Jesse Rogers recaps the Cubs by position and looks at what changes might be in store for 2014.
The Cubs outfield is a work in progress as two of the starters on opening day 2013 were traded before season’s end. But their replacements, Junior Lake and the combination of Ryan Sweeney and Brian Bogusevic, provided some intrigue in the final months of the year. Nate Schierholtz was a scouting success as the Cubs found the perfect left-handed gap hitter for Wrigley Field -- at least at their price point. Alfonso Soriano and David DeJesus did their jobs well enough that other teams sought them out and the Cubs were able to cash in via trade by saving money.
The good: Soriano was finally tradeable, thanks to a hot finish to the first half of the season. As usual, when the weather warmed up so did Soriano -- and he stole a few bases along the way to prove his health. DeJesus was the Cubs' best at battling the opposing pitcher and drawing a walk, or at least a decent at-bat. By leaving, they opened the door for Lake who showed all the tools of being a good player and an unselfishness any manager would admire. His ability to hit the ball out of the park and then lay down a bunt, while still learning to play in the outfield, gives hope for his future. Schierholtz hit 21 home runs in his first year as a near full-time starter while Bogusevic remains an intriguing player since converting from pitcher. His ceiling might be higher than that of the better-known Sweeney.
The bad: Soriano’s start helped doom the Cubs offense as it has in the past. He hit .263 with one home run and two RBIs in April. DeJesus slowed down after an injury, forcing the Cubs into a salary dump instead of getting something back in a trade, while Schierholtz also finished the season quietly, hitting .177 in September with just one home run. Lake made some defensive mistakes in left field but was better when he played center.
Who’s next?: Lake seems entrenched for now but Jorge Soler and Albert Almora are seemingly the next two major names that could make their way to Wrigley Field. That won’t be next year, however. There’s always a chance former No. 1 draft pick Brett Jackson rebounds from some tough times, but unless Kris Bryant makes the move to the outfield full time, Almora and Soler have jobs waiting for them when they’re ready.
2014 outlook: Since some of the Cubs prospects won’t be ready in 2014 expect another transition year in the outfield with Lake becoming a mainstay if he can handle the everyday grind of a major league season. Lake showed more than enough to win a job out of spring training in left or center field. Schierholtz is unsigned, but Cubs property, so expect him back in right. Sweeney or Schierholtz could return as a backup but the Cubs might hit the free-agent market for a middle-of-the-road starter. A return of DeJesus via free agency isn’t out of the question, simply because he’s the type of hitter the Cubs like having around younger players. Lake is the key, though. Is he destined for a long career at Wrigley Field and how good can he be?