2011 Cubs a Pretty Blank Slate

I haven’t heard anyone not named Carlos Silva complain about Andrew Cashner being named the Cubs’ 5th starter. I’m still waiting for a yet-to-be-discredited Cubs blog to erupt in rage over Marcos Mateo making the roster. Nobody seems all that bothered to see Silva go, and if you’re looking to find someone who is, I’m sorry to disappoint you. But I’m not dancing for joy, either.

The experience on this Cubs squad is shockingly limited. To some people that’s reason for excitement, maybe because it makes things like projections easier to dismiss. Starlin Castro could be as phenomenal as we hope. Tyler Colvin could improve upon last year. Cashner could prove he’s much more than a back-of-the-rotation guy.

Or they and their fellow Cubbie brat pack members could prove that they are really young and unreliable.

 

Let’s take a look at how many spots on this team are filled by guys with three or fewer full seasons in the majors. The starting rotation features two such players: Randy Wells (his 365 career innings make him positively ancient on this staff) and Andrew Cashner (54.1 IP). Three of the seven bullpen spots are held by newbies: Jeff Samardzija (81.2 career IP, each one more fun than the last), James Russell (49 IP in his rookie season), and Marcos Mateo (21.2 IP).

We expect Ryan Dempster, Carlos Zambrano, and Matt Garza to start well and Carlos Marmol, Kerry Wood, and Sean Marshall to do the heavy lifting in the bullpen (John Grabow will also be there) but the performance of the young guns is the big question. Should they all exceed expectations, the Cubs’ staff could be great. But when four of those guys have recorded fewer than 250 major league outs in their careers, it’s unreasonable to expect reliability, much less greatness, don’t you think? 

The picture isn’t brighter among the position players. The outfield is pretty much a veteran group, unless you completely ignore Kosuke Fukudome‘s career in Japan. Technically he has only three years of major league experience, but his backup slash lefty/lefty platoon partner Tyler Colvin has just 414 plate appearances to his name. And Colvin is a guy a lot of Cubs fans are counting on to improve, and not just the really naive ones. I’m sure loads of people would rather see Colvin in the lineup than Fuk or even Alfonso Soriano. Let the kids play, they say.

And they’re playing in the infield, especially at shortstop. Starlin Castro is my favorite player on this team, and he’s quite literally the poster boy of this franchise. But he’s 21 and has made 506 MLB plate appearances in his life. You can’t pin the hopes of a whole team on that. Whoever winds up being his middle-infield counterpart on any given day isn’t going to be a rock star, but if it’s either Darwin Barney (85 career PA) or Blake DeWitt (970 PA), it will be someone who hasn’t done much to prove himself as an established major leaguer. Sure there’s potential, but there’s no reason to believe these guys will perform closer to their ceilings (Aaron Boone) than their floors (Aaron Miles).

The situation at catcher is another one where the prevailing wisdom in the Cubs blogosphere (which is unquestionably riddled with genius) is that Welington Castillo (and his 21 career PA) or whoever the other guy is should take Koyie Hill‘s spot as a backup. Now, I’m as confident as anyone in Geovany Soto‘s ability to excel as a starter, but it’s worth noting that even he has only three full seasons in the majors and has yet to reach 1,500 plate appearances (1426). Should Hill meet the fate the fans hope for and get cut from the roster like a suddenly sore thumb, that would leave the Cubs with no true veteran experience behind the plate.

It would also mean the Cubs roster would include just 13 players with more than 3 full seasons at the major league level, and Cubs fans aren’t exactly thrilled with the older guys, either.

In theory, that would make the Cubs’ youth movement very exciting to watch in 2011. But when it bears out in practice, it could make for a very ugly reality. I hope Cubs fans are ready to allow the little Cubs to grow through a year of pretty fantastic failure before lashing out and eating their young.

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