Goatriders of the Apocalypse

Player Previews

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2009 Player Previews - Aaron Miles

Aaron Miles

You know what? I'd really like to see Aaron Miles on the bench during the 2009 season.

I'd really like to see him sitting while Mike Fontenot takes the field. You might say, I'd like Lou to bench Aaron Miles. If only there was a website to reflect this desire of mine.

...if only.

But seriously, folks, Miles isn't terribly good. He puts up a decent average (.289 for his career and .317 last year), but he's sort of a bit lacking in patience and power. He's averaged fewer than 30 walks a year, has a career OBP under .330, and has never managed more than a half dozen homers in a season. Miles, in short, is Jose Vizcaino without the wicked shades.

Over the last 5 years, Miles has posted OPS+'s of 72, 65, 74, 76, and 99. For the uninitiated, that includes zero years of league average baseball and a baseline right in line with a replacement player. He's what Ryan Theriot would be if he had peaked in 2007. Furthermore, the most similar batter for Miles according to Baseball Reference - among those who I've actually heard of - is Craig Counsel (and yes, I've heard of Jeff Treadway, but that's a terrible comp). The most similar batter for Mike Fontenot? No one. He's so damn good that there is not comparison.

Although if I had to pick one, it'd be Babe Ruth.

Well, maybe not quite Babe Ruth. Maybe Ruth's left thigh.

Or a buttock. Either buttock.

Miles? There is not one part of Babe Ruth that couldn't outhit Miles, and that includes his spleen. Yes, that's right, I said it. Babe Ruth's spleen could outhit Miles.

The important thing to remember in all this is that Lou's not an idiot. He knows that Miles is a backup and that Fontenot has the potential to be a huge contributor. Sure, Miles will get most starts again lefties (despite the fact that Fontenot was excellent against lefties in limited action last season), but that's cool. Miles will also likely get a few starts at short against righties and a little action at third.

I'm going to approach the middle infield of Miles/Fontenot/Theriot as a single unit. A three headed monster, if you will. But Fontenot will be the big head. The scary dragon head. Theriot's the slap hitting snake head who steals sloppily. And Miles? He's the shrunken head.

Go Cubs.

2009 Player Previews - Ryan Theriot

Ryan Theriot!

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Editor's note: Colin was due to write this preview today, but he instead chose to leave me high and dry lookin' for a Cubs blogger. Since the subject of this post is a favorite of Colin's, I'll do my best to write in his place everything he would have written. And for the denser reader out there, at least 1% of what I'm about to write is tongue in cheek.

Ryan Theriot will be the MVP of the 2009 Chicago Cubs. Let's face it - he was the unsung hero of the '08 squad, and he'll be back to cause even more damage to Chicago's opponents in 2009.

His defensive skills are dramatically undervalued. And what he does with the bat is nothing short of amazing. He consistently strokes singles and provides a deadly base-stealing threat -- something the Cubs haven't had in what feels like forever.

A lot of people wanted to cut Theriot loose after a mediocre '07 season. In his first full year in the majors, Theriot batted a meak .266 with an OPS of .642. At the time, I'd asked a simple question - would anybody be worried if he managed so much as a 1 exra single every week of the baseball season? The next year Theriot answered my question en force. Yes, EN effin' FORCE. He managed 35 more hits, batted an awesome .307, got on base at a clip of .387, and stole 22 while providing extremely solid defense at short.

So, how will he do in 2009? I think it's fair to say that Theriot is capable of putting up a career year. I'm talking 10-15 homeruns, 70-85 RBI, 40+ steals, a .320 AVG, and an OBP above .400. Not to mention he should finally get the Gold Glove he so justly deserves.

Ryan Theriot. The Cubs are lucky to have him. I know I'm just parroting Colin in saying all of that, but I believe it from the bottom of my heart - the guy is a stud, and - sorry, Ernie! - the best shortstop in the history of the Cubs organization.

2009 Player Previews - Ryan Dempster

Ryan Dempster

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Many of you know that I predicted a World Series Championship last season during Spring Training. Wait a minute that was Ryan Dempster. Well, I really predicted that Dempster would be an All-Star and rack a 17-6 record with a 2.96 ERA, not to mention a 1.20 WHIP in 206 innings. Who am I kidding, nobody thought Dempster would or could do that in any amount of innings.

