With prospects arriving, Wrigley Field getting renovated, transformation continues for Cubs



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CHICAGO — The prized prospects started arriving this season and, the next time the gates open at Wrigley Field, fans will see a giant video board towering over the bleachers in left field.

Yes, the Chicago Cubs are entering a new era.

The long-awaited renovation is finally getting underway, a four-year project that will give the century-old ballpark a new look. The transformation of the roster is kicking into a higher gear, too.

The arrivals of Jorge Soler, Javier Baez and Arismendy Alcantara from the farm system sparked a wave of optimism even though the Cubs just finished fifth in the NL Central for the fifth straight year.

"I think I've been able to see the players that everybody talked about before I got here, and it's legit," said manager Rick Renteria, who led Chicago to a 73-89 record in his first season. "I think that the talent is real."

The Cubs went 31-28 over the final two months with a flow of young players filling their lineup, showing enough promise to believe that better days are coming. That eased some of the sting of a fifth straight losing season, the longest run for Chicago since a six-year streak from 1978-83.

Soler, a 22-year-old outfielder, looked like the real deal in his short stint toward the end of the season. He hit .292 with five homers and 20 RBIs in just 24 games, a promising start for someone the Cubs see as a key piece in their future.

Right-hander Kyle Hendricks is off to a robust start after going 7-2 with a 2.46 ERA in 13 starts, and top-tier prospects such as third baseman Kris Bryant — the No. 2 pick in 2013 — and shortstop Addison Russell are in the pipeline.

Baez and Alcantara both showed some pop, but they also need to cut down on the strikeouts and work on their average.

Baez whiffed 95 times in just 213 at-bats. He hit nine homers in 52 games, but he batted just .169.

Alcanatara's average was only a little higher (.205) and he had almost as many strikeouts (93) as Baez in 278 at-bats. But he also hit 10 homers in 70 games.

"It's just a time factor with the young guys," Los Angeles Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "They can look good right away, and the next year they come out and it doesn't look good. Or they can look kind of shaky and figure a lot out of it. Just being here gives them a different confidence, and you see a different player the next year. So time is going to tell."

Along with the arrival of the prospects, there were bounce-back seasons from Anthony Rizzo (.286, 32 homers, 78 RBIs) and Starlin Castro (.292, 14 homers, 65 RBIs). Jake Arrieta pitched a one-hitter late in the year and finished with a 2.53 ERA in 25 starts.

It's all added up to the belief that the Cubs could kick the rebuild into another gear, maybe go after a front-line starter such as Oakland's Jon Lester. The three-time All-Star has an expiring contract and a history with Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein from their days in Boston.

Trading Castro might be a possibility given that the Cubs have potential replacements at shortstop in Baez and Russell. Then again, any of the three could be candidates to be moved.

For now, there's at least some optimism.

"I think there's a lot of guys here that had success to an extent," pitcher Jacob Turner said. "Some guys had more than other guys, but I think it showed definitely where we're going. I think there's a lot of talent in this room."

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