The 2012 season has been far from pretty for the Cubs. The team is mired in a seven-game losing streak -- its third of the season -- and owns baseball's second-worst record. And yet, things are beginning to look up; not for the present, but for the future.
Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer, and the Cubs' new front-office brass set a goal of stocking the organization's farm system with young talent, with hopes the model can create an annual contender at Wrigley Field.
It was a lofty, difficult goal which was set; one which requires patience from a fanbase long awaiting a chance for glory.
The rebuilding process is in its beginning stages, but the fruits of those labors are beginning to emerge.
Since his six-RBI Major League debut in May of 2010, Cubs fans have pointed to Starlin Castro as a future superstar. At just 22 years of age -- still the youngest player on the Cubs' roster -- Castro has already appeared in two All-Star games and has posted a career .295 batting average.
However, Castro's best days are still ahead of him. He is adding a powerful bat to his arsenal, and his home run numbers are expected to increase as he matures in the league.
When 22-year-old first baseman Anthony Rizzo made his Cubs debut -- the most important for the club since Castro's -- wide-eyed fans felt reasoned hope that Epstein's plan will work. Rizzo was the Cubs' alternative to a big-money free agent; instead, the young prospect was acquired in a trade from the San Diego Padres.
Rizzo has offered many signs of promise through his short time in the Cubs organization. He batted .342 with 23 home runs and 62 RBI in 70 games, then he arrived in Chicago and brought his hot bat with, posting a .292 average and slugging nine home runs.
The most exciting part of Rizzo's early performance is that he is slugging to all ends of the field. The first baseman has made numerous adjustments to his approach at the plate, including his new batting stance. Early returns on Rizzo are all very positive.
Vitters offers plenty of promise, after a roller coaster minor-league career. He batted .304 with the Triple-A Iowa Cubs, earning a trip to the Pacific Coast League All-Star Game. It is hoped that he can man the hot corner for many years.
On the other hand, Jackson, a former first-round pick, carries a bit of concern. There are many positives to his game; power and speed are his forte. However, Jackson has struggled mightily at the plate, striking out 158 times in 106 games with the Iowa Cubs. In his second big league game, Jackson wore the golden sombrero whiffing four times, and struck out three times in his third game.
Those worries only grow as Jackson ages through his baseball career, and won't wash away until his strikeout total decreases. However, he still offers plenty of upside, and that is now on display at Wrigley Field.
Epstein can only hope for more exciting debuts in the coming years. Names like Albert Almora, Jorge Soler, and Javier Baez will be watched as they trek through the farm system. They are the next pieces to the Cubs' puzzle.