Before last season, his best season as a starter came back in 200 with the Marlins. He posed a 3.36 ERA with 1.356 WHIP. During the spring, I was actually rooting for Jon Lieber to win a rotation spot. I really didn’t think Dempster was going to be able to hold up as a starter, but in reality was our best pitcher last season.

So, where does that leave us? Of course the Cubs went out and resigned Dempster to a 4-year 52 million dollar deal before the market crumbled. Will this hurt the Cubs? That truly is the question.

A few things alarm me about Dempster:

  • He was in a contract year.
  • It was first season starting since his surgery.
  • He walked a gazillion people in Game 1 of the NLDS.
  • He was in a contract year, oh wait I said that before. Still he was in a contract year.

Does this mean that Dempster can’t repeat his numbers? No, but I’m very worried that he is going to regress at least a lot. I hope he proves me wrong, but I can’t see a way he puts up those Cy Young type numbers this season. The guys at Baseball Prospectus seem to agree with me.

They have Dempster’s line at 11-9 with a 4.10 ERA in 168 innings to go along with his 1.38 WHIP.

I hope these numbers are wrong, but I would have thought his line would’ve been closer to this last season. The Cubs success will rest in large part on the shoulders of Dempster. Honestly, you have to think that Carlos Zambrano might be a little better (if healthy), and Ted Lilly (who I will talk about Thursday) will be about the same. The Cubs are putting a lot of faith into one year, and I hope the Canadian is up to the challenge, because he was a joy to watch last season.

2009 Player Previews - Alfonso Soriano

Alfonso Soriano

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Hoppy McHopperson tantalized us this offseason with rumors of a possible decent deeper into the heart of the batting order and out of the leadoff spot...only to have those rumors shot down days earlier.

Now going into 2009, Alfonso Soriano appears to ready to terrorize opposing pitchers and his own fan base from the No. 1 spot yet again.

While we could sit here and debate where Soriano should hit in the order for days on end, we’re going to just focus on looking ahead to this upcoming season.

Since coming to the Cubs two seasons ago, there seems to be one consistent theme to the Soriano story: He will get hurt.

So now that we can all expect Fonsie to limp off the field at some point this year, let’s not freak out when it happens.

Despite only playing in 109 games last season, Soriano still led the team in homers (29) and the Cubs enjoyed quite a bit of success without him.

That being said, there should be no worries. The guy will still produce and the Cubs should be able to sustain themselves without #12 roaming the outfield.

Although some reporters were writing about Soriano looking fresher and having more energy than he has had the past few years, I tend to take this information with a grain of salt and a bullsh!t card.

We’ve all anxiously been waiting for the  40/40 Soriano circa 2006 to reappear, but it ain’t going to happen friends. That Fonsie is long dead and gone. What we’re left with is a dinger-smashing strikeout artist who loves to make every routine catch into dramatic theatrical production. The speed isn’t there anymore and he’s too fragile to play enough games to hit 40. He got older and his production dropped. That’s what humans not on steroids do.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing however. I fully expect Soriano to put up nearly 30 homers this season (can you imagine if that power was being generated from the fifth or sixth spot in this batting order...anger rising) and to hit somewhere near .280 again. Hell, the guy might even steal 25-30 bases if he can stay healthy for nearly a full season. And while it’s easy to predict those numbers based on his past performances, his stats also suggest that we shouldn’t expect anything more.

So I guess it’s a given. The guy is going to bat leadoff, hit homers and eventually get hurt. Same story, different year, lots of hopping.

2009 Player Previews - Jeff Stevens

Jeff Stevens
Quick Links: Done Deal

As 2008 was drawing to a close, the Cubs did something that really cheesed off a healthy number of the Cubs Fan Nation - they dealt fan favorite Mark DeRosa to the Indians for a bunch of guys who won't play on the Cubs in 2009.

At the time, we thought it was Jim Hendry's way of arming the team for a move to acquire Jake Peavy, but that hasn't happened and instead I'm writing an article about one of the players as if he'll be a Cub this year.  Actually, I'm pretty sure he will be - just not for a while, and probably not for long.

