2012 Season Forecast: Chicago Cubs

2011 Record:  71 – 91 (5th, NL Central)
Runs Scored:  654 (8th, NL)
Runs Allowed:  756 (14th, NL)

Only Colorado and Houston allowed more runs…

2011 in Review:

The Cubs started losing early, and pretty much were consistent about it throughout the season.  Starlin Castro kept hitting all year long, but the team was lacking in production from the outfield and the catcher spot.  Carlos Zambrano was extremely frustrated and threatened to retire – but considering his history of blow ups, the Cubs shut him down anyway.  The Cubs really had little truly decent pitching, helped by a defense that had little range and made a lot of errors.  When it was over, Chicago was under new ownership.  That group finally let Jim Hendry go – Hendry was the GM who was responsible for this mess – and replaced him with the Boston Red Sox mastermind, Theo Epstein.  At least the Cubs have THAT going for them.

 

Starting Pitching:

Matt Garza was acquired from Tampa and battled things to a draw.  He finished 10 – 10, his ERA looks good here, but it’s masked somewhat by the 17 unearned runs he allowed.  In terms of runs allowed per nine, he was barely league average.  Ryan Dempster‘s season was particularly troublesome.  His strikeout rate was pretty good, but he walked more than in the past and he gave up too many homers.  Zambrano, Randy Wells, Casey Coleman, Rodrigo Lopez, and Doug Davis were all at least 10 runs worse than the average pitcher given the number of innings pitched.  Here’s the breakdown:

Runs Saved /Pitcher
1.81    Matt Garza (31 starts)
-10.71  Rodrigo Lopez (16 starts)
-12.45  Carlos Zambrano (24 starts)
-13.24  Randy Wells (24 starts)
-16.82  Doug Davis (9 starts – ouch)
-17.17  Ryan Dempster (34 starts)
-22.88  Casey Coleman (17 starts)

Essentially, the starters gave up 90 runs more than an average pitcher would have done in the same amount of innings.

For 2012, Dempster and Garza are back.  Zambrano was traded to the Marlins for starter Chris Volstad, but that’s not an improvement – Volstad pitched worse than Zambrano last year.  Jeff Samardzija is being moved to the rotation – he was one of the few Cubs pitchers to pitch on the good side of average.  If he can match that for 180 innings instead of 90 innings, that would be a huge improvement over, say, Casey Coleman and Rodrigo Lopez.  If Wells can stay healthy and get back, that would help, too.  One can see a 40 run improvement at this spot.

 

Relief Pitchers:

Carlos Marmol has been a closer for a few years now, and he isn’t getting any better.  A closer with an ERA over 4 is a problem – and he’s so wild that he’s allowing nearly six walks every nine innings.  The set up squad was actually pretty good – Samardzija was nearly six runs better than the average pitcher; Sean Marshall was even better – the best pitcher on the staff (14 runs saved).  Kerry Wood was tolerable, but is running out of innings in his arm.  After that, though, you run through some guys who struggled – John Grabow and James Russell.

Looking forward, I’m scared here.  The best pitcher, Sean Marshall, is gone.  Samardzija is in the rotation.  The Cubs could be relying on Coleman to take on a long relief role, or pulling in Rafael Dolis or Chris Carpenter.  I’m worried that this unit could easily be 10 – 15 runs worse than 2011.

 

Catching:

As a unit, Geovany Soto and Koyie Hill were fair against the run and mobile.  On the other hand, they were mistake prone and if they are to get some responsibility for the pitching staff, the team was 20 games under .500 with a lousy overall ERA.

Soto can hit a little, but he’s been inconsistent with his batting average and power.  Soto finished by hitting .228 with 17 homers, which really isn’t good enough – especially in Wrigley Field.  Hill was worse – .194 with sub .300 slugging and on base percentages.

 

Infield:

I made a comment that the team defense wasn’t very good in 2011 – that doesn’t apply to the middle infielders here.  Shortstop Starlin Castro saved the team 18 runs – which breaks down to 24 runs because of his range, but he gives back nearly six runs because of his errors.  Darwin Barney was also mobile and slightly error prone, but the net result was another 14 runs saved.  The play on the corners, though, featured two older guys who no longer have the range to help out.  Carlos Pena was once a fine fielder – not anymore.  He cost the team 19 runs.  Aramis Ramirez was even worse – he cost the Cubs 36 runs.  Granted, the offense here isn’t half bad.  Barney has room to improve – he needs to be more selective at the plate and get his batting average up to the .290 range.  Castro had 207 hits and generated 108 runs of offense, but he makes a lot of outs.  Ramirez had a nice season – 109 runs created, and Pena added 85 more, despite hitting just .225 (he drew 101 walks and hit 28 homers).  That kind of production will be hard to replace.

