Cubs expect to perform to capabilities

Cubs expect to perform to capabilities

Triple play:

1. Can Carlos Zambrano look more like a Cy Young candidate?
Zambrano is coming off a disappointing season in which he was unable to reach double digits in wins for the first time since he became a full-time starter in 2003. This winter, he dropped 15 pounds and dedicated himself to strengthening his core to try and avoid injuries. Big Z headed to Spring Training at least two weeks before pitchers and catchers report. The right-hander has the potential to be one of the elite pitchers in the game. Is this the year?

Spring Training
A look ahead
Quick hits

Spring Training links
Spring Training tickets
Travel packages
Spring Training schedule

2. Will Geovany Soto play like top rookie or slumping sophomore?
Soto had shined in 2008, winning National League Rookie of the Year with 23 homers and 86 RBIs. But he struggled in '09 with injuries, missing time because of a sore shoulder and strained oblique. Both Zambrano and Soto were lectured at season's end to shape up. Soto switched his diet, found a personal trainer in Puerto Rico and topped Big Z by dropping 40 pounds. Manager Lou Piniella joked that his catcher now looks like a "jockey." Soto looking like the player he was in '08 is the key.

3. Is Carlos Marmol ready to close?
Marmol has competed for the closer's job the last two springs. The right-hander was 11-for-11 in save situations after taking over for Kevin Gregg in mid-August. But his walks went up, while his strikeouts went down. The Cubs need to watch that Marmol doesn't overthrow. He's been groomed for this job for two years. Now it's his.

2009 record
83-78, second in National League Central

Projected batting order
1. SS Ryan Theriot:
  .284 BA, .343 OBP, .369 SLG, 7 HR, 54 RBI in 2009
2. RF Kosuke Fukudome:
  .259 BA, .375 OBP, .421 SLG, 11 HR, 54 RBI in 2009
3. 1B Derrek Lee:
  .306 BA, .393 OBP, .579 SLG, 35 HR, 111 RBI in 2009
4. 3B Aramis Ramirez:
  .317 BA, .389 OBP, .516 SLG, 15 HR, 65 RBI in 2009
5. CF Marlon Byrd:
  .283 BA, .329 OBP, .479 SLG, 20 HR, 89 RBI in 2009
6. LF Alfonso Soriano:
  .241 BA, .303 OBP, .423 SLG, 20 HR, 55 RBI in 2009
7. C Geovany Soto:
  .218 BA, .321 OBP, .381 SLG, 11 HR, 47 RBI in 2009
8. 2B Mike Fontenot:
  .236 BA, .301 OBP, .377 SLG, 9 HR, 43 RBI in 2009

Projected rotation
1. Carlos Zambrano, 9-7, 3.77 ERA in 2009
2. Ryan Dempster, 11-9, 3.65 ERA in 2009
3. Ted Lilly, 12-9, 3.10 ERA in 2009
4. Randy Wells, 12-10, 3.05 ERA in 2009
5. Carlos Silva, 1-3, 8.60 ERA in 2009

Projected bullpen
Closer: Carlos Marmol, 15/19 saves, 3.41 ERA in 2009
RH setup man: Angel Guzman, 2.95 ERA in 2009
LH setup man: John Grabow, 3.36 ERA in 2009

The new guys
CF Marlon Byrd: Byrd is coming off a career year with the Rangers, which may sound familiar to Cubs fans. Prior to '09, the Cubs signed another outfielder who had his best season in Texas, Milton Bradley. He's now gone, and the only similarities between the two are that they played in Texas and both like hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo. Byrd batted better against right-handers (.300) than lefties (.244) last season, which is another plus. He'll take over in center field.

OF Xavier Nady: Nady is coming off two Tommy John surgeries, which would be disastrous if he were a pitcher. He's expected to be ready when he reports. Nady does have a career .280 average and can reach double digits in homers. He's projected to share right with Fukudome and could also sub at first. The right-handed hitter has had some great games against the Cubs (he has a career .304 average at Wrigley), so hopefully he feels right at home.

RHP Carlos Silva: Acquired from the Mariners in the Bradley deal, Silva, 30, is 5-18 in the last two seasons in Seattle. That'll cause some sleepless nights. The Cubs hope he rebounds enough to handle the fifth starter spot. He's friends with fellow Venezuelan Zambrano, which should help Silva in his transition to his fourth team. Zambrano can show him around Mesa, Ariz. Can he help Silva find his slider?

RHP Jeff Gray: Acquired from the Athletics for Aaron Miles and Jake Fox, Gray will be competing for a spot in the bullpen. The hard-throwing right-hander appeared in 24 games last season with Oakland, striking out 19 and walking four over 26 1/3 innings. It should be an interesting spring as there are lots of arms vying for spots, including Rule 5 pick Michael Parisi and youngsters Justin Berg and Esmailin Caridad.

1B Kevin Millar & INF Chad Tracy: The Cubs signed Millar and Tracy to Minor League contracts as they look for help on the bench. The jovial Millar played in 78 games with the Blue Jays last season, batting .223. Tracy batted .237 for the D-backs, and has a career .280 average. Tracy is a left-handed hitter; Millar right-handed.

