Posts Tagged ‘Mauricio Rubio Jr.’

by: Mauricio Rubio Jr.
email: 
mr@99sportsproblems.com
twitter: MRubio52

Yesterday I took a look at the AL Central and gave a prediction of how I think the teams will finish the year. Today I’ll be looking at a historically weak division, the NL Central. The tempting thing about the NL Central is that it’s attainable. The Cubs are blessed to be in a relatively easy division. The powerhouse teams lost two key contributors in Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder. The temptation will be there if the Cubs manage to find themselves in contention early in the year to sell off the farm and go for it now. I know a few Cub fans that would fully endorse that strategy, but they should begin to understand that the Cubs aren’t going for it this year. So with that, here’s how I think they stack up.

1. Cincinnati Reds –  Dusty is gonna Dusty. He’s already pushed two young Reds pitchers to the limit and it’s scary to give him control over Mat Latos, a guy who is getting over shoulder trouble. The projected 5 starters for the Reds are Cueto-Latos-Arroyo-Leake-Bailey. Latos is coming over from a park that suppresses offense, but he was a guy that missed bats. Throughout the minors Latos was consistently above 8 with his K/9 rate. His command was spotty last year, and he lost a tick on his fastball, but he still oozes potential. He’s 23 and he has to work on some things to become the elite pitcher he hinted at becoming 2 years ago. I think he delivers on some of his potential but the GABP will mask some of the gains that he’ll make this year. The real reason I have the Reds winning the division is on the back of that offense. VottoRolenBruce is a bitch of a row to get through. Bruce is displaying the power potential that will eventually make him a star. He improved his road splits last year. Votto should be the MVP of the league this year with both Prince and Albert gone from the NL and a slight regression from Matt Kemp. If the Reds can get any production from the SS position they’ll be a historic offense. Zack Cozart is slated to be the starting shortstop. After last year’s shortstop debacle Cozart will have a longer grace period than most to produce, but he’s 25 and you usually know what a player is at that age. The bullpen will be missing Ryan Madson who is out for the year and will undergo Tommy John surgery. Sean Marshall becomes the closer and he should fill in nicely in that role. The rest of the bullpen is shaky, even phenom Aroldis Chapman will have his “Oh God” moments, but it shouldn’t keep them from competing.

2. Milwaukee Brewers – Yovani Gallardo and Zack Greinke should be battling for Cy Young votes next year. The rotation after those two gets a little bit shaky, but if Marcum keeps the gains he’s made over the past few years, he’ll remain the solid #3 option that the Brewers need to compete for both the division and the extra wildcard spot. Where they fall into trouble will be offense, which is strange to say of this team. They are replacing Prince with Mat Gamel at first, but Fielder’s production will be sorely missing from this lineup. If Corey Hart isn’t healthy (he’s dealing with a knee issue) it further compounds the issue. Fielder was an OPS machine, and the Brewers brought in Aramis Ramirez to help mitigate the effect of his departure. Braun and Ramirez will be productive, but they won’t replace the production that both Prince and Hart brought to the team. The pitching will keep them in contention, and that bullpen is solid. Axford established himself as a reliable closer, and I expect a disgruntled K-Rod to be traded by the deadline this year. The offense needs to figure it out if they want to win the division, as it stands they should win the second Wild Card spot.

3. St. Louis Cardinals – No Albert, limited Carpenter, limited Wainwright and no Magic Pixie Dust from the old man means a slide back for the Cardinals. St. Louis is depending on too many older players for them to win this division. Carlos Beltran has to stay healthy for the offense to be potent enough to compete with the Reds. Matt Holliday and Lance Berkman are a decent 1-2 punch, but the Machine isn’t looming in this lineup anymore. Rather, World Series hero David Freese and Yadier Molina will be their protection in the lineup. The pitching is going to suffer the loss of Carpenter, who is only supposed to miss a month, but older pitchers with shoulder issues aren’t something to be treated lightly. Wainwright will help, and the bullpen will be solid, but the Cards offense will limit their ceiling in 2012. They will be competitive, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see them either win the division or make the playoffs, but I don’t see it happening.

4. Pittsburgh Pirates – They don’t have enough to be taken as a serious contender. Andrew McCutchen is a great player, but the front offices inability to surround him with talent is a concern. Their starting 3B, Pedro Alvarez, has lost his way at the plate and he wasn’t very special to begin with defensively. There’s an ugly hitch in his swing now and he tends to have happy feet in the box. Neil Walker is a good player, but the Pirate offense can’t be taken seriously at this point. They don’t have a front line starter, they’re relying on the corpse of Erik Bedard to be productive, and while they have an ok bullpen, there won’t be too many save opportunities. This is another lost year for a lost franchise, and I bet they’ll still finish ahead of the Cubs. Speaking of which…

5. Chicago Cubs – I did an in depth series on their depth. You can read it here. There’s three parts to it, so take you’re time. I’ll wait.

