MLB Team News & Rumors: Chicago

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Chicago Cubs

Our expert from,Shawn Childs, helps you prepare for your big fantasy baseball draft.

Chicago Cubs Team Projection

The Cubs have won 61 and 66 games respectively over the last 2 seasons. To make it even worse, they haven't made the playoffs since 2008, haven't made it to the World Series since 1945, and haven't won a World Series since 1908. Chicago finished 28th in the majors in runs scored (602), which is their lowest total since 1992. However, the Cubs did have some power (172 HR's - 9th in the majors). As a team, they hit .238 with only 63 SB's. Their pitching staff was 21st in the majors in ERA (4.00), and they allowed the 3rd most walks (540). In the offseason, Chicago signed P Jason Hammel, P Jose Veras, P Wesley Wright, and IF Ryan Roberts. Their only other addition was OF Justin Ruggiano, who was acquired in a minor trade with Miami for Brian Bogusevic. The Cubs starting lineup only has 2 quality major league bats (SS Starlin Castro and 1B Anthony Rizzo). Furthermore, their starting rotation looks average across the board. It can't be a good sign in the bullpen when two key players upgraded from Houston to Chicago. Either way, they don't have electric arms to finish games. The Cubs supposedly have a top 3 farm system in baseball, which means HELP IS ON THE WAY. Their offense needs a couple more impact players and their starting rotation needs an ace and #2 starter before they can be considered as a playoff contender. If the Cubs wins 72 games this season, it would be a step in the right direction.

1. OF Justin Ruggiano

Justin Ruggiano fantasy baseball

Ruggiano doesn't have a high skill set and is a journeyman player, but he does produce fantasy stats when he is in the lineup. His K rate (24.2%) was slightly lower than 2012, but his batting average dropped by almost 90 points. In addition, his walk rate (8.7%) is just above the major league average. Most of his struggles were against RH pitching (.210 with 10 HR's in 291 at bats). While he only hit .248 against lefties, he did have a .504 slugging %. The Marlins tried to give him full time at bats in April and May (.210 with 8 HR's and 22 RBI), but he hit his way into a part time role. Justin was a career .296 hitter in the minors with 108 HR's, 503 RBI, and 154 SB's in 2,910 at bats (K rate - 25.0%). Overall, he doesn't have the skill set to be a long term full time starter and may work best as a platoon player with Schierholtz. His success will be determined by his ability to get at bats. Possible 15/15 player with 450 at bats, but he isn't draftable for me.

2. 2B Starlin Castro

Starlin Castro fantasy baseball

It looks like the stock market devalued the CASTRO in 2013 as Starlin only delivered 40 cents on the dollar. He has led the National League in at bats (666) in 3 straight seasons, but his approach at the plate took a step backwards. His K rate (18.3%) was the highest of his career and his weak walk rate (4.3%) was his lowest of his career. He continues to be a GB hitter (50.7%) with a short FB rate (29.4%), and his HR/FB rate (6.3%) regressed (8.0% in 2012). Starlin also only hit .226 against LH pitching. His best month of the season was April (3 HR's with 12 RBI). Over his last 5 months, Castro only hit .238 with 7 HR's, 32 RBI, and 7 SB's. He delivered less than replacement value stats. In the past, Castro has been a very good hitter against the fastball (.309) and off speed (.349) pitches, but he regressed against all pitches in 2013 (fastball - .269, breaking ball - .215, and off speed - .226). It looks like it was mental all season and maybe he had a rub with the manager. His step back last year forces a fantasy player to lower their expectations this year. Instead of being a possible 20/20 player with upside in batting average, he drops down to grinder with a possible 15/20 skill set that needs volume of at bats to reach his targets. I expect better in 2014, but I'm not sure he gets another dance unless the price point is more than fair. Starlin doesn't have the skill set to bat leadoff.

3. SS Javier Baez

Javier Baez fantasy baseball

I may be a bit ballsy by putting a 21-year old rookie who has never had an at bat above AA as a middle of the order hitter for the Cubs. When the cupboard is empty, it's time to invest in some new inventory. Baez has the reputation of being a free swinger that can make hard contact with pitches that are off the plate. He is a career .286 hitter in the minors with 53 HR's, 158 RBI, and 46 SB's in only 828 at bats. He played great at High A in 2013 (.274 with 17 HR's, 57 RBI, and 12 SB's in 299 at bats), but was even better at AA (.294 with 20 HR's, 54 RBI, and 8 SB's). His K rate (24.0%) will invite batting average risk as he pushes his way to the majors, and his walk rate (5.9%) is a liability as well. The only skill that Javier lacks is plate discipline. As this point of his career, he has always been better than his competition. When he reaches the majors, he'll need to be more selective or major league pitchers will never throw him a strike. I think there is no doubt he will play in the majors in 2014. Baez will either force Castro to 2nd base or he will move over to 3B. The Cubs have 3B Kris Bryant on the fast track to the majors as well, so it would make the most sense just to let Javier play SS during his first season. The power is for real, but he can't make a long term impact without taking more pitches. Baez has shown speed in the minors, but he doesn't have plus speed.

