While we wait and see how the Cubs navigate this offseason, their current roster returns exciting young hitters, Jake Arrieta, and a lot players who would probably play lesser roles on more competitive teams. And they also have all those awesome prospects too.
The important question, for fantasy purposes, is how do all these pieces fit? There really is no good way to answer this question right now given that we do not know how free agency will unfold and the uncertainty inherent in prospects. What we can do is evaluate the players as they currently stand and make adjustments for playing time as we get more information. That said, let us get to it.
A note for our readers. While informative, since we are still months away from pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training, these previews are far from definitive or complete. Free agent signings, trades, and other offseason news will change the landscape for most if not all teams. For any moves that take place after a team preview is written, please look to our Transaction Analysis coverage for instant reactions, and then check back on the Team Previews for more detailed updates (including lineups, rotations, bullpens, etc.) as we get closer to Opening Day.
Another note for our readers. The characterizations below (for example, “stud”) are designed to be taken in context for each team. Not every team has a Mike Trout or Giancarlo Stanton, so the “stud” category represents the best player or players on each team, not necessarily in comparison to the league.
Anthony Rizzo – 1B
Rizzo put it all together in 2014, his age-24 season. The runs and RBI left a little bit to be desired for a 1A, fantasy first baseman, but those stats (i) are not a reflection of Rizzo’s abilities and (ii) should improve as the lineup should be improved in 2015. I fully buy into the power and expecting 25-30 home runs seems responsible. I am also buying the .270-.300 batting average. His walk, strikeout, and swing rates were almost identical in 2013 and 2014, and given his track record of solid batting averages in the minors, his .233 batting average in 2013 is looking more and more like an outlier.
Edwin Jackson – SP
Travis Wood – SP
Tsuyoshi Wada – SP
The reason these pitchers are categorized as “duds,” as opposed to “NL-only” is because they are probably more likely to hurt than help you, even in deep formats.
I, like boss man and resident E-Jax enthusiast Bret Sayre, have been on the Edwin Jackson bandwagon; however, the issue now is that with his diminished velocity makes his below average control and command too hittable. Regarding Wood, the velocity has never been there and his fly ball profile is not a good fit for summers in Wrigley. Tsuyoshi Wada is a lot like Wood (four letter last name starting with W, etc.); moreover, as he makes his rounds through the majors, the book will soon be out on him.
Up and Coming
Javier Baez – 2B/SS
Baez’s 52-game call-up last year gave us the good, the bad, and the ugly. There were nine homeruns, five stolen bases (to just one caught stealing), and a 41.5 percent strikeout rate that led to a .169 batting average. While the strikeouts and batting average were obviously problematic, the hope of a 25-plus homerun, 15-20-stolen-base middle infielder exists alongside the swing-and-miss issues. Given his ability to make adjustments in the past, I am betting that Baez manages harness his swinging strike rate enough to be a fantasy plus in 2015 and a potential star in future years.
The problem with Baez for fantasy baseball, however, is really a problem with how we view uncertainty. People want certainties in order to make decisions and Baez is clearly capable of performing to two extremes; consequently, come draft or auction day, many of us are going to want to believe with certainty that he will be great or believe he will fail because these beliefs will help make a difficult decision easier. We should try to avoid this certainty seeking behavior; instead, determine a value for Baez that incorporates all the potential outcomes. Then, if your league-mates are too low on him, scoop him up, and if they are too high on him, let them pay that premium.
Jorge Soler – OF
Soler’s 24-game call-up last year gave us pretty much only the good. In those games, Soler had 26 hits, 14 of which were extra-base hits, five of which were home runs. Put differently, that is objectively delicious. One could anticipate Soler’s .292 batting average dropping because of his 6.2 percent walk rate and 24.7 percent strikeout rate; however, one should not ignore that Soler posted a much lower walk rate and a slightly higher strikeout rate in the majors than he did in the minors in 2014. My take is that he will eventually settle into a 10-13 percent walk rate and a 20-24 percent strike out rate in the majors. Consequently, I think Soler’s average drops in 2015, but I do not think it plummets as some might expect, because he is not quite the free swinger his pro-debut indicated.
Arismendy Alcantara – 2B/OF
Alcantara flashed his speed and surprising (not per the scouting reports, but per his size) pop in his 70-game, major-league debut. Unfortunately, these positives came with a poor approach and a lot of swings and misses. That said, the opportunity appears to be there; our very own Craig Goldstein writes that he “likes his likelihood of playing everyday in 2015.” There is plenty of risk taking a player who struck out 31 percent of the time last year, but there is also plenty of value to be had in a second-base-eligible player who could provide double-digit home runs and 20-plus steals.
On a lot of teams, Alcantara would be the 1A “up-and-coming” player, which is important because we know people love to hedge. Consequently, while people might want to roll the dice on the high upside plays of Castro and Soler, they may feel better about taking on those risks by avoiding Alcantara. If that is happening, I would happily take a chance on him. Again, he ain’t perfect, but we only need profitable.
