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First Pitch: Your 2017 World Series Champions, the Chicago Cubs?

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The NL Central is turning into a difficult division. The Pittsburgh Pirates have been contenders for the last two seasons, and have one of the top farm systems in the game, with some of their best prospects coming up in the next two years. The St. Louis Cardinals are routinely at the top of the standings. But perhaps the biggest threat might be coming from the Cubs.

Today it was rumored that the Cubs had hired Joe Maddon as their next manager, although there were some mixed reports saying a deal wasn’t finalized yet. It seems like the report is true, and it’s a move that makes a lot of sense. It’s also a move that should scare other NL teams a bit.

The Cubs already had Theo Epstein as their GM, and Epstein has done a great job of rebuilding the team. According to Baseball America’s mid-season top 50 list, they had three of the top seven prospects in baseball. Kris Bryant rated number two, Addison Russell was number five, and Javier Baez was seventh. Joining them in the top 50 was Arismendy Alcantara. The list didn’t include Jorge Soler, who was in the top 50 in the pre-season, and who came up and posted a .903 OPS in his first 97 plate appearances in the majors.

The young hitting is in place. They have a great GM and a now a great manager. The only thing missing is the pitching. They did watch Jake Arrieta emerge this year as a top starting option, but that’s just one pitcher. Fortunately for the Cubs, and unfortunately for the rest of the NL Central, they have a lot of money to buy some of the top pitchers in the game. That’s made even more possible by the fact that their young hitters will be so cheap over the next few years.

There are a lot of top starting pitchers about to hit the open market. This year’s group is highlighted by Jon Lester, Francisco Liriano, Max Scherzer, and James Shields. Next year’s group could include Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, David Price, Jeff Samardzija, and Jordan Zimmermann. There will be plenty of opportunity for the Cubs to add a top starting pitcher or two, and if that happens, they could be a dangerous team to contend with in the NL Central.

Links and Notes

**Pre-Order the 2015 Prospect Guide

**Joe Maddon to be the Next Manager of the Cubs?

**AFL: Scouting Reports and Video For Tyler Glasnow and Josh Bell. The Pirates sent a great group of prospects to the AFL this off-season, and Tyler Glasnow and Josh Bell lead the way. Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo provide some good reports on their progress from Arizona.

**2014 Recaps: Pirates Showed You Don’t Have to Spend Big to Upgrade the Bullpen. They had a horrible bullpen for the first half, but by the end of the year they came together and posted one of the top groups in baseball.

**Winter Leagues: Stetson Allie Isn’t Hitting Homers, But Keeps Getting On Base

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Tim Williams
Tim Williams
Tim is the owner, producer, editor, and lead writer of PiratesProspects.com. He has been running Pirates Prospects since 2009, becoming the first new media reporter and outlet covering the Pirates at the MLB level in 2011 and 2012. His work can also be found in Baseball America, where he has been a contributor since 2014 and the Pirates' correspondent since 2019.

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