Meet Jeff Stevens.  He'll be 25 this year and he's yet to pitch a game in the majors.  In 2006, he was a starting pitcher who wasn't really cutting it in mid-A ball.  The Indians then coverted him to the bullpen and he's been nothing short of successful ever since. 

As a prospect, he rates with about average control, a great K-rating, and he's considered above-average in terms of efficiency.  This Spring, that's translated into 5 appearances, 4.2 innings of work, 5 strikeouts, 4 walks, 7 hits allowed, and an ERA of 3.86.  The ERA is deceiving, though -- I'm just guessing, but I'd have to assume that anybody with a WHIP over 2 has probably allowed some inherited runners to score.

Stevens isn't about to crack this team, but if he can put together a solid start in Iowa, he very well might be Lou's first call-up for a variety of scenarios.  Like if Harden gets hurt and is replaced by a reliever like Gaudin or Heilman - assuming that neither start the year in the rotation, and at this point Grizzleyman Gaudin probably doesn't even deserve to make the bullpen - then Stevens would be likely called upon to toss relief for the Cubs. 

But chances are, his impact this year will be minimal.  But in 2010 - if he isn't part of a huge, team-changing trade - he just may play a very large role on the Cubs.

2009 Player Previews - Jeff Samardzija

2009 Player Preview - Jeff Samardzija
Quick Links
: The Great Shark Debate, by Goat Reader HarryCaray
The Top 20 Cubs Prospects - #1 Jeff Samardzija
2008 Season Recap - Jeff Samardzija
The Big 25 for 2009, as I see it

Editor's note: This article was originally going to be written by Byron, who chose instead to go MIA.  I'm calling him out for shirking his duties as a part of our new cruelty policy. 

Meet the next generation's Kerry Wood -- conditional upon a whole bunch of statements that start with the word "hopefully."  Like, Hopefully, Jeff Samardzija will be able to dominate NL hitters the same way that Kerry Wood used to before his arm tried to make a runner.  Hey, speaking of that, Hopefully, Jeff Samardzija won't suffer from all the debilitating arm injuries that Kerry Wood had.  Hopefully, he's ready sooner rather than later.  Hopefully.

One of the things I really appreciate about the Shark is that he really wants to be a Cub.  He's like us, but with an arm that can throw lightning and luxurious hair.  When he decided to be a baseball player for the Cubs, he demanded a no-trade clause.  And he has so much potential that the Cubs gave him what he wanted. 

In his first major league season, the Shark was a late-season call-up and he immediately joined Carlos Marmol in the ranks of awesome setup man.  In 27.2 innings, he went 1-0 with an ERA of 2.28 and 25 strikeouts.  The only point of concern is his control, or lack thereof.  There were times - especially toward the end of the year - where his control evaporated and he wasn't at all effective.  In September alone, Samardzija threw 8.1 innings, and he walked 8 while only striking out 6.  Ugly.

This year, it looks as if he's going to start the season in Iowa.  That's fine with us.  His 5 strikeouts and 2 walks in 8 innings of work are respectable; his ERA of 6.75 isn't.  He has options, though, and it won't be a bad thing for the Shark to get at least a few starts under his belt against Triple A hitting before he either steps in for Rich Harden or replaces an ineffective Sean Marshall/Aaron Heilman/whomever. 

Either way, Samardzija will probably - or at least hopefully, anyway - play a big role on the Cubs for the next long while.  But for the sakes of our stomach ulcers, it's probably not a bad thing that the Cubs are so deep in pitching that they're not relying on him.  Carlos Zambrano aside - and really, he sort of snuck up on us - the last few Great Pitching Hopes have either somersaulted into failure (Harkey) or just plain never lived up to the hype (Gonzalez, Wood, Prior, Cruz, etc. etc. etc. etc.).  Samardzija definitely has his own share of hype to deal with, but for once the Cubs are already strong without their future prospective ace.  For once, this guy is not the cake but instead may be the icing

2009 Player Previews - Mike Stanton

Mike Stanton

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A long time ago in a New York ballpark far away, Mike Stanton was the reliable lefty bullpen arm of a World Series dynasty. In fact, he's got a lot of playoff experience -- enough to essentially be a full season of baseball.

