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2024 Chicago Cubs Preview: Good isn't Good Enough

It was made clear by Chicago Cubs owner Tom Ricketts following the final game of the 2023 season that just missing the playoffs isn’t good enough for him or the organization heading into 2024. The Cubs went out and got arguably the best manager in baseball in former Milwaukee Brewers manager Craig Counsell, outsing fan favorite David Ross from his role. The move seemed to spark a wave of rumors of the Cubs going for the top stars of the off-season: Shohei Ohtani, Juan Soto, Yoshinbu Yamamoto, and Pete Alonso. While it wasn’t the mega off-season Cubs fans were hoping for, Jed Hoyer still had a solid off-season,  bringing back Cody Bellinger, trading for Micheal Busch and Yency Almonte, and adding to the starting rotation with Shota Imanaga. 

Now the off-season has passed and there are just a few hours until the Cubs go to Arlington to take on the World Series champion Texas Rangers. Before the season officially gets underway for the Cubbies my friend Brayden Conrad and I will be previewing what you should expect from the 2024 Chicago Cubs.


Projected Opening Day Lineup: 

1. LF - Ian Happ 

 2023 Stats: AVG: .248, OBP: .360, SLG: .431, OPS+: 112, HR: 21, RBI: 84, 2B: 35, SB: 14

The pride of Pittsburgh will stay in the leadoff spot even with new manager Craig Counsell at the helm. Ian Happ was much maligned during the season, especially for the drop in his power numbers through August and where he was placed in the lineup. Despite all his struggles, Happ still finished second on the Cubs in on-base percentage at .360, which ranked 23rd in baseball among qualified hitters. After a rough August, Happ rebounded in September, hitting .269 at the plate with five home runs and 19 RBIs in just 28 games. Happ didn't take any steps back in the field, as he won his second straight Gold Glove award in left field. The highlight of his second gold glove campaign came against the Brewers in Milwaukee when Happ threw out two runners in extra innings to help the Cubs hold on to a 7-6 win on July 5.

The major piece for a successful 2024 season for Happ will be whether he can be more consistent at the plate and be a reliable leadoff hitter to set the tone for the lineup.

2. RF - Seyia Suzuki 

 2023 Stats: AVG: .285, OBP: .357, SLG: .485, OPS+: 124, HR: 20, RBI: 74, 2B: 31, SB: 6

It was a bit of a roller-coaster season for Seyia Suzuk's second season in the States. His April and May looked very solid, going for six home runs, 19 RBIs, and a .293 batting average in 41 games. Then, in the middle portion of June and July, Suzuki's bat went cold with his average dropping to .212 in 46 games. During this stretch, Cubs manager David Ross benched Suzuki to begin the month of August, hoping to help Suzuki get things sorted out at the plate. That mental break for Suzuki to find himself again proved to be one of the best decisions Ross ever made as manager, as in the final two months of the season starting on Aug. 9, Suzuki hit a scorching line of .356/.414/.672 with 15 doubles, four triples while sending 11 balls to stands. While his 2023 will be defined for his missed flyball against the Braves in the final week of the season, Suzuki became an impact bat for a Cubs lineup that desperately needs more star power. The hot end of the season has seemingly carried into spring training.

If the Japanese outfielder can even come somewhere close to his August and September hitting numbers, Suzuki could be the missing piece in this Cubs lineup.

3. CF - Cody Bellinger

 2023 Stats: AVG: .307, OBP: .356, SLG: .525, OPS+: 133, HR: 26, RBI: 97, 2B: 29, SB: 20

The biggest revelation for the 2023 Chicago Cubs is back, for at least one more season at Wrigley Field. After falling off a cliff after his 2019 MVP season, the Dodgers non-tendered Bellinger and he signed a one-year prove-it deal with the Cubs. Safe to say that "Belli" proved that he can be that same player who can be the best player on a contending team. Bellinger started the season slow, only hitting seven home runs and driving in 20 runs in the first month and a half before suffering a hyperextended knee against the Houston Astros on May 15. The former rookie of the year returned exactly one month later and from that point to the end of the season Bellinger put up 19 long balls, 77 RBIs, and 20 doubles, while also hitting with a line of .321/.364/.538 (.902 OPS).

It was a very drawn-out process for "Belli" to Chicago after declining his part of the mutual option, with Bellinger signing his three-year $80 million deal two days into spring training on Feb. 25. Whether Bellinger can have a repeat of his 2023 season will be the biggest focus for the Cubs offense this season. The former 2020 World Series champion is the Cubs' biggest star and the face of this current Cubs squad; as he goes, so will the Cubs.

