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From Left Field: Which baseball player did you idolize growing up?

From Left Field: Which baseball player did you idolize growing up?

As we countdown to opening day, NBC Sports Chicago's Cubs team is very excited to bring you a unique look at the 2018 season from the highlights and stories on the field to the players and their lives off it.

We'll work tirelessly to keep you informed from a statistical and analytical perspective, with plenty of opinions along the way. With that being said, please reach out to us on social media with any story ideas you may have. We would love to cover what you want to see.

The video above has Cubs players giving the players they idolized growing up. Following the Cubs lead, here's the players that helped us fall in love with the game.

David Kaplan - @thekapman

I grew up in Chicago and the 1969 Cubs were the first Chicago team that I really remember believing could win a championship. That team was loaded with stars (four players from that team are in the Hall of Fame) and while most fans were rooting for Mr. Cub Ernie Banks, my favorite player was third baseman Ron Santo. Ron was not only a great offensive player but he was one of the best defensive players of his era. But, it was the passion he played with that made him a natural fit as my favorite all-time Cub.

Kelly Crull - @Kelly_Crull

To Cubs fans this will probably be a huge disappointment, but I grew up north of Indianapolis where basketball was end all be all. So, when it came to baseball, my family often attended a handful of games a summer and it was split between Cincinnati & Chicago. With that explanation, the name I remember getting excited to go see as a teenager was Ken Griffey Jr.! His best years may have been behind him by the time he was with the Reds, but he was still an incredible and captivating athlete to see in person.

Tony Andracki - @TonyAndracki23

Derrek Lee. He was a great person and the clear leader of Cubs teams that gave a lot of joy to the fanbase all summer (before ripping their hearts out in the postseason). As a player, his batting eye was incredible, he struck an imposing presence in the field and at the plate and his 2005 campaign will go down as one of the most amazing seasons I've ever seen. He absolutely should've been the 2005 NL MVP, though I won many awards with him in MVP Baseball 2005 for PS2.

Siera Santos - @SieraSantos

The player I loved growing up was Randy Johnson. I was born in Seattle but moved to Arizona at a young age and was incredibly excited when the Big Unit landed with the Diamondbacks. He also sadly (but powerfully) exploded a bird.

Jon Graff - @JLGProd

Andre Dawson. The real "Hawk". 49 HR, 137 RBI for a last place team in 1987 and he won the NL MVP Award. He accomplished all that after signing a blank contract to play for the Cubs. His legendary stare and focus against opposing pitchers would strike fear into opponents, and the way he played the game made him my favorite player of all-time. His batting stance and his rifle for an arm in RF didn't hurt either.

Chris Kamka - @ckamka

My favorite player growing up was Carlton Fisk. He had a cool nickname (Pudge) and a unique number (72). He had the look; behind the plate with his catcher's gear or at the plate. He was awesome even into his 40s.

Scott Changnon - @ScottyChag

Sammy Sosa. Growing up in Champaign, Ill., only 181 miles from St. Louis and 141 miles from Chicago, you're either raised a Cubs or a St. Louis Cardinals fan. In a house dominated by basketball and football, it took polarizing players like Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire in 1998 to grab my 11-year-old self's attention. As the home run race heated up that summer, I instantly became a Cubs fan and have been a diehard ever since.

Eric Strobel - @strobes312

Sammy Sosa. In the summer of '98, Sammy's home run heroics and infectious personality captivated a nation and also the mind of my second-grade self. Sammy did things on a baseball field I'd never seen before; his mammoth blasts sent Wrigley into a frenzy time and time again, culminating in that epic September series against the Brewers where No. 21 made history. Quite simply, Sammy Sosa was the catalyst that gave rise to my love for baseball.

Nathan Poppen - @poppenfresh

Greg Maddux. The one that got away. No longer in his prime when he arrived back in Chicago, watching Maddux was still appointment viewing every start upon his return to the Cubs. I'll take a dominant pitching performance over almost any other baseball moment, especially one in which Maddux throws a complete game on about 80 pitches.

Matt Buckman - @BuckyBallgame

Kerry Wood - I was born in Texas. My favorite player as a boy was Nolan Ryan. As I got older and moved to Chicago, I was a young man in search of a new favorite player. In 1998, a young flame-thrower named Kerry Wood took the mound whose stuff reminded me of my childhood hero. His 20-strikeout game and NLCS Game 7 two-run home run are a couple of my favorite Cubs memories. Also, years later our daughters were briefly in Adventure Guides together, which was super cool.

