With Chicago Cubs spring training set to begin Feb. 14 in Mesa, Ariz., we’re taking an early look around the diamond.
Subtractions: Ian Stewart
Analysis: Barring a major trade, we know half of the infield will remain the same for many years. Castro needs to rebound from an off year in 2013, which saw him watching hittable fastballs go past him -- though he did improve in the field as the year went on. A successful final couple of months in the leadoff role gave hope for a better 2014; a change in managers could be the key for him. If Rizzo brings up his batting average he’ll turn into a very good all-around player. Second and third base are the places to watch, as prospects will push incumbents Barney and the combination of Murphy/Valbuena. Barney had a classic all-field, no-hit kind of season in 2013. He'll get a chance to improve at the plate -- and he'll need to take advantage. Arismendy Alcantara and Javier Baez are nearing completion of their minor league careers, while Olt, the newcomer from Texas, is a bit of an X factor.
Outlook: There is so much competition coming in the infield it can only be a good thing for the Cubs. Castro might be hearing Baez's name more and more, and Barney is certain to feel the heat from a few places. Valbuena and Murphy were more than admirable in their production, but Baez and even Olt -- if he recovers from eye issues -- have much higher ceilings. There’s a very good chance whoever starts on Opening Day at second and third won’t be the starter in the season finale. Half the infield is set with long-term deals; the other half is up for grabs.