The Cubs will try Bryan Lahair, the minor league home run champ, at first base.  His fielding isn’t sterling, but his bat can help.  Ian Stewart was acquired from Colorado and he’s going to hit better than the .156 he hit in 2011, but he’s NOT going to be the run producer that Ramirez was.  Castro may still have more growth in him, as will Barney, but this unit could easily be down 50 runs from last year.

 

Outfield:

The Cubs featured an outfield of Alfonso Soriano, who has below average range, Marlon Byrd, who is surprisingly mobile for an older guy – but still below average in terms of range, and, for three months, Kosuke Fukudome.  Fukodome has great range for a right fielder.  Tyler Colvin replaced him, but he fell off the map in terms of his offensive output.

Offensively, Soriano still has power – 26 homers – but he doesn’t run and he still is too much of a free swinger.  Byrd seems to have lost all of his power and he, too, stopped getting on base after getting hit in the face with a pitch in Boston last May.  Colvin hit .150 – ouch!  The Cubs never seemed satisfied with Fukudome, yet he was actually the most productive hitter in the outfield.

Colvin is gone – he’s in Colorado – but Soriano isn’t going anywhere soon, and Byrd needs to get out of center and move to right so that the young legs of Tony Campana can take over in center.  Reed Johnson (he’s still around?) played well – he needed to play more.  The problem is that the Cubs don’t have someone who can help immediately.

 

Prospects:

The AAA Iowa Cubs were devoid of young prospects who can help soon…  The aforementioned Bryan Lahair hit 38 – 109 – .331, but was 28 last year.  The best player to roll through here that was younger might be catcher Wellington Castillo , a 24-year-old who looks no better or worse than Geovany Soto, and Tony Campana, who was here for just 30 games and hit .342 – a burner with little or no power.  Casey Coleman was the best pitcher, but even he had holes – he doesn’t have a big strikeout pitch and he gave up 11 homers in 70 innings.

There may be help in AA, though – the Tennessee Smokies were a top flight minor league team.  Josh Vitters, a former #1 pick (2007) and Rebel Ridling – a great name – hit enough and with some power to suggest that they might get a shot by the end of 2012.  2008 #1 pick Ryan Flaherty hit pretty well, but he’s a shortstop and middle infielders are pretty set in Chicago.  He might get used in a deal soon – him or his fellow middle infielder D.J. LeMahieu…  The pitcher who had results was reliever Jeff Beliveau – who sounds like he should be a hockey player – 57 innings, 69 Ks and just 13 walks.  Kevin Rhoderick has a stunning arm but needs to refine his control.  Jeff Stevens had good numbers here, but he’s already turning 28 soon and has had a cup of coffee…

A+ Daytona finished second in the Florida State League and first baseman Justin Bour led the team in homers and RBIs – hitting 23 homers in the FSL is legit power.  Undrafted Junior Lake continued to play well – is turning 22 and hit over .300 with some power and great speed.  One thing you notice when looking over the pitching staff is a lack of high draft picks – the best pitcher was undrafted Jeff Antiqua, who logged 83.1 innings, fanned 81, and walked just 18.

If there is help on the way, it might be catcher Richard Jones, who hit 24 homers and batted .309 for low A Peoria.  It doesn’t look like it will be #1 pick Hayden Simpson, who fell off to 1 – 6 – 5.32.  The best arm might belong to 11th round pick Eric Jokisch, who went 9 – 3 with a good K/W ratio in 118.2 innings.

 

2012 Forecast:

The Cubs will probably allow 30 fewer runs this year – it can’t really get worse than 2011 – but the offense looks worse.  If the team falls back another 50 runs, which is entirely possible, you’re looking at a 66 – 96 team.  If Stewart doesn’t come back and Soriano falls off, and LeHair doesn’t hit in the majors, the Cubs are looking at 100 losses.  Theo Epstein has a lot of work to do.

Advertisements

Sox Win ‘The Humber Game’, and Plenty of Pitchers Head to the DL

There have only been 21 perfect games in the history of Major League Baseball, but the Chicago White Sox have three of them.  Yesterday afternoon, Philip Humber defied his humble resume and blanked the Seattle Mariners, 4 – 0, without allowing a single baserunner.

