For the first time in 10 years, the Cubs’ Opening Day lineup won’t include at least one of Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant or Javy Báez.
That core trio is long gone, but the Cubs were active this offseason, bringing in a flurry of new faces as they look to remain competitive during this transition period.
Between the new additions and those returning from 2021, there’s opportunity for players to not only make an impact this season, but also become key parts of the Cubs’ future and “The Next Great Cubs Team.”
With Opening Day right around the corner, here’s a look at potential breakout candidates for the 2022 Cubs.
OK, maybe this one is obvious, though how often is a prized offseason acquisition considered a breakout candidate?
Suzuki is entering his first season in the big leagues after a nine-year pro career in Japan. The Cubs signed him to a five-year deal last month.
Between his skill set and production in Japan, it’s easy to see why the Cubs are so high on him and his potential to become a long-term building block. He’s a disciplined hitter with power who won multiple batting titles and Gold Glove awards in Japan.
There may be an adjustment period as Suzuki gains experience against big-league pitching, but the 27-year-old enters the season among the top candidates for National League Rookie of the Year.
If Frazier’s career to date had a grade, it would be an incomplete.
But with his health issues from his time with the Yankees behind him, there’s opportunity for him to grow into the A student many projected him to be after he was drafted fifth overall in 2013.
Frazier had an up-and-down five seasons with the Yankees, missing time due to concussions. The Cubs landed him on a one-year, $1.5 million deal after New York designated him for assignment in November.
Frazier told NBC Sports Chicago last month he’s healthy and he showed it this spring training, demonstrating his quick bat speed and power to all fields — tools that earned him a consensus top-50 prospect ranking during his minor league days.
There’s real opportunity for Frazier, still only 27 years old, to establish himself as a key piece of the Cubs’ present and future plans this season.
Injuries have impacted Madrigal’s first two big-league seasons. He missed time in the abbreviated 60-game 2020 season with a separated shoulder.
He underwent season-ending surgery in 2021 for a hamstring injury a month before the Cubs acquired him in the trade for Craig Kimbrel.
But what Madrigal has shown when healthy is a guy with the potential to be a perennial .300-plus hitter and rack up 200 hits a season. He’s elite at making contact, and his approach offensively is something the Cubs lacked during their recent competitive window.
Madrigal only turned 25 last month, is a .317 hitter in 83 career games and is under club control through 2026. The biggest key for him is to stay healthy. He’s shown the type of impact he can have offensively when he’s been on the field.
The Cubs’ issues developing homegrown starting pitching are well-documented. Steele could be part of reversing that trend.
Steele will open the season as the Cubs’ No. 2 starter after earning a rotation spot this spring. He allowed two runs in 6 2/3 innings across three Cactus League starts.
Steele was a key part of the Cubs’ bullpen in the first half last season before going down with a hamstring strain. He went through ups and downs after rejoining the team as a starter in August.
Steele will have to show more consistency pitching deeper into games this season. His arsenal as a lefty power pitcher with multiple breaking pitches is intriguing.