National / Sports / April 9, 2014

Key takeaways from first weeks of MLB season

This is still not the Cubs year

As much as it actively pains me to say it, this year’s Chicago Cubs team is probably not going to reach .500 by the end of the season, and may well do much worse than that if some veterans find their way out of the Windy City by the time the trade deadline hits. But also, consider this: these are not the shoddy Cubs of the past.

Looking at the major league roster, it would be incredibly easy to think exactly that. There are a lot of no-names and a lot of young, unproven guys walking out on that field every day. But these are not the Cubs of the past. These are not the prospects of the past. When the Cubs hired Theo Epstein, he laid out a plan in which he expressly outlined that, at around the three-year mark of his tenure, Cubs fans would begin to grow impatient, as we have a tendency to do. But if you look closely enough, you’ll see that his work is paying dividends.

Already at the MLB level, we may be seeing some of the best pitching to come from the north side of Chicago since 2003, a year in which the Cubs made their closest run to the World Series in recent memory. Through the first week of play, the Cubs were sixth in the MLB in ERA, fourth in quality starts, 13th in WHIP and seventh in BAA. That said, the team was also in the bottom 10 in every major offensive statistic. Fortunately, that seems to be because all of Epstein’s bats are being patiently held in the minors.

Almost inarguably the best prospects the Cubs have are Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Albert Almora, Jorge Soler and CJ Edwards, who, by many accounts (including Baseball America, Keith Law and MLB’s official website) make up five of the top 50 prospects in the minor leagues. That’s a pretty good clip for being one of 30 teams. Given that four of those five prospects wield pretty hefty bats, there have been some fairly notable cries to bring them to the majors. But Epstein is waiting. He has his plan, and he’s sticking to it. This is not the year for the Cubs, but this organization holds their future.

Puig, Harper are still kids

Bryce Harper took a seat on the bench after admitting to feeling “pretty lost” at the plate, while Yasiel Puig was benched for the second time in his young career for showing up to the ballpark late, missing batting practice. The kids are absolute phenoms, and it’s important to remember that in light of their recent benchings, but it’s even more important to remember this: they’re just kids.

Bryce Harper may be talented, but he still has a lot to learn at the major league level. (Courtesy of http://goo.gl/ReRvlF)

Bryce Harper may be talented, but he still has a lot to learn at the major league level. (Courtesy of http://goo.gl/ReRvlF)

Despite each player’s marked emergence on to the MLB scene, their mishaps over the course of the 2014 season are but small blips on what will undoubtedly be remarkable MLB careers, if we just let them learn from their own mistakes and if we just let them act their age every once in a while.

Jose Fernandez is the real deal

Jose Fernandez has dazzled over his first two 2014 performances, proving that his standout 2013 season was no fluke. He has a high-90’s fastball, a slider with sharp enough break to freeze any righty and a curveball he’s unafraid to throw in any situation. As if that wasn’t quite enough, he drops a changeup into the equation every once in a while.

Even when he doesn’t have command, he simply knows how to pitch: in Saturday’s game against the Padres, when he’d tossed 56 pitches and had yet to escape the third, he switched up his traditional approach on the mound, tossing a few sinkers in lieu of fastballs, which was enough to completely baffle the San Diego lineup for the remainder of the day. A night that looked to be a short one for Fernandez was entirely flipped around based almost solely on his baseball IQ and keeping a steady head under pressure.

Through his first two starts, Fernandez has allowed only one run and eight hits while racking up 17 strikeouts over the course of 12.2 innings. If the statistics are drawn back to last year, he’s never allowed more than three runs over the course of his 20 career starts. This kid is the real deal, make no mistake. Move over, Strasburg. There’s a new ace in the NL East.

Money apparently can buy victories

After landing a hefty contract in the offseason, the Mariners’ Robinson Cano had a lot to prove after stepping on the field in Seattle. After dodging reports from the Yankees’ front office that he was often lazy in his tenure in New York, Cano seems to have his heart set on doing the exact opposite. We all knew he’d produce (and his .391/.500/.478 stat line is nothing to turn up your nose at), but he’s done more than meets the stat line.

Cano has drawn attention as being one of the better hitters in the Mariners’ lineup, drawing the intentional walks to show it: he had three through the first week in play, which allowed Justin Smoak, hitting right behind Cano, to go 1/3 with a bases clearing double following the intentional walk. Cano has shown a lot of hustle, as evidenced on a single to CF in which he took advantage of Coco Crisp jogging after the ball. And finally, Cano has showed a lot of leadership. As one of only nine players on the Mariners Roster on the other side of 30 years of age, Cano’s experience in the game has proved invaluable to the young roster, as is evidenced by their 4-2 start on the road and their spot in first place in the highly competitive AL West.

Gavin Crowell
Gavin Crowell is a senior psychology major with minors in neuroscience and journalism. He has been writing and editing for TKS since his freshman year. He has won three ICPA awards: 1st Place Sports News Story, 2nd Place Sports Feature Story and 3rd Place Sports Page Layout. During the summer after his sophomore year, Gavin had an internship with the Chicago Sun-Times, covering teams such as the Chicago Cubs, White Sox, Bears, Blackhawks and Fire. Following graduation, he intends to pursue a PhD in Clinical Psychology.

Tags:  Bryce Harper Chicago Cubs javier baez jose fernandez robinson cano Theo Epstein yasiel puig

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Gavin Crowell
Gavin Crowell is a senior psychology major with minors in neuroscience and journalism. He has been writing and editing for TKS since his freshman year. He has won three ICPA awards: 1st Place Sports News Story, 2nd Place Sports Feature Story and 3rd Place Sports Page Layout. During the summer after his sophomore year, Gavin had an internship with the Chicago Sun-Times, covering teams such as the Chicago Cubs, White Sox, Bears, Blackhawks and Fire. Following graduation, he intends to pursue a PhD in Clinical Psychology.




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