Preview of the National League Central Division

The 2015 Major League Baseball season begins with a match-up of traditional rivals, the St Louis Cardinals and the Chicago Cubs. The Cardinals are a perennial contender. They have reached the League Championship Series for 4 straight years including a World Series Championship in 2011. With the addition of Jason Heyward and no notable off-season losses, the Cardinals should remain a playoff contender this season. The Chicago Cubs are the lovable losers, who are hoping this is the year that they finally break the 106 year drought. They have reason for optimism with new manager Joe Maddon, who is considered one of the best managers in baseball, the addition of free agent pitcher Jon Lester to lead the starting rotation and top prospect Kris Bryant waiting in the wings to join the youthful talents of Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro and Jorge Soler. The question is how long will it take for the Cubs young talent to mature? Many players take about 3 seasons to gain the experience to perform consistently in the big leagues. If that’s the case, you might want to consider the Cubs in 2017.


As for the rest of the National League Central, the Pittsburgh Pirates, who lost the wild card playoff last season to the Giants, should again be a factor. Led by one of the most dynamic players in the National League, Andrew McCutchen and the pitching of Francisco Liriano plus the rising talent of righthander Gerrit Cole and outfielder Starling Marte, the Pirates are positioned to have another winning season. The question mark for the Milwaukee Brewers is the health of post- Biogenesis Ryan Braun. His presence with Aramis Ramirez, Carlos Gomez and Jonathan Lucroy could create an effective offense. The starting pitching with Wily Peralta, Matt Garza, Yovani Gallardo and Kyle Lohse is solid, but the bullpen without Francisco Rodriguez is a concern. The Cincinnati Reds have a solid number one starter in Johnny Cueto, but aside from that there are a lot of question marks. Have Joey Votto and Jay Bruce recovered from their knee problems? Is the real Billy Hamilton the .285 hitter of the first half or the .200 hitter of the second half? Can Marlon Byrd continue to produce at age 37? Can anyone in the bullpen outside of Aroldis Chapman pitch effectively?


Why did the Cubs demote Kris Bryant?

It’s the final week of spring training and teams around Major League Baseball are making their final decisions about which players will be on their opening day rosters. It’s not unusual for young prospects to be sent down to the minor leagues despite good spring training performances. A good batting average or a low ERA might have been accumulated against other minor leaguers. There could be signs that a hitter struggles with off-speed pitches or a pitcher struggles to throw an off-speed pitch. Defensive skills or decision-making that doesn’t show up on a stat sheet might be below par.

The point is that there are lot of intangibles outside of statistics that determine whether a team thinks a young player is ready for the big leagues. So it’s unusual when the demotion of a minor leaguer gets the media attention that Kris Bryant received when the Cubs reassigned him to minor league camp. A .425 batting average and an eye-popping 9 home runs for the young third baseman considered the top prospect in baseball certainly didn’t hurt his chances of making the team. Also, the current third baseman Luis Valbuena isn’t blocking the advancement of Bryant. What raises eyebrows is the circumstance surrounding Bryant’s free agency eligibility. By keeping him in the minors for just 12 days, the Cubs can delay Bryant from becoming eligible for free agency by one year. I’m curious what Cubs general manager Theo Epstein gave as an explanation for the reason Bryant needs more time in the minor leagues. Is there a legitimate reason or are the Cubs simply trying to save money? While the latter might make business sense, there does seem to be something unsavory about taking advantage of the rules to deprive Bryant of a deserved place in the Major Leagues. I wonder if he and his agent, Scott Boras, will remember that in 2021.