Kyle Schwarber

Who should lead off for Cubs in 2018?

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USA TODAY

Who should lead off for Cubs in 2018?

The Cubs' offseason has been hyperfocused on pitching, pitching and more pitching.

But what about the offense? Specifically: Who's going to hit leadoff for the 2018 Cubs?

That question seems to be one of the hot topics surrounding the team as they strive to make Even Year Magic a Chicago thing and win another World Series in 2018.

Before we get into who SHOULD lead off, I'll tell you who shouldn't: Albert Almora Jr., who is a popular choice among fans to fill in for the ghost of Dexter Fowler atop the order.

That's not a knock on the young outfielder, who seems primed for a breakout in 2018 when he should be playing on a regular basis and seeing a lot more time against right-handed pitching. 

This will only be Almora's second full season in the big leagues and given he was in a platoon for most of last year, he still only has 411 career plate appearances in the majors. 

So he's not much more experienced than Kyle Schwarber was when he was penciled into the leadoff spot for the Cubs to kick off 2017 and we all know how that experiment went. Leading off is a tough position to put players in, especially those that are still growing in their big-league skin.

Plus, Almora simply doesn't see enough pitches. He swings at the first pitch often (more than 11 percent of the time) and saw only 3.45 pitches per plate appearance in 2017. That mark was good for 29th on the Cubs behind eight pitchers (Dylan Floro, Kyle Hendricks, John Lackey, Jon Lester, Eddie Butler, Jose Quintana, Jake Arrieta and Hector Rondon), though the pitchers obviously have a small sample size of plate appearances.

Still, that's a shockingly small number for a position player. Almora would've been tied for 143rd out of 145 position players in baseball in pitches per plate appearance if he had enough at-bats to qualify.

But as for who SHOULD lead off, my choice is Ian Happ, though I would like to see Kris Bryant get some run up there and maybe even another Anthony Rizzo stint as "The Greatest Leadoff Hitter of All Time."

Here are my Top 5 suggestions if Joe Maddon were writing out the lineup today:

1. Ian Happ
2. Kris Bryant
3. Ben Zobrist
4. Jason Heyward
5. Anthony Rizzo

Here's more on the reasoning behind that:

Hot Stove - Cubs Leadoff Hitters/2021 White Sox Predictions

Who should be the Opening Day leadoff man for the Cubs? What will the 2021 White Sox lineup and rotation look like? We make our predictions and want to hear yours NOW on Hot Stove Live!

Posted by NBC Sports Chicago on Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Cubs Talk Podcast: Takeaways from Cubs Convention and players primed for a 2018 breakout

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Takeaways from Cubs Convention and players primed for a 2018 breakout

On the latest edition of the Cubs Talk Podcast, Kelly Crull, Tony Andracki, Jon Graff, Matt Buckman and Scott Changnon rattle off their main takeaways from the weekend’s Cubs Convention, including the funniest moments and how the players engaged with fans and each other throughout the three days at the Sheraton Grand Chicago.

Plus, which players — besides Kyle Schwarber — made the most of the offseason and are primed for a breakout in 2018? The crew gives its take, with options including Albert Almora Jr., Ian Happ and Jason Heyward.

Take a listen below:

Overheard at Cubs Convention: The best and funniest moments from the 2018 fan fest

Overheard at Cubs Convention: The best and funniest moments from the 2018 fan fest

What a difference a year makes.

Cubs Convention 2017 brought with it a ton of emotional moments as fans constantly discussed their own personal World Series championship moments and there were many "thank you"s to Cubs players and personnel.

But there was also some negativity, as Cubs fans grilled Joe Maddon about his pitching decisions - why he kept Aroldis Chapman in so long or why he pulled Kyle Hendricks so early, etc.

2018 featured a much more laid-back approach. 

Maddon made it more than 31 minutes into his panel before his pitching decisions were second-guessed. Fans were still appreciative of anybody who contributed to the championship drought, but they're also hungry for more and wanting to know what the organization is doing to win another World Series in 2018.

With that, here are the best sights and sounds from the weekend:

♦♦This was easily the best moment of the Convention (Warning: NSFW language):

And Schwarber's reaction to it was incredible, too:

Apparently Contreras is willing to sign his new catch phrase on a bat, too:

♦♦A young fan won our NBC Sports Chicago contest and got a chance to meet Addison Russell Saturday.

Grace's dad is deployed in Afghanistan for the third time and we surprised her by bringing her and her mom up to meet Russell. While everybody was waiting at the security desk, Kris Bryant walked through one of the side entrances, saw Grace holding a cheer card and asked, "What's an Authentic Fan?" To which Grace responded - "We are!"

Watch the video of her meeting Russell here:

♦♦There were many funny moments from the weekend, but one of the best lines was from chairman Tom Ricketts. 

In talking about the changes to Wrigley Field in 2018, Ricketts said the notoriously cramped and outdated visitor's clubhouse "may have hot water this year."

