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|TOP 10 PROSPECTS|
|1. Gleyber Torres, ss|
|2. Willson Contreras, c/3b|
|3. Ian Happ, of/2b|
|4. Duane Underwood, rhp|
|5. Dylan Cease, rhp|
|6. Albert Almora, of|
|7. Billy McKinney, of|
|8. Oscar de la Cruz, rhp|
|9. Eloy Jimenez, of|
|10. Jeimer Candelario, 3b|
The Cubs completed their rebuilding project on the field faster even than the extensive renovations at Wrigley Field.
After an active offseason that included signing free agent lefthander Jon Lester and free agent manager Joe Maddon, the Cubs won 97 games to earn one of the National League wild cards, thus becoming the first third-place team ever to qualify for the postseason.
The 97 victories tied the 2008 edition for the most by a Cubs team in the Expansion Era, and they followed a Wild Card Game victory in Pittsburgh with a four-game Division Series vanquishing of the Cardinals, the first time the Cubs had ever celebrated a playoff victory at Wrigley.
When Chicago moved on to meet the Mets in the NL Championship Series, however, the lineup was overmatched by New York’s rotation and the Mets swept the series in four games.
In spite of that setback, the outlook in Chicago is bright. The players who helped the Cubs to one of the most successful seasons in franchise history form the core of team looks like a World Series challenger in 2016.
Lester, 31, had his customary strong season but yielded No. 1 starter status to Jake Arrieta, 29, whose 0.75 ERA after the all-star break was the lowest in major league history. That duo and Maddon’s deft handling of a bullpen led by former Rule 5 draft pick Hector Rondon helped the Cubs rank third in the NL in team ERA.
The Cubs didn’t feel good about their chances in the NLCS after losing the first two games with Lester and Arrieta on the mound, so they’ll need to find upgrades to Kyle Hendricks and Jason Hammel in the rotation.
They’ll have to look outside the organization, though, because their upper-level pitchers have faltered. Prospects Carl Edwards and Corey Black shifted to relief, while oft-injured Pierce Johnson hasn’t built any momentum since reaching Double-A Tennessee in 2014.
The Cubs have the flexibility to deal from a deep cache of position prospects. Arismendy Alcantara and Javier Baez, once two of the club’s most important prospects, have been passed by Rookie of the Year Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, Jorge Soler and Kyle Schwarber, who went from 2014 first-round pick to the Cubs’ all-time postseason home run leader (five) in one year.
More hitters are on the way, from Double-A Southern League batting champion Willson Contreras and Tennessee teammates Albert Almora and Billy McKinney to shortstop Gleyber Torres. The team took Ian Happ, another advanced hitter, at the top of the 2015 draft.
There’s nowhere to play them all, a fact all too clear to the front office. The current braintrust halted a long World Series drought before in Boston, and they won’t rest until they do the same in Chicago.