4. 1B Anthony Rizzo

Anthony Rizzo fantasy baseball

Rizzo's results were shorter than fantasy players expected in 2013. His HR's (23) and RBI's (80) were enough to keep you in the game, but his batting average ended up being a huge negative. His K rate (18.4%) came in at league average and he had growth in his walk rate (11.0%). Anthony had a tough time with LH pitching (.189), but he was able to hit 7 HR's off of them in 190 at bats. Just like Castro, his best month of the season was April (8 HR's, 20 RBI, and 3 SB's). Rizzo only had 15 HR's and 60 RBI's over the last 5 months of the year. His FB rate (37.9%) was higher than 2012, but his HR/FB rate (12.6%) dropped by almost 50%. Anthony was a career .303 hitter in the minors with 87 HR's and 343 RBI's in 1,693 at bats. He added length to his hits (AVH - 1.801), while his approach at the plate should have resulted in a high batting average. Overall, Rizzo is an upside player with 30 HR power. He can't make a huge step forward in runs or RBI's without better production by his supporting cast, but he does have some underlying speed. His next step is solving LH pitching at the major league level.

5. OF Nate Schierholtz

Nate Schierholtz fantasy baseball

Schierholtz has always been a short term tease during his major league career. Last year, he played his best ball in the majors, but Nate only hit .168 over his last 101 at bats with 3 HR's and 10 RBI. Schierholtz hit .170 against LH pitching with 1 HR's and 3 RBI's in 53 at bats. He was a career .306 hitter in the minors with 84 HR's and 402 RBI in 2,430 at bats. His K rate (18.7%) is about major league average, but it has declined over the last 3 seasons. His approach in the majors has been a slight step down from his minor league resume (16.6% K rate and 6.1% walk rate). In addition, he has only hit .194 against LH pitching over the last 3 seasons. Nate had the same power in both halves of the year, but his K rate did spike in July and August (26.0%). His HR/FB rate (14.2%) was a career high by a wide margin. Overall, Schierholtz is a platoon player with decent power. His K rate is strong enough where his batting average should fall into the neutral category. As bad as he has been over the last 3 years against LH pitching, he has the same career average against lefties as righties (.265). Schierholtz is a .270 hitter with 15 to 20 HR power with 450 at bats. His minor league resume still gives him a chance at a higher upside.

6. 3B Mike Olt

Mike Olt fantasy baseball

The Cubs acquired Olt last July in a trade with Texas for P Matt Garza. He played well at AA in 2012 (.288 with 28 HR's and 82 RBI's), but he had a tough time making contact at AAA with the Rangers (.213 with 11 HR's and 32 RBI's in 239 at bats - 33.2% K rate). However, he was much better with the Cubs at AAA (.168 with 3 HR's and 8 RBI's in 131 at bats - 24.3% K rate). Mike plays well defensively and his scouting report gave him a future All Star tag. His lack of approach leads me to believe he needs more time to develop. Olt has had 361 at bats at AAA. Prior to last season, he appeared to have plus power with batting average risk, but he was willing to take a walk (14.0% walk rate). He is a career .258 hitter in the minors with 67 HR's and 213 RBI in 1,244 at bats. His K rate suggests he isn't ready to be a starter in the majors. For Mike to get at bats in the majors, he'll only have to beat out the low flying fruit - Luis Valbuena, Ryan Roberts, and Donnie Murphy. Possible flash power hitter with the Cubs, but his skill set will get exposed over time. Fantasy players need to read his stats, which will be a tell all. HR's = more playing time >>> K's with no power = less playing time and a possible trip back to AAA.

7. C Welington Castillo

Welington Castillo fantasy baseball

Castillo delivered less than replacement stats in 2013 as he wasn't even the best catching option on the team. His season ended in late September when he had right knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus. His K rate (22.7%) was a career low and it showed growth from 2012 (26.8%). His walk rate (7.9%) was a slight step back from last year. Over the first 5 months in 2013, he had 1 HR or less and 5 RBI's or less in every month (ouch). Welington played better over the last 3 months of the year (.283 with 6 HR's and 20 RBI's - 12.8% walk rate), but he only had 159 at bats. His HR/FB rate (8.2%) dropped by about 50% from 2012 and he had a low FB rate (34.3%). Castillo was a career .265 hitter in the minors with 63 HR's and 249 RBI's in 1,663 at bats. Possible C2 upside with some improvement, but George Kottaras has enough talent to get in the way for at bats.

