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A little over two weeks ago, the Cubs reportedly came to an agreement on a seven-year deal with Dansby Swanson, a contract that became official a few days later on the day of his introductory press conference. And with that deal came a semblance of hope for a better 2023 on the North Side.
Swanson isn’t going to do it himself. It’ll take the entire organization, from the head honchos sitting in Gallagher Way to the players at the lower levels of the minors, to make it possible. But after a mostly awful 2022 that followed the 2021 trade deadline teardown, fans of this team are ready to see a little more success when they make the trip to Wrigley Field or turn the channel to Marquee.
So, what is it that you want to see from the Chicago Cubs in 2023? Some of the CHGO Cubs team members give their thoughts.
1. What is the No. 1 thing you want to see out of the Cubs in 2023?
Brendan Miller: I need to see the positional prospects add value to the MLB team in the same way that the 2022 pitching prospects did (Justin Steele, Keegan Thompson, etc.). Two positional players that are vital for a healthy Cubs system are Pete Crow-Armstrong and Kevin Alcantara — both of whom could position themselves for the 2024 roster. If Crow-Armstrong succeeds at Double-A Tennessee, he might even contribute to the 2023 team, the front office has promoted Double-A hitters straight to the bigs.
Jared Wyllys: At least a .500 baseball team. Not counting the wild-card appearance in the shortened 2020 season, the Cubs have been mediocre for going on four seasons now. They haven’t been particularly competitive in the playoffs since 2017. It’s time to have the product on the field match the rest of the Wrigleyville experience. The Ricketts family has gotten what they wanted off of the field. Wrigleyville is essentially unrecognizable— for better or worse — they own most of the property around the ballpark and they have their TV network. Time to field a team that makes paying for Marquee worth it.
Kyle Williams: No. 1 is just to see the Cubs field a competitive baseball team in 2023. The additions of Jameson Taillon and Swanson show an investment in the major-league team that wasn’t there in previous years. In a weak division filled with teams that can’t flex the Cubs’ financial power, it’s time that they continue building a winning baseball team.
2. Out of the areas of need on this team, which is most important for the Cubs to address?
Miller: While the Cubs have enormous pitching depth, they still lack the ace-like workhorse that the World Series era Cubs had in Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta and Kyle Hendricks. It’s possible Taillon is better as a Cub than as a Yankee if his curveball progresses. For example, Taillon’s spin efficiency was in the lower half of MLB last season, and he talked about it as a possible area of improvement during his Cubs introductory press conference. Similarly, former Yankee farmhand Hayden Wesneski might continue to excel and develop at the MLB level by embracing his changeup, a pitch he described as the key to his dominance.
Wyllys: The lack of reliable power from the traditional power spots in the lineup. First and third base are now a far cry from when Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo anchored the corners of the infield. My expectations for Matt Mervis are pretty low, largely because he has had only one successful minor league season. I hope to be proven wrong about this, but I don’t think it’s wise to pin a lot of hopes on Mervis providing much in 2023. In order for the Cubs to be legitimate contenders again, they can’t have Patrick Wisdom at third and a giant question mark at first.
Williams: President of baseball operations Jed Hoyer has constructed a team built on its defense and starting pitching, but runs will be hard to come by. The Cubs lost their best power bat in Willson Contreras (team-leading .466 slugging percentage). The Cubs finished the 2022 season 17th in home runs and didn’t address it through free agency. Wisdom is a good power bat, but his swing-and-miss tendency makes him an unreliable hitter at third. To be a team in the thick of the playoff race in August and September, they’ll need players like Mervis or Cody Bellinger to provide the power to a contact-oriented lineup.
3. Which young players/prospects do you most want to see take steps forward in 2023?
Miller: I’d like to see Reginald Preciado take that next step. He was one of the highly touted teenage prospects whom the Cubs acquired for Yu Darvish. Unfortunately, Preciado suffered a knee injury that held him to under 200 plate appearances in the rookie league and Single-A ball last season. Now healthy, Preciado hopefully convinces scouts and fans that his 60-grade raw power is for real. A greedy and perhaps unrealistic expectation for Preciado is he crushes A-ball and moves through Double-A without much trouble (we can dream, right?).
I’d also like to see DJ Herz improve his command. The Cubs aggressively promoted the 21-year-old lefty to Double-A last season with former first-rounder Jordan Wicks. Whereas Wicks succeeded with an 11.3 K/9 and 3.5 BB/9, Herz’s BB/9 was almost 10 despite a strong 12 K/9 in 31 2/3 innings. Herz has some of the nastiest stuff in the Cubs’ system with a wipeout breaker and funky delivery that reminds fans of Dontrelle Willis. He just needs to find better control.
