signed to be the right handed platoon with Coghlan. He's bounced around both leagues with a .270 career average. His projections would be remarkable similar to Coghlan, around .260 with 10 homers and 10 bases. And like Coghlan, and even Davis Ross behind the plate, Denorfia gives the Cubs a veteran on a young team, and he's widely considered a gamer and clubhouse guy. His recent offensive numbers came from San Diego and Oakland, so he could get a little bump at Wrigley. He's an outstanding defensive player, and can play all three outfield spots. Even without the offensive pop, he's in a spot to become a fan favorite with his hustle. Oh, he's a .340 lifetime hitter at Wrigley.
Junior Lake........Lake is the Cubs prospect that can go either way right now. He's had a chance the past two years at a young age, but only hit to a .240 tune. Still only 24, but he's on the verge of getting passed by. He projects again around .240, but if he gets the at bats, he's a 15-15 guy at a young age. His bat is lively, but his aggressiveness at the plate has buried his walk/strikeout ratio. Athletic and with speed and a good arm, he seems to lack natural instincts in the field. He's another "toolsy" outfielder that teams will wait on. He could still emerge as the guy in left, but he starts the spring in a utility role. There are just too many holes with plate discipline and outfield deficiencies. His best role for the cubs might be trade bait.
Ryan Sweeney.......29 year old was a former high pick for the Sox. He's bounced around the American League before landing in Wrigley the past two years. Good hitter from the left side, with nearly a .280 career average. Not much pop or speed, and strictly projects as a lefty off the bench. If he's doing anything more than that, the cubs have a problem in left field. Even if he sticks in the spring, which is doubtful, he's on the bubble as soon as any of the Cub prospects get promoted.
Dexter Fowler........some eyebrows were raised when the Cubs made the move for Fowler. But he gives them a veteran presence, a switch hitting leadoff bat, and is signed for only this year. I can only assume this buys Alcantara or Almora time. Fowler is 28, and his career numbers show .270 at the plate with 10 homers and 20 bags. He's probably around that again this year, although his bases will probably drop as the Cubs play long ball with their free swingers. Even so, he's always been an outstanding base runner. His biggest strength offensively is his OBP, which usually pushes .400 at the top of the order. So he has some legit leadoff skills. My issue is on the defensive side, where his metrics for Houston last year were not good. Good athlete, but a weak arm, and his range was limited, which is surprising. Fowler gives the Cubs a nice option at the top of the order, and a better chance to compete in 2015. But his shelf life probably won't be long at nearly $10M per year.
Matt Szczur.......25 year old has probably passed his prospect days for the Cubs, but he remains an interesting player, and has a good chance to stick as the backup outfielder. A pure centerfielder, and a fantastic athlete, so he can easily slide to the corners. Good speed, instincts, aggressive. Played quarterback on a national championship college team at Villanova. He probably won't hit much, and his OBP isn't great, but he gets high marks throughout the organization for his make-up, so you know he will win all ties come roster time. He's managed to hit around .280 in the minors, and made it to Iowa last year before getting called up in September. And he can steal some bases. If he sticks in a utility roll, he projects to hit around .240, without much power, but he could get up to 20 steals with pinch running opportunities.
Jorge Soler........if he's anything at 22 like he was at 21, we're gold. His pro-rated numbers for a full season last year would have been .290/34/135. Did I mention he will soon be hitting in the middle of the order with Bryant, separated by Rizzo? You stay up at night thinking about that, and you smile. Realistic projections for his first full season would be along the lines of .260/25/80, or about as good as you're gonna get from any rookie, anywhere. He did have some minor league struggles along the way, but wound up hitting .340 there last year. 6-4, 215 pounds with tremendous bat speed, and an already good eye at the plate, with elite power to all fields. Defensively, he's athletic with a strong arm, but his speed has not transferred to the base paths. Like Rizzo, Baez, Castro and Bryant, Soler projects as an All-Star player in time. Like all young power hitters, Soler will need to learn the strike zone, and reduce his strikeouts, an area that could haunt all of the young Cub players. The Cubs might face some uncertainty going forward at some positions, and players may be moved around. Not so in right field. Add the fact that Soler is signed thru 2020 at just over $3M per year, and it's also obvious who teams will ask about when the Cubs go looking for pitching. The answer is simple: Just say no.
About the author: Bob Cyphers has 35 years of experience as a journalist in newspaper, radio and television. Sadly, he has even more experience as a die-hard, heartbroken, beaten down Cub fan. And although he promises that his beloved Cubs, as Ernie Banks predicted, will be "Supreme in 2015," deep down Bob understands that life, and the Cubbies, offers no guarantees.