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Saturday, January 18

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Cubs Tue Jul 10 2012

Cubs Fans Should Stay Tuned After the Break

Cubs_200.pngTerrible. Agonizing. Excruciating.

Merriam-Webster is loaded with synonyms that could readily describe the first half performance of the Chicago Cubs. Though the team is sending a pair of players to the All-Star Game in Bryan LaHair and Starlin Castro, neither guy was an automatic selection and benefited from the National League lacking elite offensive talent.

But despite being tied for the second worst record in baseball, there is plenty of reason to watch the Cubs when the season resumes Friday.

Continued Development of Castro & Rizzo

Castro didn't make the All Star team because of his bat, the tool he's most known for. Instead, his selection was largely based on his drastic uptick defensively. He's currently fourth among shortstops who qualify in UZR 150 (a defensive metric created by Baseball Info Solutions), and though it's recommended to look at those numbers over a three-year span, it's been clear to anyone watching closely that Castro has really improved his consistency throwing and turning double plays. Plus, he may be the best middle infielder in the league at chasing down fly balls.

Offensively, he's struggled of late getting used to the style new hitting coach James Rowson is preaching to the team, which is a far more patient approach than the let-it-fly game plan employed by Rudy Jaramillo. Castro has just five extra base hits since the coaching change was made nearly a month ago, but he's also drawn five walks, which is nearly as many as he had (six) in the first ten weeks of the season. To become the superstar many believe he can be, the adjustments he's making are necessary and encouraging.

Anthony Rizzo's explosion onto the scene at the Friendly Confines is another reason to watch. The organization should be applauded for keeping him in the minors to save future cash and to ensure he was fully prepared for his second attempt in the majors. He hasn't disappointed, and looks like a totally different player then he did in San Diego last year. He already has more multi-hit games and homers this season... in one-third of the at-bats.

The Tradeable Assets

If you pay attention to daily gossip, you'd believe every game plays a significant role in a player's trade value. In reality, the only games that make a significant difference are ones following an injury. See: Dempster, Ryan.

Alfonso Soriano is still the same, unwanted player he was at the start of the season. Sure, he's blasted 15 homers and hasn't been the worst defender that plays in the outfield every day, but it doesn't erase the fact that he's old, has bad knees, and is owed a ton of cash. Nobody will make a play for him. Garza has an outside chance at being dealt, but I doubt anyone will pony up the haul of prospects the Cubs are looking for in return.

Dempster is, without question, being traded somewhere. He's been incredible so far this season, racking up a 1.99 ERA, and is currently riding a 27 inning scoreless streak dating back to before his trip to the DL because of tightness in his back. The Braves, Blue Jays, Cardinals, Red Sox, and Yankees all may have some interest in his services.

The other players with a chance to have a new home are Reed Johnson, Jeff Baker, and Darwin Barney - mainly because of their abilities to play multiple positions and fill out roster needs for teams making a run. David DeJesus is a wildcard possibility because of his ability to get on-base and play good defense in right field, but the Cubs would ask for a good prospect in return for a player of his caliber.

The Future Cubs

There are a number of players to keep an eye on in the Cubs' minor league system as well. Many of the high profile youngsters are years away from making an impact (Javier Baez, Jeimer Candelario, Dan Vogelbach, Matt Szczur, and the newly signed Albert Almora), but a few old names are still on the minds of Cubs fans (Jay Jackson, Brett Jackson, Josh Vitters).

Jay Jackson was widely considered to be a future starter for the Cubs a couple years ago, but continued poor performance against experienced hitters forced the organization to move him to the bullpen in an attempt to save his career. The results show the move may just pay off. As a reliever, Jackson has thrown 27 innings, and racked up 33 strikeouts versus just nine walks and a 1.67 ERA. There's a good chance he'll end up in Chicago before year's end to see if he can stabilize a flailing bullpen.

On the other hand, Brett Jackson and Vitters won't get a call to Wrigley until they fix major flaws in their games. For Vitters, it's been the same since he turned pro at 18: plate discipline and defense. He rarely draws walks, and is barely serviceable at third base defensively, neither of which spells an immediate move to the next level. For Jackson, it's strikeouts. He can draw walks, steal a few bases, and play solid defense in center, but 122 K's in 352 plate appearances won't cut it against major league pitching.

So stay tuned. Losing 90-plus games could be more interesting than you think.

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