Chicago Cubs 2021: Scouting, Projected Lineup, Season Prediction

How will things shape up in the NL Central?

No team in baseball enters 2021 in as profound and difficult a period of transition as the Cubs. Key members of the team's 2016 championship roster have moved on to new teams, as has president of baseball operations Theo Epstein. Longtime Epstein lieutenant Jed Hoyer has stepped into that role, and manager David Ross enters his second season with a talented roster and a division title under his belt, but the depth that made this team unbeatable a half-decade ago has given way to a roster with glaring holes.

 

Opposing Scouts Size Up the Cubs

Chicago Cubs logo"They're not quite going away just yet — they're not the sad, hapless Cubs again — but the writing's on the wall there. They mortgaged a lot of the future to keep it going after the World Series, and the people they've brought up, like Nico Hoerner, just aren't the same quality. The Jason Heyward contract is what it is, but he's an elite defender and he's improved as a hitter every year he's been there. They've got him signed through 2023. They made the bold move to trade Yu Darvish — he won't get any more valuable than he is right now. Javier Baez is still one of the elite performers in the league, but he's got to have a big bounce-back season to get what he wants in free agency; he's not a big on-base guy to begin with, and teams pay for that. He deserved his Gold Glove, though, and Willson Contreras should've gotten one, too. He's as good as it gets as a catcher. And if there's a smarter guy on the mound than Kyle Hendricks, I don't know who he is. Love to see him dominate in this age of velocity."

 

Beyond the Box Score

 

A new voice Cubs fans tuning into the team's still-new Marquee Sports Network coverage in 2021 will have a new play-by-play broadcaster with whom to become acquainted. After 16 years with the team, beloved broadcaster Len Kasper defected to the White Sox, where he'll call games on the radio. The Cubs announced the hiring of Jon "Boog" Sciambi as his replacement.

 

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Taking the long view Just after Christmas, Jed Hoyer made the first major personnel move of his regime. By trading Yu Darvish and Victor Caratini for a return centered upon four prospects yet to play at even the High-A level, Hoyer's front office pivoted the team away from the contention window they've treasured and toward an emphasis on sustainability.


Anyone's race Despite the questions hanging over the Cubs' roster, they are the defending champions of the NL Central, and none of their rivals have asserted themselves as clear favorites for 2021 (and many are cutting costs). Chicago should be in the thick of the playoff race, which gives them major upside, should some key players snap out of their 2020 doldrums.


No-no yields no guarantees Alec Mills threw a no-hitter on Sept. 13 in Milwaukee, part of a season in which he turned in a handful of dazzling performances. On balance, though, Mills doesn't inspire a ton of confidence. He's one of the league's softest-tossing righthanders. He employs a crossfire, low-arm angle delivery, which can be deceptive but won't fool opponents forever. His DRA was almost a run higher than his 4.48 ERA, per Baseball Prospectus, suggesting that he's little more than a swingman or fifth starter in the long run.


Reframing the future Early in his career, Willson Contreras was an excellent offensive catcher, but the numbers showed that he was a poor pitch-framer, costing Cubs pitchers strikes all around the edges of the strike zone. In 2020, that changed for the better, thanks to a wholly new approach to the craft. For years, framing was treated as an exercise in catching the ball quietly, showing almost no glove movement, so that the umpire would think the pitcher hit his spot perfectly. Over the last few years, though, a new vogue has emerged, whereby catchers set a target before the pitch is thrown, only to drop it, then catch the ball with a dynamic, smooth motion, giving every pitch the appearance of being in the center of the zone, even if it's not "quiet' glovework. For the twitchy Contreras, the new style is a great fit, and the early returns were tremendous.

 

Projected Lineup

 

LINEUP

CF     Ian Happ (S)

3B     Kris Bryant (R)

1B     Anthony Rizzo (L)

SS     Javier Baez (R)

C       Willson Contreras (R)

LF     Joc Pederson (L)

RF     Jason Heyward (L)

2B     Nico Hoerner (R)

 

BENCH

C      Austin Romine (R)

INF   David Bote (R)

INF   Ildemaro Vargas (S)

OF   Jake Marisnick (R)

 

ROTATION

RHP     Kyle Hendricks

RHP     Jake Arrieta

RHP     Kyle Davies

RHP     Adbert Alzolay

RHP     Alec Mills

 

BULLPEN

RHP     Craig Kimbrel (C)

RHP     Rowan Wick

LHP     Kyle Ryan

RHP     Brandon Workman

LHP     Andrew Chafin

LHP     Brad Wieck

RHP     Jason Adam

RHP     Duane Underwood Jr.

RHP     Dan Winkler

 

2021 Prediction: 2nd in NL Central

 

(Anthony Rizzo photo courtesy of @Cubs)

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