With Chicago Cubs spring training set to begin Feb. 14 in Mesa, Ariz., we're taking an early look around the diamond.
Our pick: Arrieta
Analysis: All eyes will be on Lake when the Cubs break camp in April and then Baez if he makes it to the majors later this year, but Arrieta might be the guy that impresses the most.
Coming over from Baltimore last season could prove to be exactly what Arrieta needed as he professed to have issues with how he was being coached there. Now slotted later in the rotation and free of high expectations, the right-hander might finally find a home for his devastating array of pitches. His curveball is as good as they come and he has a plus-fastball to go along with it. His problem has been his control, but that’s mostly because he started thinking too much on the mound instead of just pitching. At the end of last season, he said he learned what he needs to do in 2014 to max out on his abilities. At 28-years-old by opening day, it’s more than time for Arrieta to have that breakthrough year.
Baez could be an obvious choice for this award (and maybe he walks away with it next season) but we’ll assume he’ll have a few growing pains if and when he comes up from the minors -- to go along with some flashes of greatness of course. Lake is an overachiever and might get to another level after getting a taste of the big leagues last season, but he’ll have to prove he can handle all the pitchers' adjustments coming his way. And he needs to improve his defense in the outfield as well.
Olt was on the rise a couple years ago in the Texas system, but until he proves his eye troubles are behind him it would be a stretch to claim he’ll have a breakthrough year right now.
Arrieta is the underdog choice with Lake and Baez potentially breathing down his neck. The Cubs are entering a phase where every year over the next several there will be good candidates for breakout seasons. Most will come from among the position players, so if Arrieta can breakout from the pitcher’s mound it will be a huge boost to the team. He’s a former opening day starter (2012) for an eventual playoff team (Baltimore) and if his head can catch up to his arm the Cubs will have a very good pitcher just entering his prime.