8. OF Junior Lake

Junior Lake fantasy baseball

Lake overachieved his skill set in batting average with the Cubs last year. His K rate (26.8%) is too high for his skill set (23.4% during his minor league career) and he barely took any walks (5.1%). Junior is career .271 hitter in the minors with 47 HR's, 260 RBI, and 117 SB's in 2,254 at bats. Lake came through the system as a shortstop (has also played 2B and 3B in the minors). Physically he looks like a talented player, but he gets himself out too many times by chasing pitches out of the strike zone. Junior has upside in speed and enough size where his power could develop. Possible 10/30 player with batting average risk that will lead to less at bats. Last year, he hit .377 against LH pitching in 67 major league at bats.

9. OF Ryan Sweeney

Ryan Sweeney fantasy baseball

The Cubs gave Sweeney solid at bats in September (.225 with 2 HR's and 4 RBI's), but he proved he wasn't worthy of being a major league starter. Ryan had success during his first 112 at bats in May and June (.295 with 4 HR's and 15 RBI's) before he suffered a fractured left rib. During his short at bats (48) against lefties, Sweeney hit .313 with 1 HR and 5 RBI's. Ryan appeared to have some upside earlier in his career, but he has never been able to make an impact in the majors. He will compete for at bats in the outfield.

10. C George Kottaras

He provides LH power at the catcher position. Over the last 2 years, Kottaras has only hit .199 with 14 HR's and 43 RBI's in 271 at bats. His K rate (16.1%) is declining, while his walk rate (13.6%) is in a very respectable area. He may even have the best skill set on the team to bat leadoff.

11. IF Luis Valbuena

On the surface, Valbuena appears to have more in the tank. He has only hit .218 over the last 2 seasons with 16 HR's and 65 RBI's in 596 at bats. His skill set would have the most value at 2B. Luis is a career .283 hitter in the minors with 73 HR's, 345 RBI's and 77 SB's in 2,490 at bats. His window as an option at 3B is closing fast. Overall, he had enough talent to be productive in the majors if he could ever earn full time at bats. Possible flyer as a bench option in deep leagues.

12. IF Donnie Murphy

He gave the Cubs solid power off the bench last season (11 HR's in 149 at bats), but he had a huge K rate (29.4%). Murphy will compete for a bench role this year.

13. 3B Ryan Roberts

He is the most likely candidate for the starting left field job. He struggled with a neck injury last season, which led to him needing surgery last July to fuse two vertebrae in his neck. He is expected to be ready for spring training. Reimold has had a couple of nice runs in the majors since 2009, but injuries have hurt his long term success. Double digit power with some speed if his neck is no longer an issue.

14. 3B Kris Bryant

He was the best hitter in college in 2013 (.329 with 31 HR's and 62 RBI's in 228 at bats). The Cubs drafted him with their 2nd overall pick in last June's draft. Bryant flashed plus power in his 128 minor league at bats between Low A and High A (9 HR's and 32 RBI's with a .336 batting average) and he followed it up with a solid Arizona Fall League (.364 with 6 HR's and 17 RBI's in 77 at bats - 25.3% K rate). His K rate (24.0%) was high, so it won't be an easy ride in batting average down the road. Based on his scouting reports, his future will be in RF. Kris has plus power, but he needs to make more contact if he wants to make an impact in the majors in the near future.

15. OF Josh Vitters

He only had 100 at bats in 2013 due to a quad, a rib, and a hamstring injury. With the Cubs getting jammed up at 3B, Vitters will be shifted to left field this season and may be the best option for Chicago if he plays well in spring training. Josh is a career .282 hitter in the minors with 69 HR's and 309 RBI's in 2,063 at bats. He projects to be a 20/80 player with a neutral batting average. I like him as a bench player in an NL only league.

16. OF Brett Jackson

He clearly wasn't ready to be a factor in the majors last year. He had a massive K rate (41.6%) in the majors, but he did have a high BB rate (15.5%). He is a career .282 hitter in the minors with 55 HR's, 207 RBI's, and 91 SB's in 1,540 at bats. His K rate was 26.4% during his minor league career. He has more tools than DeJesus, but he can't hit his way into the lineup if he can't make contact.


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