They’re gonna be awful this year, and that’s part of the grandiose plan that TheoCo has drawn up. The next few years are about two things, accumulating good prospects and getting rid of bad contracts. The Cubs have famously shot themselves in the foot when it comes to spending in the hopes that a World Series trophy would render these next few years as a honeymoon period as the team tries to restock and retool. Well, the Cubs choked all that away in 2007 and 2008, fell spectacularly on their face in 2009, had their manager quit on them in 2010 and hired the cryptkeeper for 2011. Then that Boston craziness happened and we somehow ended up with a competent front office that has a concrete plan for building a serious contender for years to come. It doesn’t look like they’ll stray from that plan either, so get ready for a 70 win season folks, because Soriano is the only established offensive threat the Cubs have right now. The division is certainly gettable for the next few years, but the Cubs won’t bite. They’ll wait, and I’m fine with that.

6. Houston Astros – This franchise is awful. The offense rates below average as it will center around an old fat 1B and a young OF prospect with a flat swing plane. Well, that’s not fair to JD Martinez, he is a legit hitter, but his power will be limited because of his swing, and that’s a bit of an issue at The Ballpark Formerly Known as Enron. The opposition will certainly knock the ball out of the park, but the Astros can’t do it on a consistent enough basis to be taken seriously. The starting rotation is headlined by Wandy Rodriguez, but after that it’s a collection of bad. The bullpen is meh and there’s no hope down on the farm. They’re gonna be bad for awhile.

by Mauricio Rubio Jr.
Email:
 mr@99sportsproblems.com
Twitter: @MRubio52 

Part one, which focuses on the infield, can be found here.

Part two, which focuses on the outfield, can be found here.

Pitchers

1. Matt Garza – It’s unfortunate that Garza is a legitimate ace because the Cubs aren’t ready to reward his talent. He’ll be 28 this year and he’s an absolute stud. There’s been a lot of talk that the cubs need to trade Garza and get a good haul of prospects back for him. I’m moving into the camp that thinks it’s not absolutely necessary. I wouldn’t be mad if it did happen, but I think that Garza will still be effective into his mid 30’s when the Cubs should be ready to compete. He won’t ever be considered an elite pitcher due to his penchant to give up the home run, but you can certainly make the argument that he should be. He’s actually maintained velocity on his fastball, but he works his offspeed stuff well enough that a slight dip won’t matter.

Matt Garza's velocity

2. Carlos Marmol – Marmol will always played a dangerous game with the base on balls, but it’s crawling into scary territory now. His historic 2010 season was probably him at his peak, and I believe the Cubs would have done well to trade him then. Marmol’s top comp has always been Rob Dibble. That’s kind of an issue because Dibble’s production fell off the table at age 28 and was done with baseball at age 31. Marmol’s production did taper off in 2011, his age 28 season, as he didn’t induce more batters to swing at his White Castle Slider (it’ll make you shit your pants). That’s the issue with slider dominant relievers that rely on the strikeout, the careers are short as batters just lay off the garbage. He’s losing velocity on his fastball as well and the window to trade him may have closed already.

Marmol's velocity

3. Ryan Dempster – I don’t like the guy’s personality and I think too many fans give him a free pass because he’s “funny.” He caught very little grief for being a no-show to the 2008 playoffs and that really turned me off to the dude. All that being said he’s a decent middle of the rotation option for contending teams, but on the Cubs he starts opening day. Don’t look at the ERA from last year too much, bad defense was to blame for being over 4, but if the Cubs are looking to get any value from him they need to move him now. He’s a crafty righty who mixes pitches well enough to be solid, but his average stuff keeps him from being elite.

4. Jeff Samardzija – Just when you think you can ridicule a product from Notre Dame and write him off completely, he comes around and does that for an entire season. I remember this being the one draft pick and subsequent signing that made me start hating Hendry. He’s confounding, he never was a strikeout artist in the minors, but he almost struck out a batter per inning in the majors. He’s always had a good fastball, but he learned a cutter last season and relied less on the heat with good results.

So of course it makes sense that he’s competing for a rotation slot and has a decent chance of winning the job. I don’t know what to make of him anymore, he wasn’t worth the money that Hendry dished out to him, but his second career as a starter, which was what he was drafted as to begin with, might actually be successful.