4. 3B - Christopher Morel

2023 Stats: AVG: .247, OBP: .313, SLG: .508, OPS+: 116, HR: 26, RBI: 70, 2B: 17, SB: 6

The biggest wildcard for the Cubs offense and defense coming into 2024 is the 24-year-old Christopher Morel. Everyone knows the electric bat Morel holds in his hands, slugging 26 home runs in just 388 at-bats, giving him a home run every 15 at-bats he had in 2023. The question comes in with the defense, now that Morel will be the starting third baseman this year, even after having a negative seven outs above average after playing all three outfield spots, third base, second base and shortstop. It's a gamble, since Morel primarily the team DH last season, opting to go with the more defensive minded Nick Madrigal at third. While I loved Madrigal's effort and ability to play the position, more often that not it looked like he was throwing his whole body into a throw, where Morel has a more natural rocket arm with an average throw speed of 96.6 MPH (putting him in the 99th percentile according to Baseball Savant). The Dominican youngster has had his moments, good and bad playing the position, but with time Morel can become at least an average defender at the hot corner. If they can get that and Morel's normal offensive production, it will answer who the Cubs starting third basemen for years to come.

5. SS - Dansby Swanson

 2023 Stats: AVG: .244, OBP: .328, SLG: .416, OPS+: 99, HR: 22, RBI: 80, 2B: 25, SB: 9

The $177 million man lived up to most of his expectations in 2023. Swanson was still the excellent defender he had been at shortstop, winning his second gold glove in a row, and was named an All-Star for the second time in his career. It's the bat that was a little disappointing, especially in the final three months of the season.

After hitting .264/.352/.413 with nine home runs, 35 RBIs and 14 doubles through June 30, from July 1 to the end of the season, Swanson's numbers dropped to .221/.229/.420. Hopefully, another season in Chicago under his belt could result in a return to his 2022 offensive form, combined with his gold glove defense. Also just as a side note, watching Swanson and Hoerner up the middle is amazing to watch the best middle infield in all of baseball defensively.

6. 1B - Micheal Busch 

 2023 Stats (AAA): AVG: .323, OBP: .431, SLG: .618, wRC+: 150, HR: 27, RBI: 90, 2B: 26, SB: 4

The one new face to the Cubs starting nine will be former Dodgers prospect Micheal Busch. The former North Carolina Tar-Heel got just 81 plate appearances at the MLB level with the loaded Dodgers team, knocking in seven runs, two home runs and three doubles. While solid numbers for a short stint, Busch did strike out 27 times (33.3% rate), which is cause for a bit of concern. However, when you look at his AAA numbers, you can see why the Cubs gave up LHP Jackson Ferris and OF Zhyir Hope. There he struck out just 88 times in 469 plate appearances, while also drawing 65 walks during the year. Busch brings another left-handed power bat to complement Bellinger down the lineup and is an instant upgrade over Eric Hosmer and Trey Mancini from last season.

Busch still has to prove that he can hit at the major league level, but hopefully, his solid spring training (.261/.340/.543, 3 HR, 6 RBI) will continue into the regular season. If so, the Cubs might have just found their first long-term first baseman since trading Anthony Rizzo to the Yankees in 2021.

7. 2B - Nico Hoerner  

 2023 Stats: AVG: .283, OBP: .346, SLG: .383, OPS+: 97, HR: 9, RBI: 68, 2B: 27, SB: 43

The speedy second baseman won his first gold glove in 2023. It was a well-deserved honor, with Hoerner consistently being one of the best defensive second basemen since coming in 2020. It was the bat that finally seemed to be catching up to the defense in 2023. The Oakland, California native set career highs in batting average, on-base percentage, RBIs, stolen bases and total bases (237). The mix of batting average and speed makes Hoerner a potent combination at the plate and with him put later in the lineup, the Cubs can infuse more speed later into the lineup.

If Nico can find a way to bring more pop to his bat, at least 10+ home runs and 30+ doubles, it will make the Cubs lineup a lot more dynamic and it would move Hoerner to the upper echelon of not only second basemen but all position players across the league.

