Chicago Cubs' Javier Baez Is Much More Than A Defensive Star

Anthony Rizzo, left, and Javier Baez, right, will be key contributors to Cubs quest for a fifth consecutive postseason appearance. (AP Photo/Kamil Krzaczynski)

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Baseball prognosticators usually don’t fare too well on their season predictions, but that is part of the fun in this great game—to believe you know more than you think and your team develops into the championship club your visions predicted.

Here is how one soothsayer forecasts the 2019 season for some key Cubs players.

POSITION PLAYERS

Anthony Rizzo, age 29, 1b, 6’3”, 240 pounds, bats left, throws left

The two-time Gold Glove award winner is one of the N.L.’s most respected hitters. With his stance that eats up the inside part of the plate and has him among MLB hit by pitch leaders each season, he will continue to put up productive offensive numbers. His 118 career HBPs ranks second behind Shin-Soo Choo among active players. Rizzo is one of only three major league players to drive in 100 or more runs in each of the last four years—Edwin Encarnacion and Nolan Arenado are the other two. In 2019, expect Rizzo, who may be in the prime years of his offensive abilities, to reach his career averages from the last five years: 90 runs, 160 hits, 34 doubles, 30 homers, 100 RBIs, .282 BA, .385 OBP, .512 slugging, and .897 OPS.

Rizzo is created out of the mold of a Lou Gehrig or Cal Ripken—he plays, he produces, and his teams win.

Ben Zobrist, age 37, 2b, 6’3”, 210 pounds, bats both, throws right

The venerable veteran had a career best .305 BA last season with a .378 OBP, 40 extra-base hits and 58 RBIs. It’s unlikely he approaches another .300 BA, but don’t bet against Zobrist from having another inspiring season that helps the Cubs win. He is a true leader who will do whatever is asked of him. He will use his value as a supreme multi-position player and outstanding leadership qualities to guide the team.

Looking into our crystal ball, Zobrist will finish the 2019 season in the range of 25 doubles, 10 homers, and 55 RBIs while wearing the defensive gloves of a second baseman, right fielder, and left fielder.

Javier Baez, age 26, ss, 6’0”, 190 pounds, bats right, throws right

The 2018 N.L. RBI leader is predicted by many not to have the kind of production that made him an MVP finalist last year. But Baez is one of the most exciting players in MLB and is the most gifted defensive infielder in the game. He won’t disappoint with the glove and he will continue to improve at the plate. Don’t expect him to capture another RBI crown, but he will resume his desire to be the best player he can be and have similar numbers with the bat that he produced last year. He will approach 30 homers, 90 RBIs, 100 runs, and 20 stolen bases. The Puerto Rican star will also finish with a BA in the .275 range, and with improved plate discipline he will see his low totals in walks (29) and OBP (.326) rise while his slugging percentage will reach .500 for the second consecutive season.

Baez could win a Gold Glove at second, third, or short if he played most of his games at one position—but his ability with the glove is a call for a Gold Glove Award to be presented to the best multi-position player.

Kris Bryant, age 27, 3b, 6’5”, 230 pounds, bats right, throws right

In his brief MLB career, the talented third baseman has captured N.L. Rookie of the Year honors and a league MVP award. Now for 2019 he will be among the selections for the N.L. Comeback Player of the Year Award. Last season, Bryant missed 60 games due to various injuries, including a shoulder ailment that limited his power to only 13 home runs and 52 RBIs. And after averaging 106 runs scored per season during his first three years in the majors, Bryant crossed the plate only 59 times in 2018. All those numbers will be significantly higher this year and Bryant will again earn consideration for MVP along with top comeback honors. He will again post impressive OBP and slugging numbers and will enjoy his first 40-HR campaign.

He has regained the vigor that ranked him as one of the game’s elite players during his first three years, which is attributable to the fact he is healthy.

Willson Contreras,age 26, c, 6’1”, 210 pounds, bats right, throws right

Contreras marked his miserable slump in the second half of the 2018 season as part of the learning experience of being a major league player. That’s the attitude that will drive the strong-armed backstop to stardom in the majors. The club is aware of his value and will keep a watch on his playing time so not to wear him down. Contreras is primed for a breakout season with the bat that will see him surpass his 21-homer, 74-RBI output in 2017. He will finish with 25-plus dingers, 80 or more RBIs, and flirt with a .300 BA and .350 OBP. Also, the ever-improving catcher will be much better behind the plate on blocking balls in the dirt and pitch-framing while continuing to keep base runners honest with his powerful and accurate throwing ability.

This will be the season that gets Contreras ranked as one of the most elite catchers in the game.