That last out was something – on a 3 – 2 pitch to Brendan Ryan, Humber threw a slider that Ryan half-swung at.  Ryan felt he checked his swing – but the home plate umpire, Brian Runge, called it a swing immediately.  However – the pitch got away from catcher A.J. Pierzinski, who had to run back toward the backstop to retrieve the ball and fire it to first for the last out.  Ryan, had he chosen to run hard to first, might have beaten the throw, but halfway down the first base line, he chose to argue with the umpire over the swinging strike call.  [ESPN]

When Dallas Braden threw his perfect game, I noted that his resume was rather short prior to pitching his gem.  For Humber, this was his 30th career start, winning his twelfth decision.  He had had five cups of coffee since first racing through the Mets chain in 2006, and only last year had he stayed with a team longer than a few weeks.  Already 29, Humber isn’t a bad pitcher – his career numbers are actually not too bad, he just hasn’t ever stuck.  One assumes he’ll hang around as long as he stays healthy now, though…

The last White Sox perfect game came in 2009 when Mark Buehrle was rescued by a Dewayne Wise miraculous catch in the ninth inning.  The first one, thrown in 1922 by Charles Robertson in his fifth major league outing, I wrote about here.

Well – I checked and there isn’t a “FireBobbyValentine.com” or “FireBobbyV.com” site yet.

It won’t be long, though.  The Sox got off to a 9 – 0 lead against the Yankees yesterday, but the bullpen gave up 15 runs in the last three innings, including back to back seven-spots in the seventh and eighth innings, to blow the game and lose, 15 – 9.

To help remedy the problem of having a lack of productive outfielders, the Red Sox acquired Cubs centerfielder Marlon Byrd, a mid-30s hustling outfielder with limited range and a failing bat, for former reliever prospect Michael Bowden.  The Red Sox REALLY need to remedy the pitching staff, considering the starters are carrying a 6+ ERA since September 1st, and they lost their closer in Spring Training.  [SI/CNN]

Hurry Back!!!

The Phillies placed Cliff Lee on the 15-Day DL with an oblique strain suffered in the 10th inning of his outing in San Francisco.  The Phillies are using caution, hoping the strain doesn’t become a tear.  Joe Savery, already up and down once this season, returns to take Lee’s spot on the roster.  Kyle Kendrick will likely take Lee’s spot in the rotation.  [ESPN]

Hurry up and acquire Francisco Cordero for your fantasy team!  The Toronto Blue Jays placed closer Sergio Santos on the 15-Day DL with inflammation in his throwing shoulder.  Cordero will get the save opportunities, but lefty Evan Crawford will get the roster spot for the time being.  Crawford has had improving strikeout rates in the minors, but occasionally is a bit wild.  Until he gets that under control, he won’t be used in high leverage situations. [ESPN]

The Yankees, frequently snake bit when acquiring pitchers, are going to start to wonder if that Michael Pineda for Jesus Montero trade was a good idea.  After throwing 15 pitches in a rehab start, Pineda was shut down with soreness in his shoulder and will be given an MRI.  Joe Girardi’s comment? “Not good.”

Cubs starter Ryan Dempster will go on the 15-Day DL with a strained right quadriceps muscle.  Coming back to Chicago will be Randy Wells, who had struggled in his three AAA starts.  The Cubs are already on pace for about 100 losses, they don’t need to lose Dempster for any amount of time.

The Diamondbacks placed starter Daniel Hudson on the 15-Day DL with a right shoulder impingement.  Jonathan Albaledejo will get some time on the roster in his absence.

Also, Royals pitcher Greg Holland heads to the DL wiht a stress reaction in his left rib.  That doesn’t sound fun…  Returning from AAA Omaha is Jeremy Jeffress, a reliever with a reputation for throwing smoke and smoking pot.

Welcome Back!!!

A.J. Burnett returned from his eye injury to pitch the Pirates to a victory yesterday.

Transaction Wire:

The Orioles traded Josh Bell to Arizona for future considerations.

The Tigers recalled pitcher Thad Weber from AAA Toledo and sent down struggling pitcher Daniel Schlereth for a little extra work.

Oakland recalled lefty pitcher Pedro Figueroa from AAA Sacramento, and dispatched Graham Godfrey to AAA.