8. C - Yan Gomes 

2023 Stats: AVG: .267, OBP: .315, SLG: .408, OPS+: 93, HR: 10, RBI: 63, 2B: 20, SB: 1

What a season for the elder statesman of the Cubs lineup. While the normal counting stats don’t show it, Yan Gomes was as clutch as it gets. Throughout the year, the Brazillian catcher went .280 with runners in scoring position, hit five of his 10 home runs with runners on base, and had five doubles. Gomes also brought stability to a pitching staff with a ton of young arms, especially during the Cubs playoff chase. While I do doubt that Gomes will repeat his impressive season, with him turning 37 in July, the former Guardians catcher can serve as a valuable mentor for the young pitchers and his future replacement, Miguel Amaya. 

9. DH - Mike Tauchman

2023 Stats: AVG: .252, OBP: .363, SLG: .377, OPS+: 100, HR: 8, RBI: 48, 2B: 18, SB: 7

The “Palatine Pounder” had a career resurgence in 2023. After playing in Korea in 2022, Tauchman joined the Cubs on a minor-league deal in January and boy did the Cubs get more than they asked for from Tauchman. When Cody Bellinger got hurt on May 15 against the Houston Astros, the Cubs called up the left-handed center fielder and made his presence known. After a slowing down to start June, Tauchman became one of Cubs' most consistent bats, as during the Cubs 11-2 three-week stretch, the former Yankee hit a line of .286/.379/.469, with two home runs, nine RBIs, and three doubles. Tauchman wasn’t just doing it with the bat, as he was a solid fielder roaming center field. His defining moment of 2023 came on July 28. After entering for Trey Mancini and moving Cody Bellinger to first base, Tauchman stole a walk-off home run for Alec Burleson in Busch Stadium against the St. Louis Cardinals. 

Heading into 2024, Tauchman will likely play more of the DH role with the Cubs rolling with Christopher Morel at third base, Micheal Busch at first base, and Cody Bellinger in center field. Tauchman won’t be relied upon as much in an improved Cubs lineup, but he will act as a secondary lead-off man in the 9-hole of Chicago’s lineup. 


3B/1B/DH - Patrick Wisdom (Staring Season on IL)

2B/3B - Nick Madrigal 

C - Miguel Amaya 

UTIL - Miles Mastrobouni 

1B/OF - Garrett Cooper

This group of bench bats has a nice mix of power, speed, and defense. Even with Wisdom missing the start of the year with a back injury, the Cubs will still have Garrett Cooper to fill that void. The former All-Star has hit 56 home runs in five full big league seasons, with a career-high 17 in 2023 between the Marlins and Padres. Nick Madrigal can play multiple infield positions and still has good bat-to-ball skills to put the ball in play, with an 8.2% strikeout rate in 2023. Miles Mastrobuoni figures to be the utility man off the bench, being able to play second base, third base, shortstop, and the corner outfield positions. The most intriguing piece to the Cubs reserves will be catcher Miguel Amaya. The Panamian catcher made his major league debut in 2023 and made the most of his 53 games with the big league club, slashing .214/.329/.359, with five dingers and 18 runs driven in. This was a big first step in Amaya's development, by getting him major league at-bats in 2023, they have set him up for a much better 2024, despite the unimpressive stats.

The bench is sure to change before the season's end, with Alexander Canario and Pete Crow-Armstrong starting the year in AAA Iowa. Those two will be monitored closely as they try to make their return to the show, with them being some of the Cubs' top position player prospects. The issue is with how deep the Cubs are in the outfield with Bellinger, Suzuki, Happ, and Tauchman, I don't see an avenue for them to get a ton of playing time. The one way I see them sneaking in is if Counsell decides to move Bellinger to first base more often and DH'ing Busch, opening up center field for Canario and PCA.


Starting Rotation:

  • Announced by Craig Counsell on 3/24 

LHP- Justin Steele

2023 Stats: GS:30, W-L:16-5, ERA:3.06, IP:173.1, H:167, ER:59, HR:14, BB:36, SO:176, WHIP:1.171

Justin Steele is coming off the best year of his career where he was an all-star and finished fifth in Cy-Young voting. Counsell named Steele the Cub's opening-day starter against the Texas Rangers. Steele did take a comebacker to the left knee in a spring training game against the San Francisco Giants in which he left the game, no report has come out yet on his health. But, we’ll hope for the best and hope “Mississippi Fastball” has another Cy-Young-worthy season. 

