Cubs camp report: Likes and Dislikes

MESA, Az. – What I like, and dislike, about the Cubs:

Things I like

1. The future looks bright, with future stars including Javier Baez, Jorge Soler and Albert Almora giving the Cubs more talent on the farm than they’ve had in many years.

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2. The front of the rotation, with Jeff Samardzija, Matt Garza and Edwin Jackson, may not have a proven ace but it’s plenty talented. Samardzija, in particular, has the chance to emerge as a true No. 1 pitcher.

3. The bet on Anthony Rizzo looks like a winner so far. While he looked dreadful in a second-half callup with the Padres in 2011, a revamped swing shored up some holes and led to a very nice few months with the Cubs. He hit .285 with 15 home runs.

4. The DP combination of Starlin Castro and Darwin Barney should be one of the better ones in baseball for years to come. Castro is an all-around star while the Cubs hope the Gold Glove-winning Barney will do better than the .254 he hit last year.

5. If Kyuji Fujikawa is half as good as his numbers in the Japanese League, he’ll be a star as a set-up man.

Things I dislike

1. Third base could be a trouble spot. Ian Stewart is running out of chances, and it’s hard to share manager Dale Sveum’s enthusiasm for Luis Valbuena, who’s bounced around a bit. Perhaps former No. 1 pick Josh Vitters, who hit .304 at Triple-A Iowa, will help at some point this season.

2.  Closer Carlos Marmol needs to throw more strikes. He had 45 walks in 55 1/3 innings in 2012.

3. They need to get off to a decent start to start to truly believe in themselves. They have a nice vibe going in spring training, but it can’t be too far from their mind that they lost 101 games in 2012 (and have a history of losing).

4. There’s an overall offensive question, as their .680 team OPS last year was better than only the Mariners and Astros. Only the rightfield platoon of Scott Hairston and Nate Schierholtz plus backup catcher Dioner Navarro was added. They’ll need better offensive years from Castro and Barney.

5. There still is a pitching talent deficit in the minors. Almost all the top prospects are infielders, with a couple outfielders mixed in there. This is what led to the team signing four free-agent starters.

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