Kyle Schwarber, age 26, lf, 6’0”, 235 pounds, bats left, throws right

After two full seasons, Schwarber is groomed to have his most productive offensive season after a 30-HR, 59-RBI, .211 season in 2017 followed by a 26-HR, 61-RBI, .238 campaign in 2018. Last year he had a career high .356 on-base percentage and that will continue to climb with his plate discipline and added experience. He also had a career best 78 walks, including an N.L. leading 20 intentional passes. Despite some awkward looking errors, Schwarber is a steady defender in left and has a strong throwing arm. Consistency will be Schwarber’s victory in 2019 as he will become more stable on a daily basis with his production and create a more dynamic presence in the Cubs lineup.

The powerful left-handed slugger will surpass the 30-homer plateau with an RBI total reaching 80 and a batting average and on-base percentage that will reach single-season high marks.

Albert Almora Jr.,age 24, cf, 6’2”, 190 pounds, bats right, throws right

Almora’s dynamic defensive plays last season make one wonder how he was not a finalist for a Gold Glove award. He is an excellent center fielder, but lacks the range possessed by the elite defenders at his position. He has rapidly become a steady performer both with glove and bat at the major league level and with continued playing time he will improve in production and power at the plate. He makes contact and avoids strikeouts which will help in his ability to get on base. A line-drive hitter, Almora has power and could see his extra-base hit total rise if he heightens his launch angle and becomes more disciplined at the plate. He was another player who suffered a long second half slump and when he becomes more consistent, he will be a hitter who can drive 40 doubles and 10-plus homers. Look for him to approach those numbers in 2019.

Almora will be a key element to the Cubs success this season with outstanding defensive work and being a key component to the lineup. Last season he hit .286 with a .323 on-base percentage and .378 slugging average . . . look for him to improve on all three in 2019.

Jason Heyward, age 29, rf, 6’5”, 240 pounds, bats left, throws left

Without question, Heyward is one of the very best defensive right fielders in MLB but his offensive contributions have been less than admirable with the Cubs. During the last three seasons, what you see is what you get from Heyward and that won’t change in 2019. He will end the season as a Gold Glove finalist and he will contribute offensively, but not in dynamic fashion. His final numbers will resemble his average season as a Cub—.252 BA, .322 OBP, 22 doubles, nine homers, 62 runs and 55 RBIs.

Things could click right for Heyward as a hitter, but during his first nine years in the majors, he has hit 15 or more homers in a season twice, scored more than 80 runs, twice, reached 80 RBIs only once, and has never had a season with a BA higher than .293 and his .393 OBP during his rookie campaign has never been approached.

BENCH

Ian Happ, age 24, of/inf., 6’0”, 205 pounds, bats both, throws right

With 167 strikeouts in 387 at-bats (462 plate appearances) it is apparent that Happ needs better plate awareness and the ability to be both more selective and more aggressive. Like teammate Baez, if he can slow down the game and lay off the low outside breaking stuff he will become a very dangerous hitter in the Cubs lineup. After an impressive rookie season in 2017, Happ’s numbers dropped in every offensive category except walks, which jumped from 39 to 70, and on-base percentage which improved to a .353 reading last year from a .328 mark the previous season. He has power from both sides of the plate, runs the bases well, and can handle all three outfield positions while also having the athleticism to operate the third base and second base positions.  

Being young, strong, talented, and determined to succeed will play out well for Happ as he will continue to grow as a major leaguer and put up impressive totals in 2019, including 25-plus homers.

Daniel Descalso, age 32, inf., 5’10”, 190 pounds, bats left, throws right

The nine-year veteran is a good bat off the bench and a player who can fill in at any infield position and even a spot in the outfield. A line-drive hitter with some power, Descalso will excel at his role as a pinch hitter and player who will fill in at various positions.

He appears excited to be on a team expected to win and that intensity will help the Cubs to remain focused on reclaiming the N.L. Central Division flag.

STARTING PITCHERS

Jon Lester, age 35, lhp, 6’4”, 240 pounds, bats left, throws left

Lester has been worth every penny of the hefty contract he signed in December 2014 that gave the Cubs a legitimate No. 1 ace. During his first four years with the Cubs, he is 61-31 with a 3.33 ERA and 770 innings pitched. Age is always a concern for a pitcher with as many games, and stressful innings Lester has compiled during his 13 years in the majors. He may not have another 19-5, 2.44 ERA he had in 2016 or the 18-6 mark he established last year, but Lester will continue to have his peak moments in big games. With the offensive capabilities the Cubs possess, look for Lester to win 15 games and be looked upon to start must win contests.

