Cubs Spring Training Preview
The North side is still buzzing about the Cubs' 2015 surprising 97 win season. Last year, the Cubs reached the playoffs by defeating the Pittsburgh Pirates in a one game wild card play-in game. They moved on to beat their rival St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Divisional Series but exited the playoffs by losing to the Mets in the Championship Series. The Cubs got a taste of the postseason for the first time since 2008 & made it further than they've been since 2003. After a strong finish to last season, the Cubs are looking to make some more noise this year & are favored to reach the World Series. In the offseason they lost shortstop Starlin Castro & outfielder Dexter Fowler but added veteran pitcher John Lackey, outfielder Jason Heyward & second base/utility man Ben Zobrist. The Cubs had one of the strongest pitching rotations in the league last season with Jon Lester & National League Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta leading the way. The addition of veteran John Lackey makes this dangerous lineup even scarier for opposing batters. The biggest internal competition for the Cubs during spring training will be for a spot in the bullpen. Newcomer Adam Warren will join a list of relievers with the possibility of becoming a starter if he remains consistent. Jason Hammel or Kyle Hendricks may be in jeopardy of losing the fifth & final starting role if another player can step up. Not only do the Cubbies have one of the most balanced pitching squads in the league, their offense is also primed to put up some big numbers. Their batting lineup is so deep, even if a few players are in a slump, the rest of the starters should be able to produce enough offense to carry the team. One area that the Cubs are uncertain about is behind the plate. David Ross may be in his last season after spending 13 years in the majors, Miguel Montero also may be in his final years. What remains unclear is if the team is ready to move Kyle Schwarber from the outfield to catcher, which would make room for Willson Contreras who could be ready to jump to the majors from Triple-A Iowa. Contreras is ranked as the best catching prospect in baseball. He won the Southern League batting title with Double-A Tennessee & has come into his own on the defensive end after recently converting from playing third base. Several scouts have noticed his increased ability to manage the game, which is one of the final steps Contreras has to take before making the move to the majors. Over the past few years, the Cubs have had a list of highly ranked prospects in their minor league system. Addison Russell, Kyle Schwarber & Kris Bryant each had breakout years after playing in the minors for a short time, but the Cubs can't expect every prospect to jump to the majors as quickly. The Cubs have 6 players in the MLB's top 100 prospects list, including Gleyber Torres, Willson Contreras, Ian Happ, Duane Underwood, Albert Almora & Dylan Cease. Out of those 6, it's not very likely for any of them to see much major league action until September or if they're replacing an injured player. Expectations are high for the Cubs' 2016 season. They added some key pieces to their lineup & didn't have to sacrifice much to acquire them. Combine that with their loaded farm system & it's no wonder they're favored to go deep into the playoffs & maybe even the World Series. The vibe will be electric in Wrigleyville this season and rightfully so, after winning a surprising 97 games last year, the fans finally have something to be excited about. Players report to camp starting February 23 & the team's first home preseason game begins on March 4 in Mesa, AZ at Sloan Park. Tickets for spring training & regular season games can be purchased here.