In 53 playoff appearances, Stanton threw 55.2 innings of work. He's 5-2 with 47 strikeouts, 21 walks, and an ERA of 2.10. He's pitched in the World Series in 6 separate seasons - 2 with the Braves and 4 with the Yankees, and he came out a winner on 3 occasions.

This is on top of a career of decent success - nobody makes the playoffs 11 times for 4 different teams without being good at his job. Point of fact, as a career reliever Mike Stanton's tossed more than 1,000 innings and earned more than 30 million dollars.

At a glance, with those credentials, Stanton sounds like a guy who should be a no-brainer to ascend into the Cubs bullpen and take up the job of lefty specialist. The only problem is that he's older than the effing space program. Well, maybe he's not quite that old, but Stanton was born before the summer of love. He was born when Hendrix was still dropping acid, when the Beatles were still making music together, when Cher was still hot. That dude is old.

He's also not exactly setting the world on fire this Spring. Hell, I'm not even sure if he's still with the team, but in 5 games pitched and 4.1 innings of work, Old Man Stanton has really struggled to keep those damned punks off his yard. His ERA is 6.23 and he's given up 7 hits while walking and striking out only 2. Then again, that's a very, very small sample size. If Stanton manages to stick with the team throughout the Spring, maybe he'll actually have put together decent enough numbers to justify making the squad. And if he makes the team, then that allows for Sean Marshall to be in the rotation. And if Sean Marshall starts the year in the rotation ... then justice will be served.

I should mention that before he forgot that yesterday was his turn, Rob was very supportive of Stanton and expected him to make the team. Maybe he still feels that way, I dunno. But I'm inviting the Uncouth Sloth to add on his own rhetoric to this post, because I'm actually very curious about what he has to say about the Old Man Who Throws Lefty.

2009 Player Previews - Paul Bako

Gabor

Screw you Paul Bako.

Or should I say Gabor Paul Bako II...if that is your real name...which it is.

You think you can come in here and replace my beloved Hank White as this team’s backup catcher? Blanco was a solid defender. He was a wise mentor. He was even a veteran leader from the friggin bench. Good luck with that bud.

Seriously though, Bako has some fairly big shoes to fill. While Blanco wasn’t a guy who was going to put up huge numbers with the lumber, he was more than serviceable behind the dish. Plus he was one of the few people in the Cubs organization who could yell at Carlos Zambrano and not have to sleep with one eye open later that night.

To be honest, I was a bit upset the Cubs weren’t willing to put together the cash to bring Hank back. He was familiar with the pitching staff and he could continue to contribute to the development of Geo Soto. He will be seriously missed...especially by Big Z. Just wait and see.

But enough about Hank, let’s focus on GPB2. Bako is in his second tour of duty with the Cubs, so his familiarity with the ball park and playing day games is a plus. On the negative side, he’s not much of a run producer and a bit of a step down defensively from last season’s situation.

However, his career batting numbers are quite similar to Blanco’s...

Bako: 11 seasons, 745 games, .231/.305/.317
Blanco: 11 seasons, 746 games, .227/.289/.364

Kinda creepy how close those are actually.

So I guess right now you have to consider Bako the “front runner” for the backup catcher position. But “front” and “runner” are just words. What do they even mean? Nothing I tells ya. Nothing at all.

Personally, I’m rootin’ for Koyie Hill. Not only is the guy a great story, but he is also rumored to be a favorite of the Cubs pitching staff. So if Lou is going to put a catcher who can’t hit out on the field as a spell for Soto, I’d rather it be a guy who knows the staff than a guy who kind of looks like Bill Murray. (Am I the only one that sees a possible resemblance?)

Anyway, let’s recap.

Bako’s positives: Familiar with Wrigley/day game routine, BA/OBP similar to Blanco, veteran presence, lefty bat

Bako’s negatives: Less power/run producing ability than Blanco, defensive downgrade, unfamiliar with the staff, lack of crazy arm tats.

Overall feelings on Bako: Meh

As long as he doesn’t cost the Cubs games then he should be fine. But the minute he does screw up, I’ll be the guy from the bleachers chanting "Hank White! Hank White! Hank White!"