He may have lost some zip on his fastball, but Lester’s strength is his ability to adjust and get batters out with less electrifying stuff. His intelligence and strength will endure another year as he will continue to shut down opponents.

Cole Hamels, age 35, lhp, 6’4”, 205 pounds, bats left, throws left

If Hamels can pitch a full season the way he did for most of his career with the Phillies and Rangers and during his 12 outings with the Cubs last year (4-3, 2.36 ERA, 74 strikeouts, 76.1 innings) then Chicago will be elated they picked up his $20 million option for 2019. The crafty left-hander picked up a few miles on his fastball at the end of last season and was extremely effective. Hamels will be good for 10-15 wins in 2019 and will post an ERA below 3.50 and chew up anywhere from 175 to 200 innings.

Hamels would like nothing more than another shot at a World Series title and he is aware of the team around him, so expect him to be an effective starter and clubhouse leader.

Kyle Hendricks, age 29, rhp, 6’3”, 190 pounds, bats right, throws right

Hendricks has worked hard to be a quality starter in the majors with a fastball that rarely reaches the 89-90 mph range. His changeup is one of the best in baseball and he excels at keeping hitters guessing and off balance. He has also earned the trust of manager Joe Maddon, who frequently during his first few seasons as Cubs field boss pulled Hendricks from games earlier than was necessary. Hendricks was roughed up a bit during spring outings, but he will get better as the season gets longer.

Hendricks will be another Cubs starter with 10-plus wins and an ERA around 3.00 while completing 190 or more innings.

Yu Darvish, age 32, 6’5”, 220 pounds, bats right, throws right

After an injury-filled 2018 season, Darvish contests his arm troubles are behind him and he is ready to show he can live up to the value of his contract (6-year, $126 million). That is a large scale of expectations to meet, but the Japanese right-hander will fulfill that promise if he remains healthy. There is no question that when Darvish is right, he possesses some of the nastiest stuff in the game and hitters don’t find it easy stepping into the batter’s box to face his mid-90s fastball, hard breaking slider, sharp breaking curve, changeup and split-finger fastball.

If Darvish is right in 2019, look for him to contend with Kris Bryant for Comeback Player of the Year honors in the N.L.

Jose Quintana, age 30, 6’1”, 220 pounds, bats right, throws left

Quintana is not an ace of the staff pitcher or a team’s top-of-the-rotation Cy Young Award-winning candidate . . . but he is a dependable starter who will give you innings and a chance to win every time he takes the mound. He’s won 11 or more games in each of the last three seasons with an average of 190 innings, 32 starts, 3.77 ERA, and 182 strikeouts per year. Quintana and teammate Lester are the only two MLB pitchers to start 32 or more games in each of the last six seasons.

Quintana will continue with his ability to take the ball every fifth day and put his team in a position to win.

SWINGMEN

Mike Montgomery, age 29, 6’5”, 215 pounds, bats left, throws left

As Javy Baez thrives at multiple positions, Montgomery delivers in different roles on the Cubs staff. During his two-plus seasons with the Cubs, he has pitched in 99 games—38 starts and 61 relief appearances—while compiling a 13-15 record, three saves, 3.56 ERA, 285 innings, and three holds. His ability to start and relieve will give the Cubs a deep rotation and protection in the bullpen.

Barring any setback in his recovery from shoulder stiffness that limited his work during the spring, Montgomery is expected to be ready for the start of the season and should be an instrumental piece to the staff in his swingman role as both a starter and reliever.

Tyler Chatwood, age 29, 6’0”, 185 pounds, bats right, throws right

After leading the N.L. in defeats (15) with the Rockies in 2017 and signing a hefty contract (three years, $38 million) with the Cubs and leading the majors in walks (95 in 103.2 IP) in 2018, Chatwood is primed to prove his value as a pitcher. Like Montgomery, he will be used as a swingman and start out as a reliever with opportunities to take on starting assignments as the season grows old or injuries occur. His control issue that has affected his performances the last few years has been addressed and if he can limit the free passes he surrenders, he should bounce back in a positive way that will benefit the Cubs in 2019.

Chatwood is determined to regain his confidence and ability to get batters out whether he has to prove his value as a reliever or a starter. He will hone his ability and conquer his role as a starter and bullpen specialist.

BULLPEN

Brandon Morrow, age 34, 6’3”, 205 pounds, bats right, throws right

Morrow has suffered and bounced back from injuries throughout his 12 years in the majors, but at 34, his age is a big factor on how well and how fast he can recover from ailments. He was a strong closer in the first half of 2018 (1.47 ERA, 22 saves) before a bone bruise on his right arm ended his season. In 2019, he was hoping for a strong comeback, but arthroscopic surgery on his elbow will have him on the DL to open the season and push his comeback to May at the earliest. If Morrow is healthy, he will team up with Pedro Strop for closing duties.

