Image courtesy of chicagotribune.com
“Embrace the target” is the message that Cubs second year Manager, Joe Maddon, is trying to get through to his guys after they got a big taste of success in 2015.
It was a long and grueling process for the organization and its fans, after many years of watching their beloved Cubs almost lose on purpose in order to rebuild. Some people are saying the Cubs arrived a year or two earlier than expected considering all the success of the highly touted prospects brought in by team President, Theo Epstein, and General Manager, Jed Hoyer.
For many young ball players, the jump from the minors to the pros is no easy transition, but the five rookies on last years roster made a major impact in the Cubbies run to the National League Championship series.
Guys like Kyle Schwarber, Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, Jorge Soler, and Javier Baez are vastly becoming household names in the baseball world, and none of them are older than 24.
What’s important for these guys moving forward, is going to be finding ways to get better and not become complacent, considering that the pitchers they are up against are going to somewhat figure them out as they get more opportunities to face them
However, the boys in blue were able to add the veteran presence of proven guys like Jason Heyward, John Lackey, and Ben Zobrist, which seems like the perfect mixture to go along with their young core of guys. The latter two are already World Series Champions, and Heyward might be the hungriest guy in all of baseball when it comes to winning.
One of the biggest moves of the Cubs offseason came a short time ago, when they were able to bring back center fielder, Dexter Fowler. This move really gives the Cubs a full roster, as Dex can lead off in the batting order, and also allows for Jason Heyward to move back over to his gold glove position in right field. Fowler adds to what was already a talented outfield, and forces Soler and Schwarber to split time in left.
Another guy, who seems to get better year in and year out, is first baseman, and team leader, Anthony Rizzo. He has improved every year at the plate, which is a nice compliment to his strong play in the field, where we’ve seen him make catches two rows deep into the crowd. Rizz is the type of guy that everyone wants in their clubhouse, and he has been there through the best and worst times, being no stranger to adversity considering he battled cancer early on in his professional career.
The Cubs also bring back CY Young award winner, Jake Arrieta as the ace of their rotation, along with World Series Champion Jon Lester. With the addition of John Lackey as the number three starter, that will give the Cubs a little more stability in the starting rotation but there are still questions to be answered when it comes to that group.
It’s very likely that we will see Epstein and Hoyer pull the trigger on a deal that could bring another proven starter to the North Side once the trade deadline approaches in July. The Cubs are still holding on to an arsenal of top prospects throughout their minor league ranks, which brings about speculation that someone will be traded for a bigger name down the line, as there simply isn’t going to be enough room on the roster at some point.
The bullpen should be a pretty solid group this year, as they bring back many familiar faces, like Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop, Trevor Cahill, and a guy to watch out for in Clayton Richard, who possesses a lot of low movement in his fastball which touches the upper 90’s on the speedometer.
They also acquired a solid arm in Rex Brothers from Colorado, and Adam Warren from New York, in the Starlin Castro deal. There is plenty of depth as far as pitching goes, but the question is more about their quality.
What the Cubs can’t forget this year is that the Cardinals, and Pirates are two of the best teams in baseball and both of them could have very easily replaced the Cubs in the NLCS. If St. Louis can stay healthy and Pittsburgh can find a way to break through come playoff time, the National League Central could possess three of the top World Series candidates for 2016.
There is a good chance for the Cubs to break that curse dating back to 1908 this year, but a lot can happen throughout the course of a 162 game season. It’s all going to come down to whether or not they are able to “Embrace the target” and continue to stay hungry.