Lou Melgarejo - @LousLand

Timing is everything. When you are a 7-year-old boy living in Edgewater and a player on your favorite team hits 48 home runs in a season, he quickly becomes your favorite. Dave Kingman was only with the Cubs for three seasons, but that magical 1979 season and in particular the three home runs "King Kong" blasted in the classic 23-22 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies have cemented his place as my favorite Cub growing up. 

Vinnie Duber - @VinnieDuber

My favorite player growing up was Nomar Garciaparra. Aside from being a great, great player during his time in Boston, he did that awesome thing with his batting gloves before every pitch, which was very fun to imitate while playing Wiffle ball in the backyard. The day he was traded to the Cubs in 2004 might be the happiest I've ever been as a sports fan.

Mike Piff - @Mike_PiFF03

When I'm asked about the players I grew up with and who got me into the sport of baseball, Frank Thomas was my Michael Jordan. I attempted to emulate his stance and swing from little league to high school ball. Then when we saw the Big Hurt make his acceptance speech into the Hall of Fame, my pops and I practically watered the grass with our tears in that Cooperstown field.

Jeff Nelson - @JJNelson2105

The player i grew up idolizing was Ryne Sandberg. He led the Cubs out of years and years of losing to their first playoff appearance in 39 seasons. He was great offensively, great defensively, and his non-showboating direct approach of playing the game was how I imagined I would be on my road to the major leagues... until I found out I couldn't hit a curve ball.

MLB.com's Cubs' 2018 Top Prospects list full of potential impact pitchers

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USA TODAY

MLB.com's Cubs' 2018 Top Prospects list full of potential impact pitchers

Could 2018 be the year that the Cubs finally see a top pitching prospect debut with the team? 

Thursday, MLB.com released its list of the Cubs' 2018 Top 30 Prospects, a group that includes six pitchers in the Top 10. The list ranks right-hander Adbert Alzolay as the Cubs' No 1. prospect, projecting him to debut with the team this season. 

Alzolay, 22, went 7-4 with a 2.99 ERA in 22 starts between Single-A Myrtle Beach and Double-A Tennessee last season. He also struck out 108 batters in 114 1/3 innings, using a repertoire that includes a fastball that tops out around 98 MPH (according to MLB.com).

Following Alzolay as the Cubs' No. 2 overall prospect is 19-year-old shortstop Aramis Ademan. Ademan hit .267 in just 68 games between Single-A Eugene and Single-A South Bend, though it should be noted that he has soared from No. 11 in MLB.com's 2017 ranks to his current No. 2 ranking. He is not projected to make his MLB debut until 2020, however.

Following Alzolay and Ademan on the list are five consecutive pitchers ranked 3-7, respectively. Oscar De La Cruz, No. 3 on the list, slides down from his 2017 ranking in which MLB.com listed him as the Cubs' top overall prospect. De La Cruz, 22, finished 2017 with a 3.34 ERA in 13 games (12 starts) between the Arizona League and Single-A Myrtle Beach.

De La Cruz is projected to make his MLB debut in 2019, while Jose Albertos (No. 4), Alex Lange (No. 5), Brendon Little (No. 6) and Thomas Hatch (No. 7) are projected to make their big league debuts in 2019 or 2020. All are right-handed (with the exception of Little) and starting pitchers.

Hatch (third round, 2016) and Lange (30th overall, 2017) and Little (27th overall, 2017) were all top draft picks by the Cubs in recent seasons.

Having numerous starting pitchers on the cusp of the big leagues represents a significant change of pace for the Cubs. 

Since Theo Epstein took over as team president in Oct. 2011, a plethora of top prospects have debuted and enjoyed success with the Cubs. Majority have been position players, though.

The likes of Albert Almora, Javier Báez, Kris Bryant, Willson Contreras, Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell all contributed to the Cubs winning the World Series in 2016. Similarly, Ian Happ enjoyed a fair amount of success after making his MLB debut last season, hitting 24 home runs in just 115 games.

Ultimately, Alzolay would be the Cubs' first true top pitching prospect to make it to the big leagues in the Theo Epstein era. While him making it to the big leagues in 2018 is no guarantee, one would think a need for pitching will arise for the Cubs at some point, whether it be due to injury or simply for September roster expansion.

