Despite being on pace for one of the worst record in Chicago Cubs history, the emergence of some young players and the pleasant surprise of some veterans built some more hope for Cubs fans headed into the second half of the season.
1. Rizzo living up to hype: After trading away the best young arm in the Cubs system for Anthony Rizzo, the arrival of the young slugger on the North Side was much anticipated since Opening day. Ignoring the fans desires and the team’s needs, Epstein and Hoyer stuck to their plan of making him play 162 games at the triple a level. Rizzo made his Cubs debut on June 26th and has lived up to his expectations so far. In 12 games, he is batting .354 with four doubles, four home runs and nine RBI’s. All signs point to Rizzo being the Cubs first basemen for many years to come.
2. Dempster is on fire: After a disappointing 2011 campaign, Ryan Dempster has come back with a very impressive first half. Despite two stints on the disabled list, he has a league leading 1.99 ERA. The best part of Dempster’s great first half is his trade value has risen tremendously. Being in the final year of his deal, it was expected that the Cubs would deal him at the July 31st trade deadline, but the return value could be much higher than expected. With many contenders looking to add one more solid arm to their rotation, the Cubs could see a top prospect or two in return for Dempster.
3. Epstein building through draft and international signings: In their first draft with the Cubs, Epstein, Hoyer and McLeod went all out in this year’s draft. With a huge need of young arms in the system, the Cubs drafted an influx of pitching. Although not all of them will turn into major league starters, the Cubs hope a handful of them will turn into possible solid big league starters down the road. However, with their first pick the Cubs drafted a top position prospect, Albert Almora. Epstein has been following Almora for a couple of years and jumped on the first opportunity he had to draft him. After the draft was complete, the Cubs turned to international prospects to help reload their system, and they got one of the top international prospect, Jorge Soler. Adding Soler and Almora into the mix of Javier Baez, Brett Jackson, Matt Szczur, Josh Vitters and Junior Lake, the Cubs have great hitting talent in the minor league system.
4. Young players that have been surprises: Heading into the year, Cubs managment simply tried to just throw together a roster as the begin the reload the system. But the play of some of those fill in players have increased the hope for the future on the North Side. Bryan LaHair finally got his chance to be an every day starter at the major league level and he took off with his opportunity. He became a home run threat into the Cubs lineup that had very little power in the lineup. Even though he lost his starting job to Rizzo two weeks ago, LaHair was still named to his first all star game. Other players that have been nice surprises are Darwin Barney (who is now involved in trade talks), Steve Clevenger, Jeff Samardzija and Travis Wood.
5. The future is approaching: All though it has been tough to watch this season, the future of the Cubs is slowly coming into place. Two major building blocks, Starlin Castro and Rizzo have taken their places in the Cubs lineup and will remain there for years to come. Prospects like Jackson and Vitters are not to far off from the majors and are expected to be in the starting lineup everyday next season. And the trade deadline will bring the Cubs some more prospects that are almost ready for the major leagues. Hold tight Cubs fans, a baseball genius is building a potential world series team and he is doing a magnificent job so far.