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Three Question Marks for the Chicago Cubs in 2013

Pitching, Catching, and Youth Will Be Front and Central

Yahoo Contributor Network

COMMENTARY | Every team in Major League Baseball begins in a similar place. This isn't to say they begin with equal talent levels, but every team spends its spring-training schedule trying to find the right mix, trying to feel out new players, and trying to plug gaps.

Because all teams, even the ones that will end up in the World Series, have weaknesses.

The Chicago Cubs are no different. Sure, they have 105 years worth of disappointments to boot, but they, like all teams, possess a certain agency in determining how high or low their ceiling can be this year. "It is a game of inches," as the old-timers say.

What follows are some of the question marks the Cubs will try to answer during the the 2013 season.

1. Can starting pitchers stay healthy?

All teams are going to need more than five guys; it's just a fact of the game. For a more extreme example, think back to the Stephen Strasburg saga at the end of last season in Washington.

As I have written before, the Cubs may have enough manpower and talent to do it, but they're already starting the season at a disadvantage. Matt Garza, the expected ace, had injury problems last year and has already tweaked his left lat and could be out until May.

Scott Baker, who has enjoyed a steady career in Minnesota, joins Garza in the rehabilitation club. He is recovering from Tommy John surgery. Without Garza and Baker in the first five, there will be a lot more guesswork but in a perfect world, the pitchers behind them will be stretched to develop in ways that will help further down the line even if they take some lumps early.

2. Can the catchers provide any offense?

The Cubs traded Geovany Soto in 2012 after a few years of downward-sloping inconsistency at the plate. The Cubs hope youngster Wellington Castillo and veteran Dioner Navarro can aptly fill the role in 2012.

Well into spring training, the verdict is still out on a tandem the Cubs need to produce. Both have knocked a couple home runs, but neither is hitting any higher than .250, with Castillo measuring in at a brutal .208. Both of them will receive plenty of chances as the club doesn't have many other options at the moment.

3. How far along are the young players?

Forget big names like Alfonso Soriano. How much have Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo, Darwin Barney, and Jeff Samardzija improved? And how good will Jorge Soler be?

Because president of baseball operations Theo Epstein continues to think long-term--even if he also expects his team to win now--it is these young guys who are the keys to the Cubs' future. Rizzo, in particular, outperformed his expectations last year, which will be difficult to replicate. Samardzija has been OK in spots, but he needs a breakout year in order to justify the Cubs' investment in him.

Make no mistake: It's a lot of pressure, and there are no guarantees that players are incapable of taking steps backward.

Chris Schumerth is a freelance writer who grew up in Northern Indiana following the Cubs.

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