Morrow has dynamic stuff when he is healthy and the Cubs will monitor his usage in 2019 to allow him to be as effective in the bullpen as he possibly can.

Pedro Strop, age 33, 6’1”, 220 pounds, bats right, throws right

Since joining the Cubs at mid-season in 2013, Strop has been one of the most underrated relievers in MLB. With the Cubs, he has appeared in 361 games with a 19-19 record, 331.1 innings, 19 saves, 2.63 ERA, and 131 holds. He collected 13 saves last season when Morrow was placed on the disabled list. He was quality stuff and is as good a reliever as the Cubs have in the bullpen.

Strop and Morrow will split time as the Cubs closer and both will record 20 or more saves with impressive ERAs.

Carl Edwards, age 27, 6’3”, 170 pounds, bats right, throws right

Edwards is a hard-throwing right-hander who has the stuff to be a great closer or shutdown setup man, but the obstacle he needs to overcome is his confidence level. When he believes, he is lights out . . . but when hitters give him trouble and control problems arise, he struggles to get outs.

This will be a make or break year for Edwards with the Cubs and he appears ready to meet his challenge and become the steady reliever the team has expected him to become.

Brad Brach, age 32, 6’6”, 215 pounds, bats right, throws right

Brach has had some great success with the Padres, Orioles, and Braves. In 27 games with Atlanta last year, he posted a 1.52 ERA with one win and one save. In 2016 with Baltimore, he had a career year with a 10-4 record, 2.05 ERA and 79 innings in 71 games. If Brach can command his arsenal—four-seam and split-finger fastballs, slider, two-seam fastball, and change, he could be an effective middle man and add depth to the bullpen. His fastball ranges between 92-94 mph with a splitter and slider that check in at around 87.

Look for Brach to fill several bullpen roles and if he can eliminate his problem of surrendering too many walks, then he will be effective.

Steve Cishek, age 32, 6’6”, 215 pounds, bats right, throws right

The lanky right-hander has great stuff and put together a quality season for the Cubs in 2018 with a 4-3 record, four saves, 2.18 ERA, and 78 strikeouts in 70.1 innings. His funky delivery keeps right-handed hitters at bay—they hit only .165 against him last season and he’s held them to a .198 mark during his nine years in the majors. He also can be used as a closer, having produced 34, 39, and 25-save seasons with the Marlins and Mariners.

Cishek can be used in many roles as a reliever which makes him a valuable asset, especially with his ability to throw in consecutive games.

Brian Duensing, age 36, 6’0”, 200 pounds, bats left, throws left

The veteran left-hander will be used frequently as a specialist against left-handed hitters as he holds a 3.50 strikeout-to-walk ratio against lefties and has held them to a .237 BA against during his 10-year career. Although he suffered injuries last year and was roughed up with a 7.65 ERA in 37.2 innings, expect Duensing to rebound and be used in situations that will be suited for success.

Duensing's trouble in 2018, outside his injury, was his inability to have command of his pitches—allowing 29 walks and 42 hits in 37.2 innings. If his command is in check, he becomes a valuable lefty out of the pen.

Brandon Kintzler,age 34, 6’0”, 194 pounds, bats right, throws right

Kintzler had a 29-save season in 2017 and is a groundball specialist who will be frequently used when a needed double play is in order.

He could prove to be a valuable backend bullpen specialist who could fill many roles in emergency situations. Look for him to be an asset if he isn’t overused.

Randy Rosario, age 24, 6’1”, 200 pounds, bats left, throws left

Rosario showed some electric stuff in his stint with the Cubs last season, producing a 4-0 record, one save, 3.66 ERA and 30 strikeouts in 46.2 innings. He throws in the mid-90s with a peak of around 97 mph. He has heavy sinking action with his four-seam fastball and he is effective against left-handed batters. Improvement with his command on his fastball and slider will give the Cubs a powerful lefty out of the pen . . . and with youth on his side, Rosario is poised for a breakout year.

Rosario has the potential to be a phenomenal reliever and could be a savior for the Cubs in the middle innings.

OTHER BULLPEN ARMS

There will be other relievers who will get their shot at becoming an integral piece of the Cubs pitching staff at some point during the 2019 season—Dillon Maples, Alec Mills, Kyle Ryan, Xavier Cedeno—and hopefully they will succeed and give the Cubs a reliable bullpen.

