Jesse Rogers recaps the Cubs by position and looks at what changes might be in store for 2014.
As expected the Chicago Cubs were solid on defense in the infield but a mixed bag at the plate in 2013. In a strange way, third base -- the biggest question mark coming into the season -- was the most reliable position. The Cubs have their first baseman -- Anthony Rizzo -- and shortstop – Starlin Castro -- of the present and future in place but they both went through growing pains although they might end up being good growing pains.
The good: It's not that Cody Ransom, Luis Valbuena and Donnie Murphy set the world on fire -- although Murphy was a pleasant surprise -- but each contributed more than anyone could have expected at third base, especially on offense. The hot corner ranked second in the National League with 30 home runs and a fielding percentage in the middle of the pack. Castro got better defensively as the season wore on while Darwin Barney and Rizzo are Gold Glove candidates. Barney actually showed some pop despite a low average, and he battled pitchers, even if the result wasn't always there. Castro's best days were toward the end of the season when he vowed to return to "being himself" at the plate while batting leadoff.
The bad: Not one player around the infield had a career year. Or anywhere close. Simply put, their batting averages stunk. And in most cases so did their on-base percentage. Barney regressed after offseason changes to his swing and Castro had the worst season of his career. At one point Castro, Rizzo and Barney were all in danger of hitting below .240 for the season.
Who's next: There's little doubt the Cubs are waiting for a couple of prospects to take over at third and possibly second base. the bat of Kris Bryant, the No. 2 pick in the June draft, might get him to the big leagues sooner rather than later, but not at the start of next season. Third baseman Mike Olt, acquired in the Matt Garza trade, might get a shot if he can return to the form that made him a top prospect in Texas. At second base, Javier Baez could make a position change or Double-A infielder Arismendy Alcantara might force the issue there. The Cubs could also look at Logan Watkins, who had a .365 on-base percentage over six minor league seasons. He'll play some winter ball to stay sharp because he didn't get enough plate appearances at the major league level to be judged.
2014 outlook: There's a good possibility that both Castro and Rizzo bottomed out in 2013, at least at the plate. If Castro's average and on-base percentage don't rise next season then there should be some real concerns. Even if Castro's power doesn't develop, he needs to get on base more, especially if he remains in the lead-off hole. Rizzo only struggled when he tried to do too much. He has to go to left more, using the entire field to bring up that average. Unless Olt wins the job in spring training, expect a platoon situation to start the season at third base, possibly with Murphy and Valbuena again. Barney is the question mark. His glove might let him keep his job, but he might not finish there if a prospect is ready to take over.