5. Paul Maholm – He doesn’t strike anyone out and he gives up a lot of hits. That’s a bad combo for any pitcher, but it’ll be especially bad for Maholm in a Cubs uni. The Cubs defense is still trying to improve and it won’t do any favors for a Livan Hernandez like pitcher. Maholm isn’t quite the workhorse that Livan was, and he can’t handle the bat like him either. Maholm shouldn’t last long with the Cubs, he’s effectively holding the spot for someone else.

6. Travis Wood – He was much better in 2010 than he was in 2011 when he became much more hittable and saw his K-rate get slashed. LoMo vouches for Wood’s stuff, but as we all know, baseball is one big nasty game of adjustments. The league clearly adjusted to Wood and the tape is out on him, it’s up to Travis to adjust back. He’ll need to if he wants to find significant big league success. He’ll be 25 this year.

7. Chris Volstad – He’s slowly been lowering his walk rate and he posted the highest strikeout rate of his young major league career last year, but he was more hittable than ever in 2011 and he saw an uptick in his HR/9 ratio. That’s a bad combo for the Cubs. Volstad filled out physically last year, but his stuff didn’t. He’s likely to make the rotation, but the 25 year old will need to work hard to avoid the “Rotation Filler” tag that he seems destined to acquire.

8. Randy Wells – Remember him? There were the whispers that he was enjoying the North Side night life a little too much in 2010 and the allegations carried into 2011. He’s not fooling anyone with his stuff and his walk rate has been climbing since 2009. He was blasted for 23 HR’s in 135 ip last year, that’s awful. He’s a curious case and he’s going to have to find some answers in 2012 if he wants to stick around with the big club.

9. Marcos Mateo – There’s a lot of ifs with Mateo. If he’s healthy and if he can cut his contact rate, he can close if Marmol implodes. He has a good strikeout rate for a late inning reliever, but he doesn’t avoid many bats yet. He has the stuff, and he has moderate command, if he takes a step forward he can be a sleeper candidate for the closer’s role moving forward in a post-Marmol time. At the time of this writing an MRI showed no damage to his elbow but he is getting shut down for 10 days.

10. Trey McNutt – I was a fan of the McNutt experience since he was drafted, but as we all should know, AA ball is nut cutting time for prospects, and McNutt looks lost there. He needs a third pitch (and eventually a fourth) to deliever on his SP promise, but the first item on the docket is to find his mechanics again. McNutt still has age on his side, but as Chili Davis once said, “Growing old is mandatory; growing up is optional.” Time to grow up, McNutt.

11. Jay Jackson – Jackson has been sliding backwards since his promotion to AA in 2009. If he ever figures “it” out, he can be a useful back of the rotation option, but for now he looks like a reliever. Jackson has average stuff and a plus fastball, but he has a good combo of pitches that would be more useful in the rotation than in the pen.

12. Kerry Wood – This speaks more to the lack of organizational depth than Kerry Wood’s importance to the 2012 Cubs. I like Wood, I always have. He was a warrior and he wanted to be out there, but his body consistently failed him as he threw with an unhealthy delivery that cut his career down. He’ll be solid in 2012, but he’s likely to be done after that. I don’t know why the Cubs resigned Wood, I won’t complain too much about it since he’s a cheapish option for the ‘pen, but he won’t be on the next Cubs contender.

Synopsis

This organization is pretty bare. It’s not on the level of the White Sox (that’s not a shot kids, the Sox system is universally panned as the worst in baseball), but there isn’t a lot of help down on the farm that can compete for starting jobs. Jay Jackson is a significant prospect in the system, and that’s an issue. As for the big league club, they will struggle to win 72 games this year. The future of this team lies in the amateur drafts that take place in June. The Cubs need pitching help the most as the system is noticeably bare of impact SP talent. Effective relievers can be found through various means, but finding a solid #1 or #2 starter is difficult. The makeup of this team should be drastically different by September as Cub fans should be introduced to young talent that can make a difference at the Major League level. Anthony Rizzo is the best prospect on the team in my opinion, and his call up date should be around May-June, depending on what Bryan LaHair is up to. Brett Jackson should be a star, but not necessarily a superstar. I would be happy with his development if he ended up being Curtis Granderson before the HR explosion, or Mike Cameron.  Trey McNutt is the best pitching prospect with the departure of Cashner and Carpenter, and that’s worrisome. Dillon Maples is a name to pay attention to, but he is yet to make his pro debut.

There’s a lot of work to do, but I do trust in TheoCo. to get it done.

[audio http://awmr01.podbean.com/mf/web/qz9pzj/Episode011.mp3]

In this episode we briefly look at the Brandon Marshall trade, then we go to our true love, baseball. We check in on Jamie Moyer, look at the AL and NL Central, list off our top 10 baseball memories and sit back, relax and strap it down. Enjoy kids, all love and no hate here.