The Cubs have enjoyed tremendous success in recent years in terms of their top prospects succeeding in the MLB. If the trend continues, Alzolay should be a force to reckon with on the North Side for years to come.

Even with an entire spring schedule to go, guessing the Cubs' 25-man roster is pretty easy

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USA TODAY

Even with an entire spring schedule to go, guessing the Cubs' 25-man roster is pretty easy

MESA, Ariz. — The frequent mission of spring training is to iron out a 25-man roster.

But at Cubs camp, that mission seems to already be completed.

With an entire Cactus League schedule still to play, the Cubs’ 25-man group that will leave Arizona for the season-opener in Miami seems pretty well set.

The starting rotation: Jon Lester, Yu Darvish, Kyle Hendricks, Jose Quintana and Tyler Chatwood.

The position-player group: Willson Contreras, Victor Caratini, Anthony Rizzo, Javy Baez, Addison Russell, Kris Bryant, Tommy La Stella, Kyle Schwarber, Albert Almora Jr., Ian Happ, Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist.

The bullpen: Brandon Morrow, Steve Cishek, Pedro Strop, Carl Edwards Jr., Mike Montgomery, Brian Duensing, Justin Wilson and Justin Grimm.

Boom. There’s your 25.

Joe Maddon, do you agree?

“You guys and ladies could probably write down what you’re seeing and be pretty accurate,” Maddon said Thursday. “I can’t deny that, it’s true. Oftentimes, when you’re a pretty good ball club, that is the case. When you’re not so good, you always get auditions during spring training.

“I think what the boys have done is they’ve built up a nice cache in case things were to happen. The depth is outstanding. So you could probably narrow it down, who you think’s going to be the 25, and I won’t argue that.”

It’s the latest example in a camp that to this point has been full of them that the Cubs are one of baseball’s best teams and that only a World Series championship will fulfill expectations. Had the front office stuck with a starting rotation of Lester, Hendricks, Quintana, Chatwood and Montgomery, then there would’ve been a spot open in the bullpen. But the statement-making signing of Darvish jolted the Cubs into “best rotation in the game” status, sent Montgomery back to the bullpen and further locked the roster into place.

Guys like Grimm and La Stella have been forced off the 25-man roster at points in recent seasons, though even their spots seem safe. Maddon even said that a huge spring from someone else wouldn’t mean as much at what guys have done at the major league level in recent memory.

“Spring training performance, for me, it’s not very defining,” Maddon said. “You’re going to be playing against a lot of guys that aren’t going to be here, more Triple-A guys, even some Double-A guys. Some guys come in better shape, they normally look better early. The vibe’s different. You play a couple innings, you don’t get many at-bats, the pitcher doesn’t see hitters three times and vice versa. So I don’t worry about that as much.

“It’s more about, guys that might be fighting for a moment, what do they look like, does it look right, does it look good, how do they fit in? Is there somebody there that you scouted? Because what matters a lot is last year and what you did last year and the last couple months of last year.

“So of course guys that have been here probably have a bit of an upper hand, but we’re very open-minded about stuff. And I think when you look at the guys, you’re right, it’s probably pretty close to being set. But stuff happens.”

Could the recently signed Shae Simmons give Grimm an unexpected challenge for the final relief spot? Maddon said guys who have been with the Cubs in the recent past have a leg up. Could Chris Gimenez turn his experience with Darvish into a win over Caratini for the backup catcher spot? Maddon threw cold water on the "personal catcher" narrative last week.

Of course, Maddon left the door open the possibility of an injury that could open up a roster spot and even shake up the depth chart. But barring the unforeseen, this 25-man group looks locked into place.

That gives the Cubs an edge, perhaps, in that they can specifically find ways to tune up those guys rather than focus on getting enough at-bats for players who are fighting for roster spots. But most of that edge came during the winter, and in winters and summers past, when the front office built this team into a championship contender.

There have been plenty of years when the fans coming to Mesa to watch the Cubs play in spring training saw the blossoming of a big league player thanks to a monster spring or a surprise tear during March. That’s going to be unlikely this spring, a reflection of just how far this team has come.

“It’s easy for me to reflect on this because when I started out with the Rays, wow,” Maddon said. “That was a casting call trying to figure it out. You had very few settled positions when you walked in the door. And then as we got better, it became what we’re talking about. As we moved further along, you were pretty much set by the time (you got to spring training) except for one or two spots.

“So I think the better teams are like that.”

The Cubs are most definitely one of those better teams.