Wyllys: Christopher Morel is intriguing. He started off well in May and June and then had a very quiet second half. Because of his defensive versatility, I’d like to see if he can make the needed adjustments to be able to produce at the plate more consistently. He doesn’t have to be a stud, but Morel might be the most likable guy on the roster, and I’d like to see him do well.
Otherwise, Wesneski was exciting to watch in September. Is there something there? Speaking of likable guys, Wesneski would quickly become a fan favorite the more time he spends at Wrigley, and not just for what he can do on the mound. Lastly, let’s not forget about Caleb Kilian. He was a key part of the Bryant-to-the-Giants trade in 2021. Kilian’s three starts for the Cubs in 2022 were pretty bad, but last year was also his first real full season as a pro (he pitched just 100 innings in 2021 and only a handful in 2019). He won’t turn 26 until June, so I am optimistic about what Kilian will be able to do
Williams: 2023 is a huge year for Brennan Davis after an injury-plagued 2022 season. The 2021 Futures Game MVP projects as an all-around hitter who can play in either corner outfield spot. If he performs well at Triple-A Iowa, he could add some pop to a Cubs lineup that sorely needs it.
Wicks has become a forgotten man due to the additions of Cade Horton and Wesneski through the draft and trade, respectively. The former Kansas State pitcher progressed to Double-A Tennessee last season, striking out 11.3 batters per nine innings, and a good year could have him quickly shooting through the ranks.
4. Which Cub could most use a bounce-back season?
Miller: This one was easy for me — it’s Kyle Hendricks. The decorated Cubs starting pitcher is facing what Pat Hughes would say is a career “turning point.” Hendricks knows he needs to successfully adapt to keep his rotation spot. In fact, both he and Tommy Hottovy told CHGO that he could eventually add a slider. Although it seems unlikely Hendricks would add a significant breaking pitch immediately following a shoulder injury, fans were surprised to see Hendricks reportedly deviated from the Cubs’ in-house pitching program by opting for a private Driveline-styled throwing program, similar to what Clayton Kershaw did recently. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Hendricks bounce back and remind MLB why he was both the Game 6 NLCS and Game 7 World Series starter for the 2016 champion Chicago Cubs.
Wyllys: Kyle Hendricks! Imagine the difference it would make to the rotation if he is able to be remotely close to as good as he was a few years ago. The past two seasons have been pretty bad, but Hendricks just turned 33 in December, so I think he can still show the Cubs something. The Cubs have a team option for $16 million in 2024 (his vesting option became a club option when Hendricks didn’t finish in the top three in Cy Young voting in 2020), so the coming season is more or less a contract year for Hendricks and probably his last opportunity to show he’s worth a multi-year contract.
Williams: Kyle Hendricks. The last man standing from the 2016 World Series team, Hendricks battled through the worst season of his professional career (a career-worst 4.80 ERA). It’s unlikely that Hendricks will return to the dominance of prior seasons, but he needs to show that he can still be a middle-of-the-rotation pitcher after a significant shoulder injury.
5. Which player (that isn’t Dansby Swanson) is most likely to emerge as a star on the team next season?
Miller: Many players could emerge as stars on the 2023 Cubs team, but only Justin Steele showcased consistent success, dramatic changes and ceiling elevation. Steele’s fastball pitch grade by Cameron Grove’s scoring algorithm was among the most improved pitches from June to the end of last season. By the end of 2022, Steele’s fastball pitch grade was better than almost 85 percent of MLB starters. Steele improved his fastball by embracing its cutting action and throwing more towards the shins of right-handed batters, a strategy that Lester suggested. By following Lester’s advice, Steele not only increased his command score but also increased its spin rate and competitive misses. With 125 innings under his belt and growing confidence, Steele has a realistic chance to cement himself as a staple for this current Cubs team and teams in the next half decade.
Wyllys: I’m going to go out on a limb here and say Bellinger. He played like a future Hall of Famer for his first three seasons, from 2017-19. It’s likely that an injury to his left leg in early 2021 has affected his swing in the last two seasons (check out a thorough breakdown of that here), and if Bellinger can get fully past that, look out. Bellinger is still only 27, and if he is healthy and swinging like his old self again, the Cubs will have struck absolute gold. The tricky part will be what to do with him if that happens. He’ll be a desirable trade candidate in July if the team is not doing well, but he’s also young enough to consider trying to build around. Bellinger is my somewhat-deep sleeper pick to go nuts in 2023.
Williams: Is it cheating to choose Seiya Suzuki? The Cubs’ huge free-agent signing last year had a solid season (.262 batting average, .433 slugging percentage and a .770 OPS.) after a lockout that impacted most of his offseason while he also began adjusting to a new environment. With one year in the books, Suzuki should build on his rookie campaign and become a foundational star for the Cubs.
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