Happy Birthday!!!

Those celebrating with cake, cards, and remembrances include:

(1901) Taylor Douthit
(1918) Mickey Vernon – fine first baseman of the 1940s and 1950s.
(1923) Preston Gomez – decent player, managed the Padres and Cubs some time back.
(1955) David Clyde – high school to the majors, and then struggled with life – not just baseball.
(1956) Moose Haas
(1959) Terry (Tito) Francona
(1961) Jimmy Key
(1966) Mickey Morandini
(1988) Dee Gordon

Of Appendectomies and Aces: Dunn, Jimenez Out

Adam Dunn became the second slugger to go under the knife to remove an appendix – Dunn’s was an emergency operation on Tuesday night.  He told manager Ozzie Guillen he’d be ready to play on Thursday, but realistically he (like Matt Holliday) will be out a week to ten days.  Both players are hoping to avoid DL stints.

The Colorado Rockies placed Ubaldo Jimenez on the DL, as feared, because of a cuticle tear on the inside of his thumb.  Jimenez, because of his long fingers, actually tucks the thumb under the ball, so as he throws it, it rolls off the top of his thumb and causes the tear.  This isn’t the first time he’s had it, but in this case he adjusted his arm action to avoid the pain, losing six miles per hour on the fast ball and leaving him with a slightly sore forearm. [ESPN/Denver Post]

In his place, the Rockies will start Greg Reynolds, a 25-year-old who was the second overall pick of the 2006 draft and a Stanford grad.  The 6′ 8″ Reynolds was rushed to the majors in 2008 – as George Frazier said in a 2008 broadcast, “out of necessity” – where he was hit around some.  In 2009, he missed most of the season dealing with elbow and shoulder injuries, but came back some in Tulsa last year and had a good spring this year.  He throws a low 90s fastball that, when last in the majors, ran up and in on right handers, a change up, a curveball, and a sinker that gets him ground balls.  Reynolds is NOT a big strikeout guy, but if he’s going to make it, he has to have a couple of good starts here.

Other Injury News…

The Cubs placed both Andrew Cashner and Randy Wells on the DL.  Cashner left Tuesday’s start with a strain in the back of his rotator cuff, while Wells felt a strain in his forearm.  Both will be shut down for two weeks before beginning rehab.  [Fox Sports]

Brian Wilson returns to the Giants, his strained oblique feeling better, while reliever Santiago Casilla heads to the DL with inflammation in his elbow.  [MLB]

Oakland reliever Michael Wuertz says his hamstring huertz, so he’s headed to the DL…

More Streaking…

Texas moved to 6 – 0, and the Reds won again, their fifth straight to open the season.  Meanwhile, Boston, Tampa, and Houston all lost again.  According to Sports Illustrated, you can pretty much write those teams off.  Cliff Corcoran writes that only two teams have ever started 0 – 5 and made the playoffs.  [SI]

40 Years Ago in The Sporting News

The Cubs were giving shots to a pair of brothers who were hoping to make it after long stints in the minors, Danny and Hal Breeden.  Neither worked out…

Happy Birthday!!!

Those celebrating with cake, cards, or remembrances include…

John McGraw (1874)
Jake Daubert (1884)
Bobby Doerr (1918)
Brett Tomko (1973)
Adrian Beltre (1979)

2010 Season Forecast: Chicago Cubs

Last Five Seasons:

2009: 83 – 78 (2nd – NL East)
2008: 97 – 74
2007: 85 – 77
2006: 66 – 96
2005: 79 – 83

Runs Scored: 707 (9th – NL)
Runs Allowed: 672 (5th – NL)

For what it’s worth, the Cubs and their opponents scored 732 runs in Wrigley Field and just 647 on the road last year…

Season Recap:

Picked by a ton of people to win the NL Central, the Cubs hung around the race for four months before throwing in the towel down the stretch.

Every time the Cubs would get rolling, they found a losing streak.  Two weeks in, Chicago rolled out to an 8 – 4 record, only to lose four in a row.  Recovering, they won 8 of 12 only to lose a couple more.  Into May, the Cubbies took off – rattling five in a row to get to 21 – 14.  Thinking that this win streak might put them out in front for good, Chicago lost EIGHT straight…

Hanging around .500 for the next several weeks, the Cubs entered the All-Star break at 43 – 42.  Sensing a need to get going, the Cubs rolled out to 57 – 48 and actually sneaked into the top spot for a day in late July.  That’s when the bullpen suddenly lost it.  The Marlins came back to beat former closer Kevin Gregg and the Cubs hit a tailspin that knocked them out of the NL Central race just as St. Louis was adding Holliday, DeRosa, and Lopez for the stretch run.  The Cubs fell back to a game over .500, made a small fuss for the wild card race, and then disappeared.

