Cubs face off against former division foe

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(Photo by Stephen Green)

Spring Training is finally coming to a close. The Cubs wrap up 2013 preseason baseball with a two-game set in Houston this weekend to take on the newly minted AL West Astros. And in more ways than one, it’s fitting the Cubs would wrap up the spring with their old NL Central rival.

Both organizations struggled at the major league level in 2012, finishing with the two worst records in baseball. But with massive overhauls taking place in Chicago and Houston, they are definitely two of the most interesting franchises around.

Both Cubs General Manager Jed Hoyer and Astros GM Jeff Luhnow asked their fans for patience, as they entered their respective organizations after the 2011 season. And both ushered in a philosophical overhaul that could pay dividends in the not too distant future.

So far, it appears the Cubs are a little farther along than their former division rivals. Not only did they win more games last season, they also have more big league talent in place. In addition, they signed major league talent at positions where they were previously lacking—most notably with the pitching staff. Also, in order to shore up a farm system short on high-impact talent, the North Siders traded expiring contracts for some top-level prospects and had a 2012 draft many consider a success on paper.

That’s not to short Houston, however. While they might not have gotten much better at the major league level—and trading one of their best players in Jed Lowrie won’t help this year—the minor league system is improving in a hurry. With the first overall pick in the draft last season, they took a high-upside shortstop in Carlos Correa, who is already impressing. In all, Houston has five prospects in Baseball America‘s top 100 prospects list, including four in top 50.

Though each organization has seen new ownership over the last few seasons, historically, the franchises have had little trouble spending the money it takes to win. The Cubs have traditionally been near the top of the list in annual team payroll, and the Astros were in the top 10 as recently as 2009. The key will be when each respective management group feels it is truly ready to compete.

The two organizations still might struggle in 2013, but they’re a pair of clubs that should draw a lot of interest from baseball fans and executives over the next few years. With two savvy front offices, the teams could be heading toward the front of the standings shortly. And there’s a good chance they’ll both stay there for a while.

First pitch for Friday’s game is scheduled for 7:05 CST. Edwin Jackson will get the start for the Cubs, opposite Alex White. Saturday’s game will start at 1:05 CST and then the team will head to Pittsburgh to open the season Monday.

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