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Anthony Rizzo, left, and Javier Baez, right, will be key contributors to Cubs quest for a fifth consecutive postseason appearance. (AP Photo/Kamil Krzaczynski)

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Baseball prognosticators usually don’t fare too well on their season predictions, but that is part of the fun in this great game—to believe you know more than you think and your team develops into the championship club your visions predicted.

Here is how one soothsayer forecasts the 2019 season for some key Cubs players.

POSITION PLAYERS

Anthony Rizzo, age 29, 1b, 6’3”, 240 pounds, bats left, throws left

The two-time Gold Glove award winner is one of the N.L.’s most respected hitters. With his stance that eats up the inside part of the plate and has him among MLB hit by pitch leaders each season, he will continue to put up productive offensive numbers. His 118 career HBPs ranks second behind Shin-Soo Choo among active players. Rizzo is one of only three major league players to drive in 100 or more runs in each of the last four years—Edwin Encarnacion and Nolan Arenado are the other two. In 2019, expect Rizzo, who may be in the prime years of his offensive abilities, to reach his career averages from the last five years: 90 runs, 160 hits, 34 doubles, 30 homers, 100 RBIs, .282 BA, .385 OBP, .512 slugging, and .897 OPS.

Rizzo is created out of the mold of a Lou Gehrig or Cal Ripken—he plays, he produces, and his teams win.

Ben Zobrist, age 37, 2b, 6’3”, 210 pounds, bats both, throws right

The venerable veteran had a career best .305 BA last season with a .378 OBP, 40 extra-base hits and 58 RBIs. It’s unlikely he approaches another .300 BA, but don’t bet against Zobrist from having another inspiring season that helps the Cubs win. He is a true leader who will do whatever is asked of him. He will use his value as a supreme multi-position player and outstanding leadership qualities to guide the team.

Looking into our crystal ball, Zobrist will finish the 2019 season in the range of 25 doubles, 10 homers, and 55 RBIs while wearing the defensive gloves of a second baseman, right fielder, and left fielder.

Javier Baez, age 26, ss, 6’0”, 190 pounds, bats right, throws right

The 2018 N.L. RBI leader is predicted by many not to have the kind of production that made him an MVP finalist last year. But Baez is one of the most exciting players in MLB and is the most gifted defensive infielder in the game. He won’t disappoint with the glove and he will continue to improve at the plate. Don’t expect him to capture another RBI crown, but he will resume his desire to be the best player he can be and have similar numbers with the bat that he produced last year. He will approach 30 homers, 90 RBIs, 100 runs, and 20 stolen bases. The Puerto Rican star will also finish with a BA in the .275 range, and with improved plate discipline he will see his low totals in walks (29) and OBP (.326) rise while his slugging percentage will reach .500 for the second consecutive season.

Baez could win a Gold Glove at second, third, or short if he played most of his games at one position—but his ability with the glove is a call for a Gold Glove Award to be presented to the best multi-position player.

Kris Bryant, age 27, 3b, 6’5”, 230 pounds, bats right, throws right

In his brief MLB career, the talented third baseman has captured N.L. Rookie of the Year honors and a league MVP award. Now for 2019 he will be among the selections for the N.L. Comeback Player of the Year Award. Last season, Bryant missed 60 games due to various injuries, including a shoulder ailment that limited his power to only 13 home runs and 52 RBIs. And after averaging 106 runs scored per season during his first three years in the majors, Bryant crossed the plate only 59 times in 2018. All those numbers will be significantly higher this year and Bryant will again earn consideration for MVP along with top comeback honors. He will again post impressive OBP and slugging numbers and will enjoy his first 40-HR campaign.

He has regained the vigor that ranked him as one of the game’s elite players during his first three years, which is attributable to the fact he is healthy.

Willson Contreras,age 26, c, 6’1”, 210 pounds, bats right, throws right

Contreras marked his miserable slump in the second half of the 2018 season as part of the learning experience of being a major league player. That’s the attitude that will drive the strong-armed backstop to stardom in the majors. The club is aware of his value and will keep a watch on his playing time so not to wear him down. Contreras is primed for a breakout season with the bat that will see him surpass his 21-homer, 74-RBI output in 2017. He will finish with 25-plus dingers, 80 or more RBIs, and flirt with a .300 BA and .350 OBP. Also, the ever-improving catcher will be much better behind the plate on blocking balls in the dirt and pitch-framing while continuing to keep base runners honest with his powerful and accurate throwing ability.

This will be the season that gets Contreras ranked as one of the most elite catchers in the game.

