The Rundown: Suzuki/Morel/Busch Keys to Cubs ’23 Offense, Tauchman Makes Team, Wheeler Signs Record Extension

Which three Cubs non-pitchers are you most excited to see this season and why? Give me Seiya Suzuki, Michael Busch, and Christopher Morel.

It’s odd to say the Cubs entered the offseason needing power after they finished third in the National League in home runs last season. Six players — Suzuki, Morel, Ian Happ, Cody Bellinger, Dansby Swanson, and Patrick Wisdom — hit 20+ taters in 2023. That said, they had only two players among the top 30 in ISO, and one, Jeimer Candelario, played in Chicago for about two months.

Jed Hoyer noted at the end of the season that he wanted to add power to this year’s lineup, and the Cubs would have made the playoffs had they slugged higher than .396 during their final seven games. Hoyer helped to partially solve that by trading for Busch and re-signing Bellinger, both of whom are expected to be starters. Suzuki was the team’s hottest hitter at a time when the rest of the lineup started slumping. The right fielder has 35-home run potential and he finally seems comfortable enough at the plate that that’s a realistic projection.

Morel hit 26 home runs in 107 games, which scales to 39 jacks in 162 games, so it’s no wonder Craig Counsell wants to give him every opportunity to win the third base job. But, his ascension to the starting lineup likely means fewer plate appearances for Wisdom and a wash on the power numbers. Happ needs to reverse a trend that has seen his ISO and HR rates drop precipitously since 2019. Swanson is likely to hit 20-25 big flies this year.

That makes Busch a key player in Chicago’s offense. It’s a lot to bestow on any rookie, but the first baseman’s track record provides reason for hope. He’s hit 81 homers across three levels in three seasons and is the team’s best source of power since Kris Bryant played for the Cubs. There will be growing pains, but Counsell will do his best to protect him in the lineup.

Cubs News & Notes

Odds & Sods

Paul Skenes is the best pitching prospect since Stephen Strasburg and Mark Prior. Let’s hope the young man avoids the serious injuries that hurt his predecessors.

Climbing the Ladder

I’m excited about Wicks and Horton. Off the top of my head, here are the best debuts by Cubs pitchers. This list only includes players selected by the Cubs in the draft era.

  1. Burt Hooton – The pioneer of the knuckle curve debuted in September 1971, struck out 15 batters in his second MLB start, tossed a shutout the next time he took the mound, then tossed a no-hitter in his first 1972 start.
  2. Brandon Hughes – The lefty reliever debuted in 2022, faced six Pittsburgh batters in 1.2 innings, struck out five and walked one, and didn’t allow a single ball to be put in play. His outing was so dominant that Hughes’ FIP after the game was -1.09.
  3. Kerry Wood – Kid K struggled in his first four starts but he punched out 20 Astros batters with no walks while tossing a one-hitter on May 6, 1998. He struck out 13 batters in his next start against the Diamondbacks.
  4. Rick Reuschel – He wasn’t a heavy strikeout pitcher but he started his career with a 1.19 ERA and a 1.38 FIP after three professional starts in 1972. Reuschel allowed just 16 baserunners in his first 22.1 professional innings.
  5. Wicks – The rookie retired 15 Pirates hitters in a row with nine strikeouts in his debut last August.

Central Intelligence

Spring Training News & Notes

Interest in Montgomery and Blake Snell is said to be picking up.

Ronald Acuña Jr. is fighting some right knee discomfort but remains on target for an Opening Day start.

Zack Wheeler and the Phillies agreed on an extension that will keep the ace in Philadelphia through 2027.

Wheeler will earn $42 million per season beginning in 2025, making it the largest extension in league history.

Josh Donaldson officially announced his retirement after a 13-year career.

Madison Bumgarner is interested in returning to baseball. The southpaw hasn’t formally retired and is still owed $14 million this season by the Diamondbacks.

Albert Pujols believes he has a future as an MLB manager.

Extra Innings

Bellinger would easily turn this into a double.

They Said It

  • “Last year I really dove in on being a little more simple at the plate. That helped a lot. Just in the box, simplifying what I’m trying to do with the baseball. But at the same time being aggressive in my zone. There’s that balance. Early on in my career, I would get out of my approach because I just wanted to get a hit.” – Busch
  • “Clarity is always a good thing. Probably everybody in the room could tell you a story of a time they kind of got jerked around a little bit in a conversation or were given partial truths or [had a] wishy-washy conversation. Everybody has a story like that and experienced that in this game. So all we really want is honesty.” – Tauchman

Tuesday Walk-Up Song

I did not know that Ray Charles covered this song until this morning, and what a fortuitous music discovery.

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