Injuries hurt the Cubs as much as many other teams – losing Aramis Ramirez, Milton Bradley (injuries to his body as well as his attitude), Ted Lilly and Alfonso Soriano – but poor performances were equally to blame.  Milton Bradley signed a three-year, $30 million deal and proceeded to hit .257 with middling power.  Soriano’s season was worse – knee injuries and age contributing to a horrific .241 batting average.  And Geovany Soto, such a huge part of the 2008 NL Central Champs, fell off to .218, with just 11 homers.  Throw in the decline of a portly Carlos Zambrano, who failed to win ten games and missed at least six starts, and you can see why the Cubs fell back 13.5 games from 2008.

2010 Goals:

Lessee…  The Cubs need an attitude adjustment.  Bringing Milton Bradley was a BAD idea – no matter how good his upside might have been, there’s no excuse for that deal.  Just as importantly, the big horses need to find the old mojo and get healthy.  Soto and Zambrano need to return to form and it would be nice to get 140 healthy games out of Ramirez and Soriano – both of whom are running out of youth.  Finding a dependable closer would help, too.

Pitchers:

On paper, the Cubs have a fantastic rotation.  Carlos Zambrano should be an innings eater, and if his off-season fitness plan works out (no pun intended), he could return to form.  He pitched okay in the 160 innings he logged in 2009, but he needs to pitch 220 or more.  Ted Lilly will be back, but might miss a few starts early on as he recovers from minor surgery to clean up his elbow.  Ryan Dempster returns, as well as last year’s top newcomer, Randy Wells.  The fifth starter is former Pirate star (and Jayhawk alum) Tom Gorzelanny – who a couple of years ago was the ace of the Pirates staff.  Last year, the Cubs front five (the top four plus Rich Harden) were about 68 runs better than average and threw  852 innings.  That’s going to be hard to BEAT, but is something that the Cubs should be able to hold steady for 2010.

The bullpen wasn’t horrible – as a group about 16 runs better than average – but it lacked a big time stopper.  Kevin Gregg saved 23 games, but was really only decent for three months and scary the rest of the way.  He’s gone…  Carlos Marmol assumed the closer role – nearly impossible to hit stuff but walks a batter an inning which makes him Mitch Williams with a better chance to field grounders.  Angel Guzman and John Grabow return to set the table, and Jeff Samardzija, Justin Berg, Sean Marshall will get long relief or spot starts.  Samardzija is likely the one guy who could surprise as a fifth starter, but I’ll be honest.  I don’t see him as anything special.  Still – he throws hard and has as good a chance as anyone to have a good year facing 200 batters…  The Cubs added Carlos Silva in a trade with Seattle – ridding themselves of one headache (Milton Bradley) while acquiring organizational depth in terms of a guy to toss BP.

So, as a staff, the pitching – already good – will remain good in 2010.

Catchers:

Geovany Soto returns, with his backup Koyie Hill intact.  As a unit, they aren’t horrible – but if there is a room for improvement, it’s here.  If Soto splits the difference between his awesome 2008 numbers and his horrific 2009 numbers, the Cubs could get 20 more runs on the scoreboard.

Infield:

Derrek Lee had a quietly amazing year with the stick – 35 – 111 – .306, generating about 115 runs of offense.  On top of that, Lee also had 36 doubles…  The problems with his neck and back, however, affected his defensive range.  Usually Lee is among the top two or three defenders at his position, but in 2009 he was below average in terms of range.  Going forward, I see a 20 run slip in his offense, but he could at least return to league average defense if his back feels better.  In terms of net production, it’s a wash…

At second base, Jeff Baker arrived from Colorado and had a career half season, batting over .300 and fielding everything in site.  That made up for the poor performance of Mike Fontenot, who appears to still have the job.  I don’t think Baker can do this over 500 at bats, and neither do the Cubs who have Fontenot penciled in as the regular.  Fontenot was below average in both offense and defense – and I don’t see this improving in 2010.  If anything whatever bounce back Fontenot has will be covered by the slide in Jeff Baker’s performance.

