The Chicago Cubs aren't a team that is exactly loaded with impact pieces. The pieces that remain from the major overhaul the last two years are the ones that the Cubs would like to keep on the roster into the future, while attempting to leave some room for the young kids coming up through the minor league ranks. While there isn't exactly a plethora of impact talent on this team to choose from, the most important players for the Cubs in the upcoming year aren't too difficult to discern.
Samardzija is perhaps the biggest piece for the Cubs in 2014. Either he solidifies himself as a pitcher at the top of this rotation that the Cubs want to keep around for the next several years, or he impresses teams enough to end up surrendering a large package of prospects for him at the trade deadline. Both sides have done plenty of talking to the media, but now it's time for Samardzija to put up or shut up. He slipped up a bit in 2013 after a brilliant 2012, but still looks to possess the upside of at least a no. 2 starter.
There are no shortage of questions about Castro's future on the North Side. With Javy Baez coming up through the ranks, and fast, some have already packed Castro's bags for him. He struggled at the plate last year, but part of that came down to trying to make too many adjustments, both in terms of his stance and his pitch selection. The Cubs are going to dial it back a bit as far as what they try to get Castro to do, and just let him get back to more of what made him so successful in his previous seasons in Chicago. He's looked locked in at the plate so far this spring, and could be in for a bounce back year offensively. Whether he'll ever bring it in the way the Cubs want him to defensively, however, remains to be seen.
Like Castro, Rizzo also experienced quite the down year in 2013. Unlike Castro, many are still very high on what Rizzo brings to the mix for the Cubs. He's clearly the first baseman of the future for the club, possessing big power with the bat and a potential Gold Glove in the field. He hit just .233, but his BABIP was also a paltry .258. He also got on base at a decent .323 clip and hit 23 home runs. He should be able to bounce back in a big way for the Cubs in the upcoming season.
Junior Lake is an intriguing addition to this list, given that he's the biggest wild card of the bunch. While Lake is currently penciled in as the Cubs' starting left fielder, his future as a starter is no guarantee. Nonetheless, the Cubs obviously liked plenty of what they saw after they called Lake up last season, as he never returned to Iowa. An exceptional athlete, Lake possesses a lot of tools, including high upside at the plate and a cannon in the outfield. He's still a bit raw, though. If he can put it together and nail down a spot with the Cubs, he could solidify himself as a future piece for this team in 2014.