MESA, Ariz. -- The biggest question facing the Chicago Cubs this season is how many young players can make their way into the core group.
In a very best-case scenario, prospects Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Arismendy Alcantara, Mike Olt, Kyle Hendricks and possibly even Jorge Soler will be knocking on the door. Not all will make it to Chicago in 2014, and not all will be locks as long-term answers, but the Cubs don't need them all to be -- just a few. At the major league level, all eyes will be on Junior Lake in left field. Will he be a long-term answer, as well?
This question even supersedes the need for Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo to have big years. The next two seasons are critical for the Cubs' overall plan to work. These young position players have to start to make it to the big leagues and establish themselves or the plan is stuck in mud. At the same time, the Cubs need to find more pitching. It might come with the No. 4 pick in the draft this June, or it might come in the form of some pitching currently in the lower levels of the minor leagues.
Coming off a stellar 2013 (13-4, 2.00 ERA), Hendricks is next up among the starters. Without devastating stuff, he has to rely on his know-how, and for the Dartmouth graduate, it might be enough. But he still has question marks attached to his future, as do most of the Cubs prospects on the mound.
A best-case scenario has Olt producing right away at third base, Lake in left and Baez coming up to play second base with a rejuvenated Castro at shortstop. Or maybe Alcantara finds his way into the lineup. Then next year, the outfielders come in the form of Soler and Bryant -- assuming he switches position because of Olt's success -- followed by Albert Almora. Again, not all will make it, but at least the Cubs have several options at multiple positions. That's the key. Let competition among players help decide the future.
These are the big questions for 2014 (and 2015), but there aren't enough answers on the mound right now. Off the field, it's something the front office has to address. On the field, how the position player core shapes up is the biggest question mark.
And a fun one to watch.