V-Day, what is it….Valentine’s Day? That is right, and most people in the country see it as a ‘Hallmark holiday’ to promote love and romance. While I have been lucky enough to avoid this celebration almost yearly, Valentine’s Day means something different to me. V-Day means pitchers and catchers are about to report, and I am very excited for Valentine’s Day. There are so many things to get excited about and I am going to do something I do extremely well….give you my opinion and tell you how to think. Now that the season is just about over, the core for next year’s team is more identifiable that it has been all season. Granted, there are a few critical questions up in the year outside of free agency, mainly centering on Aramis and JP. Even though there are some major questions, I wanted to share with you three things that greatly excite me for next season. After reading and re-reading my intellectually stimulating article, please take the time to share your thoughts regarding what excites and entices you, a Cubs’ fan.
Now, without any more rambling, my big three:
Matt Murton –
From day one I have been gushing about Matt Murton and though his power numbers are not what I had expected, he has had a great second half and deserves to start the ’07 season in left field. In 134 games, Matt Murton is batting .299, with a .363 OBP and has a .991 fielding percentage, having only made 2 errors thus far. Outside of Michael Barrett, Murton has the best batting average on the team for a year long position player. He is a student of the game, a hard worker and will be 25 at the beginning of next season. While many fans are clamoring for Carlos Lee or Alfonso Soriano, I am sticking behind Murton. He is the type of player this team needs, his .363 OBP is something the Cubs desperately need. Though Dusty does not like to clog the bases, Murton has the second best OBP behind Barrett. He has been called a defensive liability. Though he may never win a gold glove, he is not a liability.
Murton is the type of player that can develop into a leader and be a crucial part of the team for the next ten years. Since the departure of SS, there has not been a career Cub. A-Ram is 28 and D. Lee is 31, so it would be really nice to have a leader in the making. I know many folks look towards Michael Barrett, but he is about to turn 30 and catchers normally have short shelf lives.
The last issue people have raised with “The Big Murt” is his power. A few weeks ago I posted a comment regarding the Braves Adam Laroche’s power numbers (take a look at his last three years if you would like.) The ‘Ryan Howards’ of the world do not come along very often and it is rare for a player to display his power immediately. I have all the faith that Murton will be hitting 25-30 homeruns in the next two years.
Ryan Theriot –
“The Riot,” what a great nickname. In the last two months, Theriot has shown so much potential and gotten me rather excited for the next few years. He is aggressive at the plate, but has a well trained eye. He is a very smart base runner who could steal 30 or 40 bases a year. He is a prototypical ‘2-hole’ hitter, and with a .327 average and a .407 OBP, he would be awesome at ‘clogging up the bases.’ Last winter we kept hearing how D. Lee would have 140 RBI’s with Pierre in front of him and while that did not happen; I am ready for another off-season of hearing the same thing. If we re-sign Pierre and have Theriot batting second, the middle of the lineup will have a lot of opportunities. While I have to admit that I have not seen as many games lately, I love what I have seen and I love what I have read from all of you and in the papers. Everyone is infatuated with this kid, and I am on board. In limited interviews, he has impressed me with his demeanor and truly seems to be thankful and grateful of his opportunity to play Major League Baseball. These days that is a rare commodity.
As I said, I have not seen as many games, so I am not the proper person to judge his defense. I have not seen him make any egregious errors, but I know his range has been questioned. However, I think it is still a mystery because there is just not enough play to judge. I also read a comment that mentioned the range is hard to judge because it always seems like the ball is hit right to him. In 30 games (22 starts) he has only made one error, which is only 7 or 8 errors total if you extrapolate it out over an entire season. I will totally accept that from my second baseman.
Rich Hill –
Finally, there is Rich Hill. Mr. Hill has been AWESOME since his last call up and now I am glad we did not trade him. While I wish it had not taken this long for him to ‘come to fruition,’ I will take it. In the past 6 weeks, Richy boy has looked like a solid #2 Starter with the potential for more. He may already be 26 years old, but he should have a solid 8-10 years in him and could be a valuable contributor to the Chicago Cubs. While the most upsetting part of this season has been the pitching, Rich Hill’s late season breakout has been a rare highlight. The Cubs are desperate to find valuable arms outside of Zambrano, and Rich Hill may be one of the men to step up and fill the void.
Everyone knows that Hill has a huge hook, but it has been his fast ball that has made the difference. In his first few stints with the Cubs, he would fall back on the curve and if he had not been mixing speeds very well, he would get hammered. Now, upon supposed advisement from Rothschild, he has been falling back on the high 92 mph fastball. I watched him strikeout three or four batters with that exact pitch over the first three innings a few weeks ago. He has matured, seems to understand the ‘Bigs’ better than ever and will have a full off-season and Spring Training to think like and learn how to be a big leaguer.
Murton, Theriot and Hill, that is what excites me regarding the ’07 Cubs. I will definitely admit that I expect at least one or two of the free agent signings to get me going as well, but as for now, at least there is something. This was one of the worst and most painful seasons in recent memory. We were forced to watch Minor League baseball half of the season when there was no contingency plan. Now this could happen again, but I bet that Mr. Hendry has learned his lesson and that the Cubs will be much better prepared for the 2007 season. I am hoping for Zito and Schmidt or Soriano, but at least I know that the Big Murt, The Riot, and Richie Rich will be part of what I hope is a winning ball club.
Please remember to include your thoughts below.
Thanks for reading, feel free to drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org, and until next time….
Stay Classy Cubs Fans!!!!