Getting ready for game 2 after yesterdays sweet victory in Houston, Big Z got the opening day monkey off his back and the Cubs are off and running. I was asked to give my predictions for the season and really it’s such a crap shoot, most of us know what teams have talent and what teams may struggle. So many variables that like my NCAA basketball pool some picks would be right and some wrong so I’ll leave the predictions to the experts in Vegas and instead focus on the Cubs.
I decided it would be more prudent to talk about the Cubs roster as we go into the 2009 season and mention how some of them did this spring. Spring training numbers can be tossed out the window but in some cases it just gives you an idea of how certain players fared, nothing more. These are my short blurbs about each player after having watched them in person for the last month and a half, probably nothing earth shattering but maybe some useful info.
This follows in alphabetical order starting with the pitchers.
Neal Cotts – The only lefty in the Cubs pen unless Sean Marshall is used in that capacity. Had a so-so spring but is a veteran who came to camp in good physical condition. Cotts will be counted on to get key outs in tough situations. He can be a bit inconsistent and the Cubs hope he’s more like the 2005 1.94 ERA Neal Cotts than the 2006 5.17 version.
Ryan Dempster – Was very solid this spring, pitching the most innings of any Cubs pitcher, and like last spring came to camp in great shape. Nobody works harder than Dempster. He’s a big key to the Cubs fortunes this season and looks ready for another strong year.
Kevin Gregg – Won the closing competition over Carlos Marmol who was MIA for alot of camp with the WBC. Gregg was lights out this spring not surrendering a single run and is completely healthy from his bad knee that hampered him last year. Gregg is another big strong Cubs pitcher who can hit the mid to upper 90’s and should prove an effective closer.
Angel Guzman – Came into spring training in the best shape of his career, added a few pounds in muscle. Like Cotts he was up and down this spring, the Cubs have invested a lot of time and effort into Guzman and it’s time for him to perform. He has teased with his live arm but struggled with injuries, hopefully this is the year he meets expectations.
Rich Harden – Started out behind the rest of the pitchers as the Cubs wanted to be extra careful with his injury background. Once Harden got going he had a few tough outings including getting roughed up by the Yankees last weekend. He has been an ace when healthy and as the 4th starter, Lou will make an extra effort to not overwork him during the season.
Aaron Heilman – Came over in a trade and was one of the most effective Cubs pitchers this spring, with a 1.89 ERA. Heilman will be counted on for long relief situations and his effectiveness will go a long way in determining how the Cubs bullpen fares this season.
Ted Lilly – Was MIA for quite a while this spring pitching for Team USA in the WBC. Lilly didn’t have a great spring for Team USA or the Cubs but is a veteran lefty who can be counted on to eat innings. I think the Cubs would be very happy if Theodore pitches like he has the past two seasons.
Carlos Marmol – Was going to pitch for the WBC, then wasn’t, then did. Missing a portion of Cubs camp didn’t help him in the closer competition. He is big key to the Cubs success and I think Lou really likes him in the set-up spot. When he’s on, he’s nearly un-hittable.
Sean Marshall – Won the 5th starter spot with a very solid spring, pitched the second most innings 26.2 going 3-1. The lanky lefty has worked hard developing his pitches and consistency, he will most likely also be used in long relief out of the pen when needed.
David Patton – The Rule 5 guy and probably the biggest surprise of the spring. He impressed Lou with his veteran like presence and mind set even though he’s never pitched above Single – A ball. It will be interesting to see how and when Lou uses the rookie this season and if the kid can make an impact.
Luis Vizcaino – If not for the money the Cubs owe him he may not have even made the roster. Vizciano had a 6.10 ERA in 10.1 innings this spring and also walked 6 batters. He’s had some decent years in his 10 MLB season’s but the Cubs are his 7th team during that time, so I think that says something.
Carlos Zambarno – The ace of the Cubs staff was pretty much lights out against opponents this spring. He’s racked up 97 MLB wins before turning 28 years old, however some feel that if he directs his emotions into more focus on the mound the best may be yet to come. Z made no predictions this spring and the maturation process may result in his first 20 win season.
Koyie Hill – What a great story for him to make the ball club after the table saw accident that severed 3 fingers and his thumb last year…In case you didn’t know they were surgically reattached. Winning the back-up catchers job over veteran Paul Bako was probably a bit of a long shot in mid-February but Hill’s knowledge of the pitching staff, solid defense and .385 BA, .558 SLG, and .458 OBP this spring convinced management.