Kyle Schwarber, age 26, lf, 6’0”, 235 pounds, bats left, throws right

After two full seasons, Schwarber is groomed to have his most productive offensive season after a 30-HR, 59-RBI, .211 season in 2017 followed by a 26-HR, 61-RBI, .238 campaign in 2018. Last year he had a career high .356 on-base percentage and that will continue to climb with his plate discipline and added experience. He also had a career best 78 walks, including an N.L. leading 20 intentional passes. Despite some awkward looking errors, Schwarber is a steady defender in left and has a strong throwing arm. Consistency will be Schwarber’s victory in 2019 as he will become more stable on a daily basis with his production and create a more dynamic presence in the Cubs lineup.

The powerful left-handed slugger will surpass the 30-homer plateau with an RBI total reaching 80 and a batting average and on-base percentage that will reach single-season high marks.

Albert Almora Jr.,age 24, cf, 6’2”, 190 pounds, bats right, throws right

Almora’s dynamic defensive plays last season make one wonder how he was not a finalist for a Gold Glove award. He is an excellent center fielder, but lacks the range possessed by the elite defenders at his position. He has rapidly become a steady performer both with glove and bat at the major league level and with continued playing time he will improve in production and power at the plate. He makes contact and avoids strikeouts which will help in his ability to get on base. A line-drive hitter, Almora has power and could see his extra-base hit total rise if he heightens his launch angle and becomes more disciplined at the plate. He was another player who suffered a long second half slump and when he becomes more consistent, he will be a hitter who can drive 40 doubles and 10-plus homers. Look for him to approach those numbers in 2019.

Almora will be a key element to the Cubs success this season with outstanding defensive work and being a key component to the lineup. Last season he hit .286 with a .323 on-base percentage and .378 slugging average . . . look for him to improve on all three in 2019.

Jason Heyward, age 29, rf, 6’5”, 240 pounds, bats left, throws left

Without question, Heyward is one of the very best defensive right fielders in MLB but his offensive contributions have been less than admirable with the Cubs. During the last three seasons, what you see is what you get from Heyward and that won’t change in 2019. He will end the season as a Gold Glove finalist and he will contribute offensively, but not in dynamic fashion. His final numbers will resemble his average season as a Cub—.252 BA, .322 OBP, 22 doubles, nine homers, 62 runs and 55 RBIs.

Things could click right for Heyward as a hitter, but during his first nine years in the majors, he has hit 15 or more homers in a season twice, scored more than 80 runs, twice, reached 80 RBIs only once, and has never had a season with a BA higher than .293 and his .393 OBP during his rookie campaign has never been approached.

BENCH

Ian Happ, age 24, of/inf., 6’0”, 205 pounds, bats both, throws right

With 167 strikeouts in 387 at-bats (462 plate appearances) it is apparent that Happ needs better plate awareness and the ability to be both more selective and more aggressive. Like teammate Baez, if he can slow down the game and lay off the low outside breaking stuff he will become a very dangerous hitter in the Cubs lineup. After an impressive rookie season in 2017, Happ’s numbers dropped in every offensive category except walks, which jumped from 39 to 70, and on-base percentage which improved to a .353 reading last year from a .328 mark the previous season. He has power from both sides of the plate, runs the bases well, and can handle all three outfield positions while also having the athleticism to operate the third base and second base positions.  

Being young, strong, talented, and determined to succeed will play out well for Happ as he will continue to grow as a major leaguer and put up impressive totals in 2019, including 25-plus homers.

Daniel Descalso, age 32, inf., 5’10”, 190 pounds, bats left, throws right

The nine-year veteran is a good bat off the bench and a player who can fill in at any infield position and even a spot in the outfield. A line-drive hitter with some power, Descalso will excel at his role as a pinch hitter and player who will fill in at various positions.

He appears excited to be on a team expected to win and that intensity will help the Cubs to remain focused on reclaiming the N.L. Central Division flag.

STARTING PITCHERS

Jon Lester, age 35, lhp, 6’4”, 240 pounds, bats left, throws left

Lester has been worth every penny of the hefty contract he signed in December 2014 that gave the Cubs a legitimate No. 1 ace. During his first four years with the Cubs, he is 61-31 with a 3.33 ERA and 770 innings pitched. Age is always a concern for a pitcher with as many games, and stressful innings Lester has compiled during his 13 years in the majors. He may not have another 19-5, 2.44 ERA he had in 2016 or the 18-6 mark he established last year, but Lester will continue to have his peak moments in big games. With the offensive capabilities the Cubs possess, look for Lester to win 15 games and be looked upon to start must win contests.

He may have lost some zip on his fastball, but Lester’s strength is his ability to adjust and get batters out with less electrifying stuff. His intelligence and strength will endure another year as he will continue to shut down opponents.