At short, Ryan Theriot returns – a decent enough glove man and someone who batted a lot near the top of the order, though – to be fair – he’s really a GREAT number eight hitter.  Andres Blanco returns – a capable infielder.

Finally, you have Aramis Ramirez – as good a hitter as you can find if he’s playing 150 games at third base.  Last year, playing just 82 games, he was as good as expected.  Here’s what makes me nervous – Ramirez turns 32 in June – so he might get back to 140 games, but it could be at a lesser scale.  Chad Tracy is in camp to challenge Bobby Scales for a backup role – else Jeff Baker will be the other option here.  Assuming Ramirez takes up the innings given to others last year, even if Ramirez slips in production by 20 runs, the team will still be better offensively by 10 runs at this position.

As a unit, I see this team declining in offense by ten runs and declining by ten runs defensively.

Outfield:

This is where the Cubs had the biggest failures.  Alfonso Soriano led the group in homers with 20.  Kosuke Fukudome was out of position in center but sensational in right – so to make things better, he needs to stay in right.  But to bring in Marlon Byrd?

Last year, Sam Fuld got a small chance and played well defensively while getting on base at a .400 clip in just 100 at bats or so.  Fuld is NOT going to do that in a full season, but it’s taken the Cubs a long time to get Fuld to the majors after drafting him in the fifth round out of Stanford six years ago.  He’s quick, will bat about .275 to .290, and draw enough walks to be a scary leadoff hitter in front of Lee and Ramirez.  Instead, the Cubs chose to spend money on Marlon Byrd.  Byrd is about four years older, coming off a career year in Texas, and is a liability in centerfield.

If his knees are steady, Soriano could be a pleasant surprise – especially if he agrees to hit sixth and drive in runs rather than pretend to be a leadoff hitter who gets in the way of rallies.  Healthy, he hits .270 with 30 homers.  Another off season, and the Cubs will have an expensive problem for three more years.

Fukudome gets on base and surprises with power.  He’s a good #2 hitter, and his current backup, Xavier Nady – who signed an incentive laden deal on the heels of his multiple shoulder surgeries – would also make for a productive #2 hitter.

Any gains in Soriano’s health and Fukudome’s moving to right full time will be negated by the addition of Marlon Byrd.  This group will likely improve by 20 runs offensively but decline by 20 runs defensively.

Bench:

Kevin Millar will be battling for a pinch hitting role, joining Nady, Baker, Fuld, and Hill in providing one of the deeper and more productive supporting casts in baseball.

Prospects:

If the Cubs have any for 2010, there aren’t many on the 40 man roster – that’s for sure.  This is a veteran club.  On the whole, the prospects are mostly a few years away and only a couple really stand out…

Nobody stood out as a hitter in AAA Iowa (other than Blanco and Fuld), the top pitchers weren’t impressive, though reliever John Gaub had 31.1 solid innings, striking out 40, but walking 16.  Gaub had similar stats (28.2 innings, 40 Ks, 17 walks) in AA.  He’ll get a shot in 2010 – I just don’t know how many innings he’ll get.  Expect Gaub to start in Iowa, though.

Casey Coleman was 14 – 6 with a 3.68 ERA for the AA Tennessee Smokies, but struck out just 84 in 149 innings, so he’s not a long term option.  He is, however, just 21, so if he can find a strikeout pitch, he’ll be on the roster by the end of 2011.  Starlin Castro might be the next big thing, though.  A Dominican shortstop, Castro will turn 20 in spring training, but because the Cubs have options he’ll likely start the year in AA or AAA.  He wasn’t overmatched in 31 AA games last season and had hit .300 or better in rookie ball and in Daytona.  Castro would be my pick as the top prospect in the system.

Daytona had more than just Starlin Castro.  Brandon Guyer hit .347 in half a season in the Florida State League, earning a trip to Tennessee, but he struggled in AA – if he’s going to make it, he has to get it in gear quickly.  Tony Campana is a burner – 55 steals – but it would be nice if he got his OBP a bit higher.  Craig Muschko appeared to turn the corner at Daytona – 19 walks in 103 innings and an improving K rate.  And, Jay Jackson could be the other top prospect – cruising through Daytona with 46 Ks and just 4 walks, moving up to Tennessee where he went 5 – 5 with a decent K rate, and even getting a start at Iowa and winning his only appearance.  A Furman alum, Jackson will make the Cubs in 2010 if for no other reason than to get a cup of coffee in September.  I like him.