Geovany Soto – Last year’s ROY was gone with team Puerto Rico in the WBC much of this spring but started to come on as the Cactus League closed. Soto doesn’t want to rest on last year’s achievements and is solidly focused on improving his play this year. The experience of having a full year under his belt with the Cubs pitching staff can only help the chemistry and rapport.
Mike Fontenot – A good spring helped cement Fontenot as the everyday second baseman. If he stays healthy his At-Bats will definitely go up from his 243 last year, even though Aaron Miles may platoon some in L/R situations. Fontenot could be ready for a break out year at the plate with the extra playing time and perhaps give the Cubs some unexpected power from the second base position.
Micah Hoffpauir – His play this spring gave Lou Piniella almost no choice in picking the power hitting 1B/OF for the final roster. Hoffpauir led the Cubs this spring in HR’s (6 – tied with Soriano), doubles, and drove in 9 more runs than his closest teammate. Hoff is not a good defensive outfielder but played surprisingly well at 1B, although his glove may never be compared to D-Lee’s. He gives the Cubs a power left-handed bat off the bench.
Derrek Lee – Started slow this spring because of a minor injury but picked up steam by the end of the Cactus League season. Always in great shape and wielding a perennial gold glove, his infield mates love having the big guy at first to clean up any errant throws. Lee is looking to get his HR number more towards 30 than last year’s 20, something Manager Lou has indicated would be helpful.
Aaron Miles – Actually had a pretty good spring at the plate but is going to need to win Cubs fans over as many view him as a replacement for fan favorite Mark DeRosa. Miles brings versatility with him having played 2nd base, SS, 3d base, and even a few games in the OF. He’s a switch hitter with a career .289 average, who also has a World Series ring.
Aramis Ramirez – Had a fairly uneventful spring training, came to camp in great shape and was given a number of days off due to the length of this years camp. He has become Mr. Consistent for the Cubs at 3d base, his blend of hitting power, high batting average, and solid fielding are not always easy to find…Thank you Pirates!
Ryan Theriot – Has come into his own over the past couple season’s and if this spring is any indication more good things are on the way. His .412 BA and .488 OBP this spring put him near the top of both spring categories. He may not have the range at SS that some others have but he consistently makes plays and works hard at improving his game.
Milton Bradley – Another Cub who started slow this spring due to a minor injury but turned on the switch and finished spring training on fire, .460 BA, .526 OBP, and .800 SLG. He seemed to blend in easily with his teammates and set an example of hard work and professionalism. Bradley’s drive towards perfection sometimes frustrates himself as he thinks he should get on base nearly every time. Playing regularly defensively is going be a new thing for Milton having started a total of only 78 games combined in the outfield over the last 3 seasons.
Kosuke Fukudome – Another Cub who missed a large part of Cubs camp playing in the WBC. The jury is still out on Dome as to his ability to consistently hit Major League pitching. He finished spring training with a .200 BA and also hit only .200 in the WBC, he did have a .407 OBP in the WBC. The longer MLB season compared to Japan’s Pro Leagues caused Dome to fatigue; at least that was the reason many gave for his fall off at the plate as last season wore on. Cubs fans don’t want any excuse this year, just hit, or…what’s the Japanese word for “pine”.
Joey Gathright – Came in early to Mesa and worked hard, he wants to be known for his baseball skills and not just his speed, but it’s his speed that sets him apart on the Cubs. A true base stealing threat and defensive replacement, he was a key piece of the puzzle Lou was after. Gathright didn’t disappoint as he made play after outstanding play defensively and stole 9 bases this spring, 2 more than all his other teammates combined. Finished the spring with a .408 OBP.
Reed Johnson – Came into camp in the best shape of his career and had an outstanding spring training. He’s the reason many Cubs fans aren’t overly concerned if Fukudome can’t get his bat going as Johnson provides solid defense and clutch hitting. Johnson also provides the kind of hustling blue collar mentality that endears him to fans and teammates.
Alfonso Soriano – Tied Hoffpauir for the spring HR honors with 6 and hit .325. Not the traditional leadoff guy but he provides energy and power, it’s also hard to argue with the Cubs win-loss results when he’s leadoff. Soriano’s best base stealing days are over, he was 0-3 in his attempts this spring. He loves to play the game and when he gets hot at the plate it’s fun to watch.