There’s a sense of optimism surrounding the 2015 Chicago Cubs. After signing Jon Lester to a six-year, $155 million contract, Chicago finally has an ace to match-up against its rivals in the National League Central. Last season, Lester went 16-11 with a 2.48 ERA. Chicago also signed ex-Tampa Bay Rays skipper Joe Maddon to become its new manager. Maddon, who is known for his innovative thinking and tough love mentality, will be a welcome addition in the Windy City. Chicago’s lineup will also welcome a few new faces, which includes catchers Miguel Montero and David Ross. Chicago’s infield will be rounded out with first baseman Anthony Rizzo, second baseman Javier Baez, shortstop Starlin Castro, and third baseman Luis Valbuena. Chicago’s outfield will be comprised by Chris Coghlan, Jorge Soler, and Arismendy Alcantara. Below are five things to watch during Spring Training for the Cubs.
Storyline #1: The Influence of Lester
Lester brings a winning attitude and a winning mentality to a franchise that desperately needs it. Lester, a member of three World Series championship teams with the Boston Red Sox, knows how to win in October. In 12 post-season starts, Lester boasts a 6-4 record with a 2.57 ERA. When Chicago returns to the postseason, Lester will be ready to take the ball in Game 1.
Storyline #2: Maddon’s Impact
Maddon, who managed the Tampa Bay Rays for nine seasons, turned a perennial 90+ loss team into a team that became an annual contender in the tough American League East. During 2008, Maddon’s Rays won 97 games en-route to the American League Pennant. Tampa Bay was limited by payroll, but Maddon will not have that issue in Chicago. Expect Maddon’s brash nature to work well in Chicago.
Storyline #3: The Maturation of Rizzo
25-year-old Anthony Rizzo continues to develop into one of the National League’s best first basemen. Last season, Rizzo took another step forward, increasing his home run output from 23 to 32. Rizzo also improved his batting average by 53 points, resulting in a career-high .286 mark. Rizzo’s .993 fielding percentage is one of the best marks in baseball. Expect him to take another step forward in 2015.
Storyline #4: What’s Next for Castro?
Only 24 years old, Starlin Castro has experienced a rocky five-year career. During his first two full seasons, Castro compiled 390 hits and 47 stolen bases. Things went south during 2013 as Castro hit just .241 and only had nine stolen bases. Castro dealt with injuries in 2014, but bounced back to hit .292 over 134 games. Castro appears to be healthy, but will he return to his pre-2013 form?
Storyline #5: Soler Breakout?
In just 22 games, 22-year-old Jorge Soler accumulated 26 hits, 13 of which went for extra bases. Soler clubbed five home runs in 89 at-bats which bodes well for future performance. Soler did strikeout 24 times, which may make him a little inconsistent. Keep an eye on his production during Spring Training.
Cubs spring training tickets have an average price of $75.61 across 15 games at Cubs Park.