2008 #1 draft pick Andrew Cashner made it to Daytona and didn’t disappoint.  Look for him in AA Tennessee, maybe even Iowa for parts of 2010.  Ryan Flaherty, the 1A pick in 2008, will see if he can’t handle more after a 20 homer season at Peoria.  A shortstop with power would look good in Wrigley – but Flaherty is a few years away.  Others in Peoria that may stand out in 2010 will be 2008 draft picks Aaron Shafer and Christopher Carpenter, but the guy with the most stuff might be 2009 Chief Chris Archer, who blew away 119 batters in 109 innings and only allowed 78 hits – with NO homers allowed.

Josh Vitters, the first round pick in 2007, struggled at Daytona after a solid half season in Peoria.  He’ll get a second chance at A+ ball this year – but he’s just 20 and has time to get rolling.  Tyler Colvin, once a first round pick out of Clemson in 2006, got to the majors after shuffling out of the prospect picture.  At 25, he’s running out of time – and as an outfielder, the Cubs seem to like older players…

I should note that the other minor league prospect moving up through the ranks is manager Ryne Sandberg.  Perhaps you’ve heard of him.  After a year in Peoria, he moved up to Tennessee and will start 2010 as the Iowa manager.  If the Cubs get off to a slow start, he’s being groomed to replace Lou Piniella.

Outlook:

The Cubs certainly have the star power to compete, but the cracks that showed up in 2010 weren’t necessarily filled by young new help.  Instead, the Cubs have essentially the same team with one difference – Marlon Byrd instead of Milton Bradley.

I see the Cubs scoring a few more runs than last year – as many as 740, but allowing a few more, too – 700.  That works out to 85 or 86 wins (85.5, but if you carry out another decimal point, you’d round down).  With an improving Milwaukee and a still very good St. Louis, that’s probably good for third place – and at some point, the end of Lou Piniella’s tenure in Chicago.  With a slow start, he could be gone as early as June 1.

However, the guy responsible for Piniella and the rest of the roster is General Manager Jim Hendry.  With a new ownership group in town, when Lou leaves he’ll have someone to hold open the door – Hendry will likely be shown that same door.

Coghlan, Bailey Earn Rookie of Year Honors… Other News…

Nice to be back after a long weekend camping near Lake Okeechobee with my son – a boys weekend and a good time.  In retrospect, we probably should have stayed longer and fished more on Sunday morning, so next time that will be the plan…

Coghlan wins NL MVP…

Beating out a good crowd, including Andrew McCutchen and J.A. Happ, Florida Marlins outfielder Chris Coghlan won the NL Rookie of the Year Award.  He’s the third Fish to win, following Dontrelle Willis and Hanley Ramirez.  Keith Law was interviewed on ESPN Radio last night and said that the Marlins are going to have ROY candidates every year because they need to integrate young players onto the roster more regularly than other teams – a fair assessment.  At the same time, Coghlan deserved it.

I don’t know if you have ever seen him play, but he’s got to be the quietest hitter you’ll ever see.  There is little wasted motion.  He gets in his set position and hardly moves until he whips his bat around to tattoo a pitch.  He strikes me as a Todd Walker, Chuck Knobloch type, someone who can be valuable at the top of the order for a few years and then maybe last forever as a utility player/pinch hitter type.  Having seen him play, though, (and admittedly as a Marlins fan) I’d love for him to take another step forward.  To do that, he’d have to add a little power and keep his speed.  I don’t know that it’s possible, but even if he stays the way he is right now (and Coghlan finished the season with about 80 hits in the last two months alone – singles and doubles all over the place and two hits nearly every night), he’ll be a good one for a long time.

In the NL, there were several really good candidates.  Andrew McCutchen could be a Curtis Granderson type – but as a rookie, he wasn’t any more impressive than Coughlin.  Tommy Hanson was a very good pitcher for Atlanta, as was Happ for Philadelphia, and Randy Wells for Chicago.  Of the three, I think Hanson has the best chance for long-term success, but I’d be happy with Wells in my rotation for the next ten years, too.  It’ll be fun to see where they wind up in 2012.