RHP- Kyle Hendricks

2023 Stats: GS:24, W-L:6-8, ERA:3.74, IP:137, H:138, ER:57, HR:13, BB:27, SO:93,  WHIP:1.204

“The Professor” is back for what is his final year under contract before he hits free agency. Hendricks, who is currently 34 years old had been a pretty consistent pitcher for the Cubs. From 2015-2020 Hendricks has posted an ERA under three in each of those seasons, while also holding the ERA title in 2016. Hendricks did have a rough 2021-2022 season but had a strong bounce-back season last year after coming off a shoulder injury in which he didn't start pitching till May 25h. But, Hendricks is set to start game 2 against the Rangers, and the veteran right-hander can be a solid back end of the rotation pitcher for the 2024 season. 

LHP-Jordan Wicks

2023 Stats: GS:7, W-L:4-1, ERA:4.41, IP:34.2, H:33, ER:17, HR:5, BB:11, SO:24, WHIP:1.269

Chicago will feature two rookies in their rotation to begin the 2024 campaign. 24-year-old Jordan Wicks will officially start the year in the MLB rotation and will debut in 2024 in game three against the Rangers. Wicks had a “cup of coffee” with the Cubs in 2023, making his MLB debut on August 26th against the Pittsburgh Pirates, striking out nine. Wicks has had a pretty strong spring training and could be in the running for rookie of the year (at least Jackson thinks so). 

LHP- Shota Imanaga

2023 Stats (in Japan): GS:24, W-L:7-5, ERA:2.66, IP:159, H:138 , ER:47, HR:18 , BB:24 , SO:188, WHIP:1.019

Adding Imanaga to the starting rotation was a must after the departure of Marcus Stroman. The Japanese native has pitched eight seasons in Japan, posting a 2.96 ERA. It’s unsure when Imanga will make his MLB debut, but I would suspect he would take game number two against the Rangers. Imanga will feature a fastball that will sit around 92-95MPH and a spin rate of around 2,566rpm, the average spin rate from MLB left-handed starting pitchers was 2,234 in 2023. Imanga’s fastball could be his bread-and-butter pitch that could generate many swings and misses for the 30-year-old rookie. Imanga will make his MLB debut on April 1st at Wrigley Field against the Colorado Rockies. 

RHP- Javier Assad

2023 Stats: GS:10, W-L:5-3, ERA:3.05, IP:109.1, H:93, ER:37, HR:13, BB:41, SO:94, WHIP:1.226

With Jameson Taillon starting the year on the IL, Javier Assad has been tasked with taking his spot in the rotation. Assad is a big-league manager's dream, being able to pitch at any part of the game is a huge blessing to have. The young right-hander appeared in 32 total games for the Cubs, starting 10 of them. Assad had a 2.4 WAR last year, which was second amongst Cub pitchers (behind Justin Steele), presumably once Taillon finds his way back to the rotation, Assad will go back into his “swing-man” role. 

RHP- Jameson Taillon (Starting Season on IL)

2023 Stats: GS:29, W-L:8-10, ERA:4.84, IP:154.1, H:156, ER:83, HR:27, BB:41, SO:140, WHIP:1.276

As mentioned above, Jameson Taillon will start the year on the IL with a back injury and his earliest return could be somewhere mid-Apirl. But, you’ll have to remember Taillon didn't appear in a spring training game this season, so he may have to throw a couple of minor league games before he gets back to the big leagues. Anyway, Taillon struggled early in the 2023 season but settled into a groove in the second half of the season. From July 7th (his final start before the all-star break) to his final appearance (a relief appearance against the Brewers) “J-Mo” posted a 3.38 ERA and a .230 BA in 16 games of work. If Taillon can be his second-half self once he returns, the Cubs rotation could lead the team to an NL Central title.

Projected Opening Day Bullpen:

LRP- Drew Smyly

MRP- Luke Little

MRP- Yency Almonte

MRP- Jose Cuas

SU- Julian Merryweather

SU/Lefty Specialist- Mark Leiter Jr.

SU- Hector Neris

CP- Adbert Alzolay

The bullpen was a strength for the Cubs last year, posting a combined 3.85 ERA throughout 2023. Drew Smyly will start in the long-reliever role, Smyly struggled last year, but he improved (2.81 ERA in September) near the end of the year. Luke Little, Yency Almonte (acquired in the Micahel Busch trade), and Jose Cuas will more than likely act as the middle relievers/inning eaters. Cuas is a fun reliever to have as he has funky side-arm delivery, he posted a 3.04 with the Cubs after being acquired from the Royals at the trade deadline. Little will also be a name to keep an eye on, the 6’8’ lefty has tremendous velocity and had a little success last season, appearing in seven games without giving up a run, striking out 12. Little could also see some set-up opportunities as well, due to him being a lefty,

But, it's the back end of the bullpen that will hold this squad together. Julian Merryweather and Mark Lieter Jr were excellent in the later innings. Merryweather featured a 3.38 ERA last year with his triple-digit fastball and vertical-breaking slider (yes, vertical-breaking slider). Leiter will also be another reliable option for the Cubs, as he featured a 3.50 ERA a season ago. Leiter can be used in more of a lefty-heavy role due to his split-finger fastball that will break down and away from left-handed hitters (.185 BA against lefties). Hector Neris was acquired pitcher via free agency and was one of the best pitchers in a loaded Astros bullpen, as the 34-year-old righty posted a 1.71 ERA in 71 games. And, the guy that will lead the bullpen as a whole will be closer Adbert Alzolay. Alzolay fully transitioned into the closer role last year, as he acquired 22 saves in 58 games. The 29-year-old righty features an electric personality that pairs perfectly with his electric stuff.

One Burning Question for 2024:

Brayden: Will Keegan Thompson get another shot?

In one of the many mysteries in the Cubs organization, whatever happened to Keegan Thompson remains at the top of my (Brayden’s) list. Thompson was the “Javier Assad” for the Cubs in 2021-2022, he appeared in 61 games, starting 23 of them but often seeing long-relief appearances. In that time, the young right-hander posted a 3.64 ERA. However, after losing some velocity and command and a back injury, Thompson struggled in 2023 (4.71ERA, in 28.2 innings) and found himself in Triple-A for most of the year. Counsell has said, “...that he can get major league hitters out,” Thompson was sent down to Triple-A Iowa back on March 17th so it’s unlikely that he'll start in the majors come opening day. But, if Thompson is healthy and gets some of his “stuff” back he can be another important piece in the Cubs bullpen 

Jackson: Will Cody Bellinger have a repeat of 2023? 

This is the question of the 2024 Cubs season. Cody Bellinger had a true resurgence in 2023 after coming back from a hyper-extended left knee. “Belli Bombs” were flying across the country and his defense seemed to be back to his typical gold-glove level at first base and center field.

Then the question comes in: was it a fluke? 

The former NL-MVP looked far from it in his final three years with the Dodgers, hitting just .203/.272/.376 and 41 home runs in 295 games. If Bellinger can’t come close to his 2023 form with the Cubs, then everything Chicago hoped to accomplish will fall down the tubes. “Belli” got paid a lot of money for a reason this year and it’s because he is the star of this Cubs team. They will need him at his best if the Cubs have any chance of competing for the playoffs this year, let alone the division. 

Bold Prediction for the Year:

Jackson: Jordan Wicks will win NL Rookie of the Year

I was immediately enamored with the Cubs’ young lefty in Jordan Wicks after his first cup of coffee in the major league. His masterful starting debut against the Pittsburg Pirates, striking out nine batters and retiring 15 in a row with a nasty changeup and good-looking fastball was a sight to behold. Wicks seemed to adjust to the game quickly, as in six of his seven starts to end the year he gave up less than three runs in 34.2 innings of work. The lone exception came in his final start against the Milwaukee Brewers on Sep. 30, when he gave up six runs in 1.2 innings. The major favorite to win NL Rookie of the Year is clearly Yoshinbu Yamamoto (+260) of the Dodgers and even Wicks’ teammate Shota Imanaga has better odds of winning the award (+1,100). Despite that and the fact that Wicks is lower in the pecking order in the rotation, I believe Wicks has the stuff to put up an impressive true rookie season and surprise a lot of people in 2024.

Brayden: Christopher Morel will lead all of Baseball in Home Runs (NL and AL) 

When it comes to bold predictions, you say “Jump,” I say, “How high?” That's right, Christopher Morel has a chance to lead Major League Baseball in long balls. Morel was on an absolute hot streak when he got called up in May last year, hitting nine home runs across 12 games. Morel would finish last season hitting 26 home runs in his sophomore season, but that doesn't take into account the 11 home runs Morel hit in Iowa before getting called up. So, with a total of 37 home runs and a 6.1% HR percentage (only 1.4% behind Matt Olson who led the league in HR last year), Morel could find himself at the top of the home run leaderboard. 

Season Prediction:

Jackson: 91-71, 1st in the NL Central, 3rd Seed in the NL, Lose in Five Games in the NLCS to the Los Angeles Dodgers

Brayden: 90-72, 1st in the NL Central, 3rd Seed in the NL, Lose in Four Games in the NLDS to the Atlanta Braves. 

Cover Image Courtesy of Bleacher Nation Cubs and Getty Images


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