Theo Epstein's line about progress not being linear couldn't have been more prescient as it pertains to the Cubs' build/re-build.
He knew going into this massive organizational overhaul that there would be huge steps forward coupled with stumbling blocks and unforeseen potholes along the way.
It's Javier Baez's ascension and Ian Stewart's flameout. It's the Daytona pitching staff's incredible postseason run and Jorge Soler's leg injury. It's the Cubs' excellent offensive production out of third base and right field, and the subpar offensive seasons of Starlin Castro and Darwin Barney in the middle of the infield. It's Kevin's Gregg's bullpen-saving performance in the 9th inning and Kyuji Fujikawa's reconstructed elbow.
I could go on and on, but you get the point.
The big picture talk is probably best centered around the 25-and-under crowd in the organization, comprised mainly of minor league players at the moment.
The two big leaguers under that age limit are the guys we have analyzed and dissected ad nauseam at every turn this summer: Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo. And collectively, they have given us a mixed bag at best this season.
I think 2014 will give us more answers in terms of how Rizzo adjusts following his first full season in the big leagues and how Castro responds after the first prolonged slump of his life.
But the biggest positive developments of 2013 on the current roster are the seasons Travis Wood and Welington Castillo have put together.
They're both 26 and while they aren't often lumped in with Castro and Rizzo, it's about time we put them in that future core.
Wood was the Cubs' lone All-Star this season, should easily surpass 200 innings, has a shot at a sub-3.00 ERA, has beaten Clayton Kershaw on the road, and recently had his manager call him the team's No. 1 starter.
Castillo has had an under-the-radar Gold Glove-caliber year behind the plate. He won't win it because veterans Yadier Molina and Russell Martin get way more publicity, and his error total is too high. His pitch-blocking prowess and control of the running game have been terrific, however. Look at any catching defensive metrics on FanGraphs.com or Baseball-Reference.com and you will see his name among the leaders behind the plate.
Added to that, we have seen tangible offensive improvement from Castillo this season. Among all Cubs with at least 300 at-bats, he leads the team in on-base percentage, which is amazing considering he took one walk in his first 36 games this season. And there's some power in that bat that has emerged at times this season. If it can show up a little more often, you've got an all-star caliber catcher on your hands.
The entire organizational process the last two years has been about moving veterans, bringing in high-ceiling minor league talent in return, and determining which big league players will be a part of the core moving forward.
Castro and Rizzo happened to be the first two players pegged to help lead the way. And there is absolutely going to be pressure on both to step up next season and play to the potential everyone around them sees.
But while their inconsistent seasons have grabbed most of the headlines, let's not forget that an athletic, unflappable left-hander and a quiet, hardworking backstop have forced their way squarely into the big picture conversation.
Oh, and if you're wondering where Junior Lake and Chris Rusin stand, the door is wide open for both if they can carry over this year's success to 2014 as well.
Ÿ Len Kasper is the TV play-by-play broadcaster for the Chicago Cubs. Follow him on Twitter @LenKasper and check out his [URL]blog entries;http://wgntv.com/news/stories/len-and-jds-cubs-baseball-blog/[URL] with Jim Deshaies at wgntv.com. To post comments or questions for Len, click on the comment link with his column at dailyherald.com.[/URL]Copyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.