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|TOP 10 PROSPECTS|
|1. Kris Bryant, 3b|
|2. Addison Russell, ss|
|3. Jorge Soler, of|
|4. Kyle Schwarber, c/of|
|5. C.J. Edwards, rhp|
|6. Billy McKinney, of|
|7. Albert Almora, of|
|8. Gleyber Torres, ss|
|9. Pierce Johnson, rhp|
|10. Duane Underwood, rhp|
Did the Cubs play a 2014 season? Did that happen?
With all that has happened during the offseason, forgive Cubs fans if they have flushed away thoughts of the team’s 73-89 season, their fifth straight fifth-place finish in the National League Central. It was a bridge year to the future, and in the offseason, the Cubs built a brand new bridge (and started rebuilding Wrigley Field).
Entering 2014, the Cubs believed they had building blocks for the lineup, starting with 24-year-old regulars Anthony Rizzo at first base and shortstop Starlin Castro. Both had struggled in 2013 but bounced back with strong seasons, as Rizzo hit 32 homers while Castro posted the highest OPS of his career (.777) and made his third all-star team.
The Cubs also saw the debuts of three key rookies. Last year’s No. 1, Javier Baez, swatted nine home runs as a second baseman but found out his all-or-nothing approach won’t work against big league pitchers, striking out 95 times in 213 at-bats while batting .169. Versatile Arismendy Alcantara had his moments but also struggled while settling in as the team’s new center fielder. Meanwhile righty Kyle Hendricks had the best rookie debut on the team and looks like a back-of-the-rotation option for when the team becomes competitive.
Now that looks like it could be in 2015, with two huge moves that sped up the organization’s timetable. They swooped in when Rays manager Joe Maddon had a two-week window to opt out of his contract, firing Rick Renteria after one season as Cubs manager to strike while Maddon was available. Second, team president Theo Epstein, general manager Jed Hoyer and assistant GM Jason McLeod tapped into their Red Sox roots to sign Jon Lester to the largest contract in franchise history, a six-year, $155 million deal that gave the Cubs a new ace.
Lester ended 2014 playing for the Athletics with Jeff Samardzija, the Cubs’ ace the last two seasons who will be contributing indirectly on the North Side for years. Chicago traded him to the Athletics and got consecutive first-round picks in return, with hard-hitting shortstop Addison Russell (2012) and smooth-swinging outfielder Billy McKinney (2013).
Russell joins 2014 Minor League Player of the Year Kris Bryant, who hit 43 homers while reaching Triple-A, plus Baez in giving the Cubs an enviable group of athletic infielders with pop. The organization then added more impact talent through the draft, executing its plan perfectly. Chicago got perhaps the draft’s best hitter, catcher/outfielder Kyle Schwarber at No. 4 overall, for a below-slot bonus, then used the savings to sign three million-dollar high school pitchers, adding much-needed organizational pitching depth.
Adding Lester doesn’t mean the Cubs are contenders yet. But it does mean they don’t have to wait for a homegrown ace. When their young hitters are ready, Chicago will be ready, and if that happens in 2015, don’t be surprised.