What You See is What You Get
Starlin Castro – SS
The Good: Castro’s BABIP bounced back to a normal-for-Castro .337. Additionally, Castro’s power came back better than ever in 2014. He slugged a career best .438 to go along with 14 home runs in only 134 games.
The Bad: His double-digit base-stealing years appear to be behind him. Last season, Castro stole four bases and was caught four times.
Castro, from a fantasy production perspective, appears to be growing (albeit, not physically) into a Jhonny Peralta shortstop profile with some upside if the base stealing returns to even 50 percent of what it once was. It is not “stud” material, but it is definitely useful.
Jake Arrieta – SP
Arrieta broke out in 2014. We already know that, but the below table contains information that allows us to awe at the breakout:
Prior MLB Experience
*29 extra-base hits
** 5 home runs
Obviously, if Arrieta can maintain this production going forward, he is a fantasy ace. The question that will be asked all offseason is whether he will do so. Everything from better mechanics to using a new spot on the rubber to increased usage of a devastating “hard slider” to past pedigree to an improved mentality point to this being real. That said, one solid season does not guarantee a repeat. I am high on Arrieta, but I am not going to value him as though he is a lock to give us 180-200 innings of 2014 production.
Welington Castillo – C
He is what he is, but what he is for fantasy purposes is an NL-only catcher. He is fine as your second catcher, but you are going to want to be very strong elsewhere on offense if he is your top catcher.
Luis Valbuena – 2B/3B
Mike Olt – 3B
Tommy La Stella – 2B
As of right now, it looks like we will see a Valbuena-Olt third-base timeshare to start the season with La Stella working as the utility infielder. Valbuena, who is second base eligible, would carry the most value as he gets to play the strong side of the platoon. Olt and La Stella would only be $1-3 plays.
Also, given the combination of the Cubs offer out to Chase Headley and how Kris Bryant looked at third base in the AFL (not good), I would not be surprised if Bryant did not see much or any third base at the major-league level. Consequently, whoever ends up at third base for the Cubs could end up having some sneaky value. This is obviously uncertain, but is something to watch this offseason and spring training.
Chris Coghlan – OF
Justin Ruggiano – OF
Junior Lake – OF
Depending on role, each of these three could provide anywhere from $5-plus NL-only value to zero value. My guess would be that Coughlan sees the strong side of a platoon to start the season and will be most likely to be worth drafting or buying in NL only leagues.
Kyle Hendricks – SP
While Hendricks is a soft-tosser like Wood and Wada, he makes for a more interesting cheap starting pitcher (if people are willing to pay more than “cheap,” then he becomes uninteresting). Unlike Wada and Wood, Hendricks gets ground balls. He does so with a sinker he throws over 50 percent of the time. Hendricks’s plus control to go along with pitchability and a noted use of advance scouting reports make him an interesting back end, NL-only play.
Prospects for 2015
Kris Bryant – 3B
For Bryant’s abilities (as well as all the other prospects) go check out what the pros (scouts) are saying here. As for his fantasy impact, it really all has to do with playing time. If he continues to shred the minors like he did last year, my guess is that he will be spending the majority of the season in the majors. Nick J. Faleris expresses what we should anticipate for Bryant when he does reach the show better than I could below:
“He’s ready to bring his act to The Show, where he should eventually settle in as a fixture in the middle of the Cubs lineup. This season could be choppy at times due to the potential for major-league arms to exploit shortcomings in a swing. But the approach, work ethic, and IQ should aid Bryant in making his adjustments, and the raw power will be a legit threat from day one.”
Addison Russell – SS
From everything I am hearing, Russell is close to major league ready even though he will only be 21 in January. In Russell, we are looking at what could one day be a top-three fantasy shortstop. That said, I am not expecting much out of him in 2015 sans a trade of a couple of players currently blocking his path.
C.J. Edwards – RP
It would not be surprising to see Edwards get some action as a reliever in 2015 where he has an impact profile. This gives Edwards an NL-only fantasy profile for 2015 unless he is getting save opportunities.
Christian Villanueva – 3B
The logjam described above, to go along with the existence of Kris Bryant, does not bode well for Villanueva’s fantasy value. Albeit, he has spent time in Triple-A and has the glove to handle third base. At the bat, and stop me if you have heard this before, Villanueva has plus pop and contact issues. Given all this, he could see some, but if so, not many, major-league at-bats in 2015.
Pierce Johsnon – SP
He has yet to surpass 120 innings in a season, which makes it unlikely he gets extended time at the major league level. However, if he does get some starts, it will mean he has carried his success from the back half of 2014 into 2015. He has a plus fastball and an even-better curveball that could make him useful should the time come and a useful name to know at the present.
Eric Jokisch – SP
Dallas Beeler – SP
These guys might get a couple of starts at some point. They are names worth knowing, but not worth holding your breath for. However, as far as names go, they are above average.