Cole Hamels, age 35, lhp, 6’4”, 205 pounds, bats left, throws left

If Hamels can pitch a full season the way he did for most of his career with the Phillies and Rangers and during his 12 outings with the Cubs last year (4-3, 2.36 ERA, 74 strikeouts, 76.1 innings) then Chicago will be elated they picked up his $20 million option for 2019. The crafty left-hander picked up a few miles on his fastball at the end of last season and was extremely effective. Hamels will be good for 10-15 wins in 2019 and will post an ERA below 3.50 and chew up anywhere from 175 to 200 innings.

Hamels would like nothing more than another shot at a World Series title and he is aware of the team around him, so expect him to be an effective starter and clubhouse leader.

Kyle Hendricks, age 29, rhp, 6’3”, 190 pounds, bats right, throws right

Hendricks has worked hard to be a quality starter in the majors with a fastball that rarely reaches the 89-90 mph range. His changeup is one of the best in baseball and he excels at keeping hitters guessing and off balance. He has also earned the trust of manager Joe Maddon, who frequently during his first few seasons as Cubs field boss pulled Hendricks from games earlier than was necessary. Hendricks was roughed up a bit during spring outings, but he will get better as the season gets longer.

Hendricks will be another Cubs starter with 10-plus wins and an ERA around 3.00 while completing 190 or more innings.

Yu Darvish, age 32, 6’5”, 220 pounds, bats right, throws right

After an injury-filled 2018 season, Darvish contests his arm troubles are behind him and he is ready to show he can live up to the value of his contract (6-year, $126 million). That is a large scale of expectations to meet, but the Japanese right-hander will fulfill that promise if he remains healthy. There is no question that when Darvish is right, he possesses some of the nastiest stuff in the game and hitters don’t find it easy stepping into the batter’s box to face his mid-90s fastball, hard breaking slider, sharp breaking curve, changeup and split-finger fastball.

If Darvish is right in 2019, look for him to contend with Kris Bryant for Comeback Player of the Year honors in the N.L.

Jose Quintana, age 30, 6’1”, 220 pounds, bats right, throws left

Quintana is not an ace of the staff pitcher or a team’s top-of-the-rotation Cy Young Award-winning candidate . . . but he is a dependable starter who will give you innings and a chance to win every time he takes the mound. He’s won 11 or more games in each of the last three seasons with an average of 190 innings, 32 starts, 3.77 ERA, and 182 strikeouts per year. Quintana and teammate Lester are the only two MLB pitchers to start 32 or more games in each of the last six seasons.

Quintana will continue with his ability to take the ball every fifth day and put his team in a position to win.

SWINGMEN

Mike Montgomery, age 29, 6’5”, 215 pounds, bats left, throws left

As Javy Baez thrives at multiple positions, Montgomery delivers in different roles on the Cubs staff. During his two-plus seasons with the Cubs, he has pitched in 99 games—38 starts and 61 relief appearances—while compiling a 13-15 record, three saves, 3.56 ERA, 285 innings, and three holds. His ability to start and relieve will give the Cubs a deep rotation and protection in the bullpen.

Barring any setback in his recovery from shoulder stiffness that limited his work during the spring, Montgomery is expected to be ready for the start of the season and should be an instrumental piece to the staff in his swingman role as both a starter and reliever.

Tyler Chatwood, age 29, 6’0”, 185 pounds, bats right, throws right

After leading the N.L. in defeats (15) with the Rockies in 2017 and signing a hefty contract (three years, $38 million) with the Cubs and leading the majors in walks (95 in 103.2 IP) in 2018, Chatwood is primed to prove his value as a pitcher. Like Montgomery, he will be used as a swingman and start out as a reliever with opportunities to take on starting assignments as the season grows old or injuries occur. His control issue that has affected his performances the last few years has been addressed and if he can limit the free passes he surrenders, he should bounce back in a positive way that will benefit the Cubs in 2019.

Chatwood is determined to regain his confidence and ability to get batters out whether he has to prove his value as a reliever or a starter. He will hone his ability and conquer his role as a starter and bullpen specialist.

BULLPEN

Brandon Morrow, age 34, 6’3”, 205 pounds, bats right, throws right

Morrow has suffered and bounced back from injuries throughout his 12 years in the majors, but at 34, his age is a big factor on how well and how fast he can recover from ailments. He was a strong closer in the first half of 2018 (1.47 ERA, 22 saves) before a bone bruise on his right arm ended his season. In 2019, he was hoping for a strong comeback, but arthroscopic surgery on his elbow will have him on the DL to open the season and push his comeback to May at the earliest. If Morrow is healthy, he will team up with Pedro Strop for closing duties.