♦♦Ricketts also told a story Saturday of an interaction he had with FOX staffers after the Cubs won the NLCS in 2016 and received a trophy:

FOX: "There's something for your trophy case."

Ricketts: "We're the Cubs, we don't have a trophy case."

♦♦Todd Ricketts shared a story of an experience he had with a fan following the magical fall of 2016.

Two brothers had Cubs World Series tickets and one of the brothers ended up having a stroke and had to go to the hospital right before the game they were supposed to attend.

Todd: "Sorry you had to miss the game."

Fan: "Oh, I didn't miss it. As soon as I heard he was gonna live, I grabbed a buddy and went to the game!"

♦♦The best shirt seen at Cubs Convention:

♦♦Some of the best moments come from kids getting up to the microphones and asking questions to Cubs players or staff. One young man got up to the mic and first thanked Theo Epstein for his advice to the fan at a previous convention about how to get a job working in baseball.

The fan then asked the front office how they can find a way to finally get some use out of all those pitchers they've drafted over the years with the Cubs who have yet to make an impact in the big leagues.

Epstein joked that the kid really built up the front office's confidence before shutting them down. Newly-promoted assistant GM Scott Harris jokingly got up and offered the kid a seat his own seat on the podium. 

♦♦Another kid asked Theo Epstein when he should get his own Bryce Harper Cubs jersey.

Epstein: "Ask Kris Bryant. He seems to own a bunch of 'em."

♦♦The first question to Epstein and the front office panel also came from a kid keepin' it real: "What happened to all the pitching in the NLCS??"

♦♦Another kid question to Cubs front office: "Are you going after Yu Darvish?

Kid proceeds to list off teams Darvish is reportedly interested in, including the Cubs.

Epstein: "Wow, you're way more on top of it than our writers are."

♦♦Yeah, yeah, Kyle Schwarber is all skinny now. But Albert Almora Jr. looks like he's in great shape, too. It's not like Almora has ever really looked out of shape, but he looks skinnier and has spent the last month or so working out in Arizona in anticipation of playing a much larger role on the 2018 Cubs.

♦♦Maddon loves his coaching staff, calling it right up there with the best coaching staff he's ever been a part of. Now, he says something along those lines every single year, but this time, the entire staff is filled with guys he hand-picked himself. 

If this coaching staff doesn't work out for whatever reason, more blame than ever will fall on Maddon's shoulders. 

That being said, every coach he brought on - particularly hitting coach Chili Davis, pitching coach Jim Hickey and third-base coach Brian Butterfield - is highly, highly respected around the league.

♦♦Cubs catching coach Mike Borzello said his favorite player growing up was Steve Garvey. Assistant hitting coach Andy Haines said his favorite player was Ozzie Smith.

Both were booed roundly by the Chicago faithful.

♦♦Fan asking Cubs president of business operations Crane Kenney said: "Nachos were never harder to find [at Wrigley] than last year." Then proceeded to try to pump up the crowd by asking if there were any nacho fans out there. 

It was weird.

♦♦One of the oddest hot takes from the Convention was a fan saying he hates the baskets in the outfield at Wrigley. Not sure I've heard that one before and other fans there did not appreciate it (he was booed mercilessly).

♦♦Who is Kyle Schwarber's celebrity crush? Well...

♦♦This adorable fan:

♦♦Pretty awesome gender reveal with the help of Kris Bryant, Javy Baez, Kyle Schwarber and Anthony Rizzo:

♦♦An awesome selfie from the Kapman:

♦♦Dillon Maples showing young fan how he holds his slider and arm slot:

♦♦Derrek Lee was asked what homer was most memorable from his career. He said his first one ever, but then also said one in the first couple months he was a Cub. 

He had been traded for Hee Seop Choi and got off to a rough start in Chicago, struggling at the plate. He would hear fans chanting "Hee Seop Choi! Hee Seop Choi!" whenever he came up to the plate. 

Lee finally broke through once at Wrigley and hit a grand slam. He said Saturday he will never forget that curtain call.

♦♦D-Lee and Big Z were an absolute riot. They had a great rapport and could probably work in comedy if they wanted. 

Both players gave each other good-natured crap and Zambrano was hilarious in response to several questions, like a fan asking if he ever had any regrets from his playing career. 
"Next question..." he said to laughs.

♦♦Zambrano also signed a Gatorade bottle for a fan since you know, he loves Gatorade so much...

https://twitter.com/DraftStars_Kaz/status/952335267112898561

♦♦Zambrano's dig on Lee was classic:

♦♦How did Lee celebrate the Cubs World Series? Watching with family as they all wore Cubs jerseys. He admitted he was jealous he couldn't be a part of the team that ended the drought, which - I imagine - is a common refrain among former Cubs, especially those that played rather recently.

♦♦In case anybody cares, Ronnie Woo Woo would like to see Ladies Night back at Wrigley Field.

♦♦Let's end on some breaking news: