COMMENTARY | The Chicago Cubs are experiencing a power outage.
The team's 137 home runs last season ranked 12/16 in the National League, the club's lowest output in the last decade. Starved for power hitters, the outlook for 2013 doesn't appear much better.
Aside from Anthony Rizzo at first base, there's a serious lack of pop in the Cubs' lineup, especially at the traditional power spots consisting of the corner outfield and corner infield positions.
To make matters worse, the Cubs are deprived of one of their top home run hitters from last season, and another could be headed out the door via trade any day now.
Losing two power bats could turn the Cubs into the lightest hitting club in all of baseball next season, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. But adding some thunder to the lineup this winter couldn't hurt come spring.
-THE OUTFIELDAlfonso Soriano led the Cubs with 32 HRs last season, twice as many as Bryan LaHair, who finished second on the team with 16 HRs. LaHair, however, was traded earlier this offseason to the Fukuoka Hawks (Japan) and Soriano appears gone the moment the Cubs find a trading partner for him, which could happen before spring training.
If, in fact, Soriano is traded that's a combined 48 HRs between he and LaHair the Cubs would need to replace just to keep pace with last season's lackluster home run total.
That kind of power production can't be expected of the Cubs' current outfield. David DeJesus (9) and Nate Schierholtz (6) combined for 15 HRs in 2012. Throw Brett Jackson into the mix (he's the likeliest replacement for Soriano) and we're looking at possibly another 10-15 HRs added in the outfield, at best.
Jackson of course has shown plenty of power potential (he hit 15 HRs in Triple-A Iowa last season), but his woeful performance with the Cubs during the final two months of the season has led to some drastic changes. Jackson is revamping his entire swing with the hopes of reducing his staggering 41-percent strikeout rate in the big leagues. With Jackson at the mercy of his new swing it's questionable to count on his offense at all next year, let alone as a home run hitter.
Ian Stewart hit 25 HRs with Colorado in 2009. In the following three seasons he hit 23 HRs combined, five of which came with the Cubs during another injury shortened season for Stewart in 2012. However, if Stewart can eventually overcome his nagging wrist injury there's still potential for him to regain his old home run swing.
In the meantime, Stewart will platoon with Luis Valbuena, a guy who's shown solid pop to the gaps, but not necessarily over the fence. Valbuena hit 20 doubles in just 265 at-bats last year, but only accounted for four home runs.
Whether Soriano departs Chicago this season or next, the young Rizzo will take over as the Cubs' premier power hitter. He hit 15 HRs in 87 games last season after joining the club in late June. Project his numbers out over a full season and Rizzo comes in around 28-30 dingers; enough to be the team's leading home run hitter for the foreseeable future.
-Middle InfieldStarlin Castro reached a season-high in home runs last season with 14. His home run totals have increased in each of his first three season (3, 10, 14) and could potentially reach the 20-range as the 23-year-old begins to fill out his 6'0" frame and adjust to a more focused plate approach.
Darwin Barney hit seven home runs in 588 plate appearances last season; not exactly Ryne Sandberg numbers. It's possible Barney could eclipse double digit home runs in the coming seasons, but quite honestly, who cares? You have a Gold Glove second baseman, which is far more important than having a slugging one.
Welington Castillo could have a breakout season in a number of ways in 2013. If it happens to be with the bat he could be good for as many as 15 HRs. That would match his Triple-A total from 2011, his last full season in the minors. Castillo managed five home runs in 170 at-bats last season with the Cubs.
Backup catcher Dioner Navarro has never hit more than nine home runs in a season. He blasted seven during his All Star campaign with Tampa Bay in 2008, but finished far from it last season in Cincinnati with only two long balls in 69 at-bats.
Either way, Castillo and Navarro combined would likely produce at minimum 10-15 HRs from the catcher's position, which is right on par with where the Cubs ended last year with 12 total home runs combined from Geovany Soto (6), Castillo (5) and Steve Clevenger (1).
-HOME RUN HELP IS ON THE WAYTop prospect Jorge Soler, 20, has all the makings of a dynamite major league power hitter. At 6'3", 205lbs he's already displayed majestic power shots in the minor leagues; quickly earning the nickname 'Soler Power'. He's probably another year away from major league action, but there's little doubt he won't hit the ball far when he arrives in Chicago.
Outfielder Albert Almora, 18, who was Chicago's top-pick in the amateur draft last June, could potentially be a 20-plus home run hitter, and shortstop Javier Baez, ranked the top prospect in the Midwest League this past season, has also shown plenty of raw power in the minors.
Dipping into the free agent pool for a slugger is another possibility for the Cubs. It most likely won't happen this offseason, but could happen as early as next winter.
-HOW MANY HOME RUNS DO THE CUBS NEED?While it's nice to think about the Cubs' potential power surge in the coming seasons, it's worth remembering round-trippers don't mean everything.
The world champion Giants couldn't be a better example. San Francisco not only hit 34 fewer home runs than the Cubs did last season, but ranked dead last in all of baseball with 103 bombs.
It's just the latest reminder pitching and defense remain the first order of business when it comes to winning the World Series. But that doesn't mean I wouldn't mind seeing the Cubs park a few more hits on Waveland and Sheffield next summer.
Brian Corbin is a Chicago-based sports blogger and passionate Chicago Cubs fan. He's covered the Cubs year-round since 2007 on his blog BullpenBrian.com. His posts have been published on the Chicago Sun-Times News Group web sites and numerous baseball blogs.
You can follow Brian on Twitter @bullpenbrian.
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