It's that glorious time of year. We're nearing the end of Spring Training, and the collective fatigue that we all feel from a long, dark winter has yielded to the hope of the 2015 Cubs season. Nearly everything is still in front of us, including Kris Bryant's Major League debut (insert Tony Clark frown here).
With the season about ready to kick off, here are 10 predictions of what will transpire over the course of the next six months. As a disclaimer, I completed my predictions for the position players and the starting pitchers on February 22 but due to some work and family distractions, I haven't completed picks for the relief pitchers, preventing me from having posted these picks on my personal blog. Some of those picks look smart (example: Felix Doubront will have zero appearances because he won't make the team) while some look patently absurd (15 plate appearances for Matt Szczur?).
1. The Cubs will wait for more than 12 days to add Kris Bryant to the 40-man roster and promote him to Chicago, but he will make his debut in April
I'm starting with a gimme. The Cubs likely suspect that a grievance is coming. Calling Bryant up on the first possible day after his 2021 season has been secured will add fuel to the fire; waiting a few extra days will help their cause. The Cubs host the Padres in mid-April when Bryant's additional year has been secured; expect to see him debut in either Pittsburgh (April 20-23) or Cincinnati (April 24-26). That would make his Wrigley Field (or whatever is left of it) debut on Monday, April 27 against the Pirates. Get your tickets today!
2. The Cubs will have seven different starting pitchers start at least 10 games
This one might seem a bit bizarre, but the number of injury concerns in the rotation almost necessitate this. I have Jon Lester pegged for 33 starts but everyone else slated to miss at least a handful of starts for one reason or another. I have Kyle Hendricks coming in next with 28 starts; Hendricks has steadily increased his workload from 147.2 innings in 2012 to 166.1 innings in 2013 to 183.0 innings in 2014, so he's on track to reach 200 innings in 2015. Still, it's a big jump to spend the whole year in the Major Leagues. The next three starters -- Tsuyoshi Wada (23), Jake Arrieta (27), and Jason Hammel (25) -- all have notable injury histories, as does Jacob Turner (12). That leaves 14 starts for Edwin Jackson. Before you start crying, keep the faith: if this is going to be a magical year, even Edwin can contribute.
3. The Cubs will finally draft a pitcher in the first round of the Rule 4 Draft for the first time since 2010
The Hayden Simpson experience didn't go too well. In the aftermath, the franchise has selected exclusively position players with their top pick as Javier Baez, Albert Almora, Bryant, and Kyle Schwarber have been the top pick over the past four drafts. While I like a quartet of prep bats available this June (SS Brendan Rodgers, OF Nick Plummer, OF Daz Cameron, and C Chris Betts), this draft figures to offer more value on the mound. While Duke righty Michael Matuella figures to go in the first few picks, the remaining arms could all plausibly slip to the ninth pick. Plenty of them interest me -- particularly prep lefty Kolby Allard and big collegiate righty Cody Ponce -- but no player is more interesting in this class than Brady Aiken. If Aiken is available and signable with the ninth pick, I think the front office might take the plunge. Regardless, the value lies with the arms, especially if you're not high on the likes of Dansby Swanson (name notwithstanding), Ian Happ, or Alex Bregman.
4. Starlin Castro will continue his ascent to the upper echelon of Major League shortstops...but Addison Russell will nip at his heels
No position battle for 2016 figures to be more interesting than the Cubs' fight at shortstop. The situation could resolve itself easily -- Baez to second, Castro at short, Russell to third, Bryant to left, and Schwarber forced behind the dish or wearing another uniform -- but the calls to find a way to play Russell at shortstop will only get louder as he continues to overmatch older competition in the high minor leagues. I have Castro pegged for a second breakout season (.305/.355/.455, 18 home runs over 700 plate appearances), but I also ranked Russell ahead of Bryant among Cubs prospects in October. If Russell continues his own ascent, the murmurs to convert Castro and his friendly contract into Chris Archer or Archie Bradley will pick up steam.
5. Chris Coghlan will not party like it's 2014
I have been very pleased with Coghlan this spring: his plate approach still appears sound and he uses the entire field with his bat. However, Coghlan will need to hammer the ball to stay in the lineup when Bryant arrives given Coghlan's brutal defensive game. Unlike Dexter Fowler, whose defense the analytics hate but scouts/fans enjoy, Coghlan's defense receives nearly universal disdain. 2014 was wonderful, but I doubt Coghlan is a Cub this time next year after spending much of 2015 on the bench. I have him down for a .230/.305/.335 batting line and horrible defense, a combination that results in the club pulling the plug on Coghlan after 415 plate appearances.
6. No player will be tougher to peg than Junior Lake
It's a near certainty that Lake will start the year in Iowa. Looking at the outfield depth chart, Lake appears to be behind Fowler, Coghlan, Jorge Soler, Chris Denorfia, Arismendy Alcantara, Matt Szczur, and, by late April, Bryant. A full year at Triple-A could be good for Lake after his disastrous 2014 campaign, but let's not forget that Lake had a very promising debut with a .284/.332/.428 batting line in a 64-game audition as a 23-year-old in 2013. A huge strikeout rate spike combined with a big drop in BABIP crushed Lake in 2014, but there's still plenty of talent. If he gets rolling again at Iowa, he could be a factor. It's just not clear how he could be a factor with the Cubs.
7. Kris Bryant will lap the field as the runaway Rookie of the Year Award winner
I'm an unabashed Bryant supporter. I tried to remain cautiously optimistic with him, but I failed: .270/.380/.535 with 30 home runs. I think he's going to be a monster bat who plays primarily third base with about a dozen games coming in left field. I've seen him abuse too many minor league pitchers to pick him for something lesser.
8. Zac Rosscup will supplant Phil Coke as the primary left-handed reliever by July
I mean no disrespect to Coke, though I will note that Coke has struggled in recent years, but this prediction is driven by my belief that Rosscup will grab the reigns when he gets a shot and never look book. Rosscup has climbed the ladder steadily. He looks ready for a role.
9. The Cubs will NOT acquire a marquee talent at the trade deadline
This may make some folks sad, but unless an American League team with a desperate need for left-handed power bats comes calling on Kyle Schwarber and/or Dan Vogelbach while dangling a controllable frontline pitcher (*cough* Tampa *cough*), I don't think that the Cubs will pony up the trade package for an expensive veteran starter. With David Price, Jordan Zimmermann, Jeff Samardzija, Rick Porcello, Johnny Cueto, and company all slated for free agency, I think that the front office will ride it out with the current club, tinkering aside.
10. The Cubs will win 86 games...and sneak into the playoffs as the second Wild Card qualifier
It's a sport of parity or something like that. To me, the National League has two obvious elite contenders (Los Angeles, Washington), a team that always wins just because they always win (St. Louis), and a team ready to jump into the winner's circle for an extended stay (Miami -- gross). There are also four teams likely racing for the cellar: Arizona, Philadelphia, Atlanta, and Cincinnati. The Reds may not seem to fit that description, but I see a massive summer trading spree in their future followed by some really thin months. That leaves New York, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, Colorado, San Diego, San Francisco, and the Cubs fighting for the second Wild Card spot.
Are the odds great? No. But is there a chance? Absolutely.
In the immortal words of Bill Strannix as so expertly portrayed by Tommy Lee Jones: Welcome to the Revolution!
Having read this and having dreamed about 2015 for years, what are you excited to see and what do you expect to happen?