The Ricketts family: For the first time in more than 25 years since the Wrigley family, the Cubs now have a face for their owners. Actually, there are four faces: siblings Tom, Peter, Laura and Todd Ricketts took control of the team in late October. The Ricketts are Cubs fans and attended games in the bleachers. They know what the Wrigley experience is all about. The Ricketts didn't promise a World Series, but that's the goal.

Prospects to watch
SS Starlin Castro: The Cubs want Castro in camp so Piniella and staff can evaluate whether the super-hyped infielder is ready for the big leagues. He began '09 at Class A Daytona, moved up to Double-A Tennessee, batted .303 in the Southern League playoffs and was the youngest player in the Arizona Fall League. He finished the AFL with a .376 average. Not bad for a 19-year-old (he turns 20 on March 24).

LHP John Gaub: Acquired from the Indians in the Mark DeRosa deal, Gaub compiled a 1.72 ERA in 26 games at Triple-A Iowa. The reliever struck out 40 over 31 1/3 innings. He may not be ready for the big leagues on April 5, but the Cubs want to see him this spring in case they need help during the season.

RHP Andrew Cashner: The Cubs' No. 1 pick in 2008, Cashner made 24 starts combined last season at Class A Daytona and Double-A Tennessee. He's got the stuff. The right-hander hasn't been able to go deep in games because of his high pitch counts (he threw 91 in five innings July 29). He's another pitcher Piniella and staff are eager to see.

On the rebound
3B Aramis Ramirez: If you didn't look at the number of at-bats or games played, you might say Ramirez had an OK season. The Cubs can only wonder what might have been. He was batting .333 when he suffered a separated shoulder May 8, which sidelined him for two months. Not many teams can survive without their No. 4 hitter, and the Cubs went 24-26 without him.

LF Alfonso Soriano: After limping through a .185 August, Soriano underwent arthroscopic knee surgery in early September in hopes of being healthy for 2010. The Cubs medical staff monitored his workouts in the Dominican Republic and all reports are good. Soriano has accepted batting sixth -- he isn't going to steal 40 bases again -- and now the Cubs need him to focus on RBIs. He worked with Jaramillo in Texas in 2004 and '05. That could help.

LHP Ted Lilly: Lilly isn't exactly on the rebound from 2009. He shared the team lead with 12 wins. But the lefty did miss time in July with left shoulder inflammation and underwent arthroscopic surgery in early November. He's expected to miss at least the first month of 2010.

RHP Carlos Zambrano: Big Z was on the DL twice last season, missing time because of a left hamstring strain and lower back spasms. He looks better after losing 15 pounds and working on a program that emphasized his core. Can he pitch better?

C Geovany Soto: Soto topped Zambrano by losing 40 pounds. The Cubs are hoping he raises his average even more. A sore right shoulder suffered April 7 and a strained oblique that shelved him for a month limited Soto to 102 games. Maybe he'll win NL Comeback Player?

Long gone
OF Milton Bradley: The Cubs desperately wanted a left-handed bat and were willing to overlook Bradley's past flareups. But he got off to a slow start -- .118 in April -- and never recovered. Bradley's puzzling and volatile season ended early when he was suspended Sept. 20 for detrimental conduct and missed the final 15 games. Bradley, who batted .257, was dealt to the Mariners for Silva.

OF Reed Johnson: Johnson had an injury-filled '09 and was limited to 65 games. He battled back spasms in late June and then fractured his left foot when he fouled a ball off it July 29. A popular player in the clubhouse, some of the Cubs lobbied to keep Johnson. Lilly showed up at a postgame news conference wearing a "With Reed, We Will Succeed" T-shirt. A free agent, Johnson signed with the Dodgers.

RHP Kevin Gregg: Gregg lost his closer's job in mid-August to Marmol. Gregg posted a 6.00 ERA in save opportunities compared to a 3.82 ERA in non-save situations. He was 23-for-30 in save opportunities for the season, which was his first in Chicago. It also was his last. A free agent, he signed with the Blue Jays.

RHP Rich Harden: Harden was another Cubs starter who had to go on the DL in '09, missing 22 games. He would finish 9-9 with a 4.09 ERA in 26 starts. The right-hander could be dominating -- he gave up one hit over seven scoreless innings vs. the Padres on Aug. 19 -- and also frustrating as far as his pitch count was concerned. On Sept. 11, he threw 103 pitches over four innings vs. the Reds. A free agent, Harden signed with the Rangers.

RHP Aaron Heilman: The Cubs dealt Heilman to the D-backs on Nov. 19 after one season. He compiled a 4.11 ERA in 70 games and was 1-for-7 in save situations. In return, the Cubs received two Minor League prospects, left-handed pitcher Scott Maine and first baseman Ryne White, who is a Chicago native.

OF/INF Jake Fox & INF Aaron Miles: Fox was leading the Pacific Coast League in the Triple Crown categories when first called up May 27. He didn't shine defensively at any one position, and was dealt to the Athletics on Dec. 3, where he should help in the outfield, at first and as the designated hitter. Miles, who spent two stints on the DL because of his right shoulder and right elbow, was packaged with Fox after batting a dismal .185 in 74 games.

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.