Morrow has dynamic stuff when he is healthy and the Cubs will monitor his usage in 2019 to allow him to be as effective in the bullpen as he possibly can.

Pedro Strop, age 33, 6’1”, 220 pounds, bats right, throws right

Since joining the Cubs at mid-season in 2013, Strop has been one of the most underrated relievers in MLB. With the Cubs, he has appeared in 361 games with a 19-19 record, 331.1 innings, 19 saves, 2.63 ERA, and 131 holds. He collected 13 saves last season when Morrow was placed on the disabled list. He was quality stuff and is as good a reliever as the Cubs have in the bullpen.

Strop and Morrow will split time as the Cubs closer and both will record 20 or more saves with impressive ERAs.

Carl Edwards, age 27, 6’3”, 170 pounds, bats right, throws right

Edwards is a hard-throwing right-hander who has the stuff to be a great closer or shutdown setup man, but the obstacle he needs to overcome is his confidence level. When he believes, he is lights out . . . but when hitters give him trouble and control problems arise, he struggles to get outs.

This will be a make or break year for Edwards with the Cubs and he appears ready to meet his challenge and become the steady reliever the team has expected him to become.

Brad Brach, age 32, 6’6”, 215 pounds, bats right, throws right

Brach has had some great success with the Padres, Orioles, and Braves. In 27 games with Atlanta last year, he posted a 1.52 ERA with one win and one save. In 2016 with Baltimore, he had a career year with a 10-4 record, 2.05 ERA and 79 innings in 71 games. If Brach can command his arsenal—four-seam and split-finger fastballs, slider, two-seam fastball, and change, he could be an effective middle man and add depth to the bullpen. His fastball ranges between 92-94 mph with a splitter and slider that check in at around 87.

Look for Brach to fill several bullpen roles and if he can eliminate his problem of surrendering too many walks, then he will be effective.

Steve Cishek, age 32, 6’6”, 215 pounds, bats right, throws right

The lanky right-hander has great stuff and put together a quality season for the Cubs in 2018 with a 4-3 record, four saves, 2.18 ERA, and 78 strikeouts in 70.1 innings. His funky delivery keeps right-handed hitters at bay—they hit only .165 against him last season and he’s held them to a .198 mark during his nine years in the majors. He also can be used as a closer, having produced 34, 39, and 25-save seasons with the Marlins and Mariners.

Cishek can be used in many roles as a reliever which makes him a valuable asset, especially with his ability to throw in consecutive games.

Brian Duensing, age 36, 6’0”, 200 pounds, bats left, throws left

The veteran left-hander will be used frequently as a specialist against left-handed hitters as he holds a 3.50 strikeout-to-walk ratio against lefties and has held them to a .237 BA against during his 10-year career. Although he suffered injuries last year and was roughed up with a 7.65 ERA in 37.2 innings, expect Duensing to rebound and be used in situations that will be suited for success.

Duensing's trouble in 2018, outside his injury, was his inability to have command of his pitches—allowing 29 walks and 42 hits in 37.2 innings. If his command is in check, he becomes a valuable lefty out of the pen.

Brandon Kintzler,age 34, 6’0”, 194 pounds, bats right, throws right

Kintzler had a 29-save season in 2017 and is a groundball specialist who will be frequently used when a needed double play is in order.

He could prove to be a valuable backend bullpen specialist who could fill many roles in emergency situations. Look for him to be an asset if he isn’t overused.

Randy Rosario, age 24, 6’1”, 200 pounds, bats left, throws left

Rosario showed some electric stuff in his stint with the Cubs last season, producing a 4-0 record, one save, 3.66 ERA and 30 strikeouts in 46.2 innings. He throws in the mid-90s with a peak of around 97 mph. He has heavy sinking action with his four-seam fastball and he is effective against left-handed batters. Improvement with his command on his fastball and slider will give the Cubs a powerful lefty out of the pen . . . and with youth on his side, Rosario is poised for a breakout year.

Rosario has the potential to be a phenomenal reliever and could be a savior for the Cubs in the middle innings.

OTHER BULLPEN ARMS

There will be other relievers who will get their shot at becoming an integral piece of the Cubs pitching staff at some point during the 2019 season—Dillon Maples, Alec Mills, Kyle Ryan, Xavier Cedeno—and hopefully they will succeed and give the Cubs a reliable bullpen.

It’s a game of inches — and dollars. Get the latest sports news and analysis of valuations, signings and hirings, once a week in your inbox, from the Forbes SportsMoney Playbook newsletter. Sign up here.

Source : https://www.forbes.com/sites/robertkuenster/2019/03/19/cubs-roster-is-a-blend-of-new-and-old-that-will-send-team-on-another-postseason-ride/

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