What did we learn about the Cubs in '22 and what's next?

October 14th, 2022

This story was excerpted from Jordan Bastian's Cubs Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

As the offseason gets rolling for the North Siders, let’s take a look back at the 2022 season and what it could mean for the next few months and the ’23 campaign.

Season in review
The Cubs lost 88 games this season, but the club is optimistic because of the misleading nature of that number. Over the season’s final 71 games, Chicago was one of nine teams to win at least 40 games. The eight others in that group made the playoffs. It was a strong finish that has set the stage for an important offseason.

“We absolutely want to compete next year,” Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said. “We also want to build something really special now for the fans. We want to build something stable, something lasting. And that's the lens that we're going to view our transactions this winter.”

Defining moment
In the eighth inning of Chicago’s May 17 game against the Pirates, manager David Ross sent rookie Christopher Morel to the plate as a pinch-hitter. In the first at-bat of his MLB career, Morel launched a pitch out to left field, electrifying the Wrigley Field crowd.

It was reminiscent of when Willson Contreras homered in his first at-bat six years earlier. Morel’s early rise to the Majors was as unexpected as the blast, and it was a moment that set the tone for a season defined by testing and evaluating a group of younger players.

What we learned
The Cubs learned that Nico Hoerner (13 Outs Above Average and 11 Defensive Runs Saved) indeed has what it takes to be an elite shortstop in the Major Leagues.

Lefty Justin Steele (3.18 ERA in 24 starts overall and 2.05 ERA in his last 14 outings) earned a place in the rotation picture, while Keegan Thompson showed he can be a weapon as a starter or reliever. Rookie lefty Brandon Hughes emerged as a late-inning leverage arm, while rookie Hayden Wesneski put himself firmly on the 2023 rotation radar. Those were a few of the eye openers in ’22.

Best development
The last rebuild for the Cubs had a foundation of elite position-player prospects. Most of the pitching for the playoff teams from 2015-20 was landed via trades or free agency. This time around, it looks like Chicago has a solid foundation of pitching depth working its way through the farm system. The Cubs overhauled their pitching infrastructure after the ’19 season, and the changes have started to pay dividends both in the Minors and Majors. A combination of veterans, reclamation projects and younger arms combined for a 3.28 ERA from July 17 through the end of the season. Only the Dodgers, Astros and Guardians were better in that span.

Area for improvement
Two aspects of the Cubs’ offense that the team hopes to address are power production and baserunning. The North Siders ranked 18th in MLB in Isolated Power (.148) and 19th in slugging percentage (.387) this year. The mid-season acquisition of Franmil Reyes was aimed at helping that area, but he endured a down year. There could also be some natural uptick from Seiya Suzuki, who has now experienced a full MLB season.

On the bases, the Cubs had minus 1.8 Baserunning Runs (17th) and 68 outs on the bases (29th) this season.

On the rise
Prospect Matt Mervis (No. 21 on Pipeline’s Top 30 Cubs list) had the kind of season in the Minors that makes it fair to wonder if he could play his way into the first-base job for the Cubs next spring. Mervis, 24, led the Minor Leagues with 119 RBIs, ending with a .309/.379/.605 slash, 36 homers and 40 doubles as he climbed from High-A to Triple-A. He is currently playing in the Arizona Fall League. The Cubs had an 86 wRC+ at first base in ’22, creating a potential opportunity for Mervis to claim that spot soon.

Team MVP
Ian Happ turned in the most complete season of his career, earning a trip to his first All-Star Game along the way. The switch-hitting Happ hit .271/.342/.440 with 17 homers, 42 doubles and 72 RBIs, while posting relatively even splits against righties (.779 OPS) and lefties (.788). Happ notched 13 Defensive Runs Saved in left field -- after having five DRS in left across the previous five seasons combined. Happ, 28, also began to embrace more of a leadership role behind the scenes.