Andrew Bailey Takes AL Rookie Hardware…

In the AL, a closer won the Rookie of the Year award, Oakland’s Andrew Bailey.  Bailey was impressive – 26 saves in 30 chances, a solid ERA and opposing batting average.  Certainly, Bailey had the credentials for the award.  Other rookies were equally solid – Brett Anderson (Oakland starter), Rick Porcello – who could be a good pitcher for a long, long time, and (my choice), Elvis Andrus.  Andrus was an amazing fielder and had as much to do with the success of his team as anyone.  If he continues to improve as a hitter, Andrus will be an all-star for a long time.  Andrus got robbed twice this year – once by Derek Jeter for a Gold Glove and now this…

Hot Stove News…

Ramon Hernandez will be back with the Reds, signing a one year, $3 million deal with an option for 2011 tied to games played (and collecting a $1 million buy out).  The Reds had declined his $8 million option…  [ESPN]

Ben Sheets says he will be ready for spring training.  Any takers?  According to ESPN, there will be interest, for sure, even though he’s had five arm related DL trips and a case of vertigo…   (I’d love to find out, personally – can the Marlins sign him to a one year, incentive laden deal???)  [ESPN]

Speaking of Milwaukee, the Brewers declined Braden Looper’s option worth $6.5 million (not a bad price for a league average – at best – pitcher), and paid Looper $1 million in a buy out.  Looper will join the list of more than 150 free agents…  [FoxSports]

Jack Wilson signed a two-year, $10 million deal to stay in Seattle – which the pitchers will appreciate…  [ESPN]

FoxSports says that free agent Pedro Martinez had so much fun in Philadelphia, and feels so good, that he wants to play all of 2010.  Philadelphia, LA, and Chicago are expected to be suitors…  [FoxSports]

Another Phillie chose to become a free agent…  Eric Bruntlett declined a minor league contract offer from Philadelphia.  [SI]

Colorado declined a $5 million option on Rafael Betancourt, but are still trying to work something out with the setup man.  [FoxSports]

Think about it…

FoxSports Bob Klapisch talks about the Yankees and contract options regarding Derek Jeter.  I think it’s a good read…

One of my favorite writers, SI’s Joe Posnanski, picks four players who deserve Hall of Fame plaques.  Tell me if you agree with him…

Happy Birthday! Tom Seaver hits 65.  I can’t believe he’s that old – I can still see him zinging pitches past the Cubs hitters of the 1970s.  (Except that one that Burt Hooten hit off him for a Grand Slam…)

Others celebrating with cake, cards, or rememberances include:  George Stallings  (1867) – a fantastic manager who may become my next biography topic, “The Big Bear” Mike Garcia (1923), Jim Brewer (1937), Dave Frost (1952), Mitch Williams (1964), Jeff Nelson (1966), Eli Marrero (1973), Ryan Braun (1983), and Nick Markakis (1983).

Afterthoughts…

Wally Backman, whose post playing career has been rather problematic, has a job managing Brooklyn – a minor league outpost for the Mets – in 2010.  [ESPN]

Mitre is Number 5 for Yankees; More Cubs Taking Time Off to Injury

With Chien-Ming Wang on the DL, the Yankees will audition Sergio Mitre in the number five spot of the rotation.  Manager Joe Girardi knows Mitre well – Mitre pitched for him in Florida back in 2006.  Mitre had a good May and June that year, but fell off after that.  He’s been injured – and then missed 50 games this year after testing positive for androstenedione.  The 28 year old pitched well in three minor league stops, but has never had any extended period of success in the majors.  At this point, one wonders why the Yankees insist on not using Phil Hughes – though Hughes has been successful in the eighth innings as Mariano Rivera’s caddy.  [FoxSports]

Detroit reliever Joel Zumaya returns to the DL with an injured shoulder, suffered in last night’s loss to the Yankees.  [SI]  Ryan Perry gets the nod from AAA Toledo.

Milwaukee slugger Ryan Braun is day to day with a wrist and thumb injury.  He left last night’s game saying he couldn’t grip the bat.  [MLB]

Cub starter Ted Lilly will miss today’s start against Washington due to a sore knee.  Randy Wells moves up a day, and Kevin Hart will pitch tomorrow.  [SI]

Lilly’s teammate, the struggling Alfonso Soriano, will miss a few days (at least) with a dislocated pinky.  He says he hurt it diving into first base on a pickoff play.  [SI]

Is Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez done?  Texas released him from his minor league contract. [FoxSports

The injury riddled career of Reds reliever Mike Lincoln hit another bump…  Lincoln will have surgery to replace a disc in his neck.  [FoxSports]