Make no mistake, the first month of the Chicago Cubs has been about as bad as everyone was predicting. From failing to score a run in their fist 17 innings of play to a ninth inning meltdown on Wrigley Field’s 100th anniversary, the Cubs have plenty of struggles.
Just 25 games into the season, the Cubs already find themselves 11 games back of the first place Brewers and have the second worst record in the major leagues. As most of you already knew, it will be another long season on the North Side.
With that being said, 2014 is a big year in the Cubs plan and there has been some positive progress through the first month. Here is a look at three positive takeaways from April.
1. Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro Rebounding: The most important issue heading into this season for the Cubs was the progress of Rizzo and Castro. The Cubs front office showed their belief in these two players as big pieces of the future moving forward by giving them long-term deals. However, Rizzo and Castro both really struggled at the plate in 2013 which many to questions about their potential.
The first month of the 2014 season has been a different story for these two guys. Rizzo got off to a bit of a slow start in the first week but really caught fire in the middle of the month. Although his power numbers are not where they were at this point last season, Rizzo had is average above .300 for most of the month. A tough weekend in Milwaukee has brought his average down to .283, but Rizzo’s on-base percentage of .407 ranks 9th amongst all National League hitters. Castro, who is batting .308, has looked a lot more like his old self at the plate so far this year. It seems the Cubs have accepted the fact that Castro needs to be aggressive at the plate and won’t be a player that works deep counts and draws a lot of walks. Castro has leads the team in RBIs and is tied for the team lead with four home runs. And away from a few errors, Castro has been a lot better defense at short.
2. Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel Increasing Trade Value: While there were constantly rumors about the Cubs trading Samardzija over the offseason, it appears they made the right move by holding onto their ace for a little bit longer. Although the chances of the two sides reaching an agreement are slim to none, Samardzija has raised his value in the first month of the season. Through six starts(41 IP), Shark has posted a 1.98 ERA which ranks ninth among all NL starters. Despite outstanding numbers, the Cubs have yet to get Samardjiza a win. If he keeps pitching like this, the Cubs are going to get a huge package in return when they decide to trade him. The market is always strongest around the trade deadline so it appears that the Cubs were smart to wait to pull the trigger on a trade.
Jason Hammel is in the same situation that we saw last year with Scott Feldman. Hammel has always had the ability to be an effective big league starter but has struggled a lot due to injuries. The Cubs gave the 31 year old right hander a one year, $6MM deal over the offseason and so far it has paid off. Through five stars, Hammel has posted a 2.08 ERA and leads all Major League pitchers with a 0.69 WHIP(Walks,Hits/IP). Although the Cubs could consider giving Hammel an extension if he continues to pitch well, they will most likely end up trading him this season. Although he won’t bring back a big package, the Cubs could get a mid tier prospect or two for him.
3. Justin Grimm and Hector Rondon emerge as long term options in the bullpen: While the bullpen as a whole has been pretty bad so far this year, Grimm and Rondon has been outstanding for the Cubs. Both players are still quite young are could fit into the Cubs long-term plans for the bullpen. Grimm, 25, does have a chance to become a starter in the future but I think he is better suited as a reliever. In 11.1 IP, Grimm has posted a 0.79 ERA while striking out 13. Rondon,26, has also been stellar in the pen, posting a 0.68 ERA through 13.1 IP and will most likely get a shot at the closers role in the near future
Other Notes: While it’s unclear if his success will continue, Emilio Bonifacio was a bright spot for the Cubs in April. After he was signed during spring training, Bonifacio had an incredible start at the plate. He leads the team in average, runs scores, and stolen bases. Despite the numbers, it is a small sample size and I’m not sure where he fits in the Cubs’s plans right now. He is a very versatile player as he can play in the infield or outfield so the Cubs may consider holding onto to him for those reasons. However, if any team offers the Cubs a decent trade around the trade deadline they will probably send him off.