2009 Player Previews - Joey Gathright

Joey Gathright

Let me start off this preview by officially welcoming The Human YouTube Reel to the North Side. Yes, I’ve decided to nick name Mr. Joey Gathright “The Human YouTube Reel” because he has all the physical abilities to be a “Human Highlight Reel” except for the lack of any actual statistical production.

Watch him jump over a car!

Watch him jump over an Asian person!

Watch him get a not-so-exciting bunt single while playing for a minor league team, err, the Kansas City Royals!

Whatever you do though, don’t look at his stats.

While he has been having a decent spring with the Cubs (6 hits in 18 at-bats, 2 RBI, 2 SB), his career numbers are a bit more underwhelming:

.263 BA, .328 OBP, .304 SLG, 1 HR, 96 RBI (through 408 MLB games and 1145 AB)

Although the numbers aren’t awesome in comparison to his impressive physical abilities, they aren’t as awful as one might expect from a guy who has failed to live up to his early career hype.

Speaking of physical abilities, Gathright is a freak. The guy can flat out run. Word on the street is that he ran a 60-yard dash in 6.1 seconds. Daaaaaaaaaaaaang. And this is exactly why I like him.

Unlike any other player who is sitting on the roster bubble, I think Gathright can make the club in spite of his weak bat. He’s got some killer speed on the base paths and he can serve as a solid outfield defensive replacement for late-game situations...areas the Cubs both have needs in.

While the odds are stacked against him, I’m rooting for Gathright. He might not get much PT with the big club, but I can see Lou bringing him in to steal second and get into scoring position or to replace Fonsie/Bradley when the Cubs are holding onto a small lead late in a game. Basically, he brings versatility to areas other than the plate, and I like it very much.

Anyway, it’s good to have a player in the organization who as all the athletic ability of the young players of yesteryear (Corey Patterson, Felix Pie) without any of the expectations...thus making his eventual failure so much easier to handle.

2009 Player Previews - Corey Koskie

Corey Koskie

The Cubs have some strange ideas regarding foreign players.

I mean, first there was Mr. Zero, brought in to babysit Kosuke as he assimilated to this strange new American culture. Zero, of course, was the reading on Shingo's gas tank as he never sniffed the Cubs' roster. He was a truly useless player by the time he found his way into the Cubs' camp. And now we have So Taguchi in to take care of Kosuke (who, conveniently enough, is touring the world with team Japan. Not sure what So's doing, exactly).  So's pretty crappy too. Not much on-the-field help there either.

Seems kind of silly, no?

But the whole Japanese companion thing has seemed pretty acceptable to most fans.  "Hey," the fans say, "he's Japanese. Who *knows* what he and So talk about." But less generally accepted are the rest of the little "helpers" brought in to aid those new to the Americas.

Alfonso Soriano brought in to babysit Aramis Ramirez was odd, but worked out pretty well.

Fontenot holding Theriot's hand...that worked out quite well.

And now we have the strangest member of the All-Chaperone team: Corey Koskie. Li'l Ryan Demspter struggled last year with the 2008 Cubs, failing to win 20 games for the 10 straight year, and most attribute his struggles to a general inability to fit in south of the Great Lakes. And so that's where Corey Koskie, a fellow mounty, comes in.

Sure, Koskie's kind of a long shot. Out of baseball for a couple of years, Koskie's unlikely to return to his former sorta-glory with the Twins, when he was a sure bet for 15-25 homers and a solid walk rate.  But stats aren't why Corey Koskie has come to the Cubs. They have players who can bring it on the field.

No, Koskie's here for what he can mean to Canadian Ryan Dempster.

Now Dempster has someone with whom he can discuss his strange ham-bacon food and yak fur hats.  Someone with whom he can argue the relative merit of Abies amabilis versus Abies lasiocarpa. Corey Koskie won't laugh when Ryan rides a moose into the clubhouse (like that insensitive bastard Derrek Lee).

You see, the "fans" who see Dempster as some kind of jokester aren't there to see the tears that well up when the crowds disperse.  What they don't get is that mocking foreign cultures is a shallow, shallow form of humor and hurts the subject of the joke. That's just not something you can understand until you've felt the sharp sting of a mocking American.

Corey Koskie knows.  And I think that's going to make all the difference.

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