MLB Midseason Report: Chicago Cubs
What a difference a year makes
On the surface the 2014 Chicago Cubs season does not appear to be much different than last year’s version as the MLB second half is set to get underway. In fact this season’s version of the Lovable Losers entered the All-Star break with a worse record–with three more losses–than they did at this point in 2013.
But in year three of Theo Epstein’s complete overhaul of the organization there is a different feeling about the direction of the ball club.
There finally is a sense of confidence that the rebuild is almost complete and that the Cubs are closing in on baseball relevance again. There is a feeling that the light at the end of the tunnel is finally becoming visible. Theo Epstein, who is very reserved with his comments, appears to have finally put a timetable on the end when discussing the July 4th blockbuster trade involving pitchers Jeff Samardjiza and Jason Hammel. When discussing the franchise-changing trade with the Oakland Athletics, he said that he hoped that this year would be the last that they are sellers at the trade deadline.
The reasons for his newly found optimism are a plenty and Cubs fans are starting to take notice.
The first one is that after years of fighting with the roof top owners and persuading the city of Chicago, it appears that the club is finally going to be able to move forward with renovations of the historic Wrigley Field. Now I understand the new revamped building itself will not result in any more wins for the team, but the increase in revenues from the supped up stadium and surrounding area will have a direct impact on future free agents acquisitions. Maybe the extra cash will be able to land the likes of Max Scherzer, Jon Lester or David Price in Cubbie Blue this upcoming off-season.
Another reason for the excitement surrounding the Cubs has to be the work of pitching coach Chris Bosio. While he does not get the credit that he deserves, he has had a huge impact on the Cubs recent turn around. He has turned Paul Maholm, Scott Feldman and most recently Jason Hammel from free agent after-thoughts into legit poker chips at the ultimate card game called the MLB trade deadline. Those pieces have landed the Cubs many top prospects including Arodys Vizcaino, Jake Arrieta, Pedro Strop, Addison Russell and Billy McKinney.
Speaking of Jake Arrieta, Chris Bosio also deserves credit for turning him into the dominant pitcher that he has been this season and possibly a future ace down the road. Arrieta has always had the skill set, but Bosio has been able to help him harness those skills into results on the field. Thanks to Bosio, Arrieta has a 1.95 ERA in 13 games for the Cubs this year after sporting a 4.70 ERA in his career.
The revival of Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro has the Cubs confident in their hire of Rick Renteria as manger. The current young faces of the franchise faced an up-hill challenge as they entered this season coming off their career worst seasons in 2013. Castro’s 2013 season saw him have a career high in strikeouts and a career low in hits. Rizzo was much of the same, as he hit an awful .233 and had 127 strikeouts. These down years in 2013 had many fans questioning if the duo was going to be a part of the ball club’s future. The two cornerstones have rebounded just fine this season as they just represented the Cubs and the National League in the All-Star Game and appear set to lead the franchise moving forward.
Probably the biggest reason for Cubs excitement chatter this season is the franchise’s stacked farm system. When Theo and company took over the Cubs, the cupboard was empty, bare really. In two-and-a-half short years, the Cubs have gone from one of the worst farm systems to one of, if not the top, the best farm systems in all of baseball. Regardless of whose rankings you look at, Chicago has three of the top 10 prospects in the all of the game and four or five of the top 50. But most importantly, it appears that the system is in position to provide what Theo calls waves of talent. They are close to being able to infuse young, cost-controlled impact talent each year for years to come.
The Cubs future core of players was once referred to as the Core Four, then the Future Five and now the Significant Seven. It does not matter what you call them, what matters is these prospects are coming to Wrigley soon and causing great excitement for the Cubs and their fans.
This infusion of talent started at the beginning of the season in the big league bullpen and continues today. In the pen the Cubs started to bring up their young power arms with the likes of Neil Ramirez and Justin Grimm.
More recently the Cubs have brought up super-prospect Arismendy Alcantara, who in five games for the Cubs is hitting .391 with six runs, three doubles, a triple, home run and five RBIs and has altered those games on the base paths with his tremendous speed. The Cubs have also gotten innings on the mound out of prospects Dallas Beeler and Kyle Hendricks.
And there is more young talent on the way. Chicago’s top three prospects, three of the top in all of baseball, still need to make their major league debut. Two of these stud prospects should be up with the big league club by May 1st of next season. Power hitting Kris Bryant and his 33 minor league homers and Javy Baez, who both just represented the Cubs in the Futures Game where Baez showed off his ridiculous bat speed as he crushed an opposite field home run, are causing excitement with every swing they take in the minors.
Not far behind Bryant and Baez, the Cubs should have Addison Russell, the last of the big three, ready to be called up before the 2015 season ends. The key piece in the Jeff Samardzija trade has been compared to MLB Hall of Famer Barry Larkin but with more power.
And don’t forget about Jorge Soler, Albert Almora, Kyle Schwarber, Pierce Johnson and C.J. Edwards. The depth of the organization’s minor leagues is exhaustive and will give the front office many options moving forward, giving us fans many reasons to be excited about the future.
Although they are doomed for another last place finish, and more importantly a top five draft pick this season, the Cubs arrow, particularly their future, is pointing way up as they have plenty of reasons to believe that soon their fans will no longer have to wait until next year.