|This is a Guest Post by Brad Berreman. Brad has contributed to multiple websites, mostly with a fantasy sports angle, since 2004. His current work can be found at Rotowire.com (college football/basketball), Bruno Boys Fantasy Football (fantasy football/NFL Draft), Football Nation.com (NFL, CFB and fantasy football) and Fantasy Daddy.com (fantasy football/fantasy baseball). For links to his work feel free to visit his blog at bbsportswriting.blogspot.com and follow him on Twitter @bradberreman24.|
The offseason brought some big changes to the Chicago Cubs’ franchise, as former Boston Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein was brought aboard as president of baseball operations. Some changes are coming to the roster as well, as veterans Aramis Ramirez and Carlos Pena were allowed to leave via free agency, opening up starting jobs at third base and first base respectively.
I will take a look at the three most notable candidates for those vacated starting jobs, and what fantasy baseball owners can expect from each in 2012.
2011 can be considered a lost season for Ian Stewart, as injuries to his knee and hamstring in spring training kept him getting on track. He was demoted to Triple-A by the Colorado Rockies in April, and flashed power there (14 home runs in just 171 at-bats) before returning to the big leagues and being sidelined late in the season by a wrist injury. He will get a fresh start after being traded to the Chicago Cubs this offseason, and has a clear path to a starting job.
Stewart will turn 27 on April 5, so he still has time to turn his career around as long as he is healthy. He definitely has power potential, as evidenced by 18 home runs in 386 at-bats with the Rockies in 2010 and 25 homers in 2009 over 425 at-bats, so the likelihood of full-time at-bats in the Windy City makes Stewart an intriguing fantasy option.
Stewart is not likely to provide a sudden boost in batting average to fantasy owners, as he has a just a .236 career batting average during his time in the big leagues, and his struggles against left-handers (.223 career average) could lead to a platoon at some point. That said, new Cubs manager Dale Sveum has suggested he has no platoon partner in mind for Stewart at this point and the option that looks most likely right now (Jeff Baker) should not be considered a threat to take away significant playing time.
There is some risk involved if Stewart can’t shake the injury bug that plagued him in 2011, but given how shallow third base is for fantasy baseball owners he makes for a nice buy-low target with upside for mixed league owners on draft day.
2012 Projection: 400 AB, .255 BA, 19 HR, 63 RBI, 5 SB
Bryan LaHair put together an MVP season in the Pacific Coast League last season, as he hit .331 with 38 home runs and 109 RBI at Triple-A Iowa before looking solid in 59 major league at-bats (.288, 2 HR, 6 RBI). He has hit 89 home runs over the last three season at Triple-A, and is now expected to start the season as the Cubs starting first baseman.
LaHair further bolstered his status as a power hitter with a strong showing during winter ball in Venezuela (15 home runs in 169 at-bats), but the fact he has just 195 major league at-bats at age 29 is cause for concern he can maintain this 2011 level long-term. The Cubs acquired young first baseman Anthony Rizzo from the San Diego Padres this offseason, and even though Rizzo is currently slated to start the season at Triple-A LaHair may need a nice start to keep the starting gig.
LaHair could easily be very productive if he can secure significant playing time with the Cubs this season, though a fortunate BABIP of .369 last season between Triple-A and the majors and fairly low contact rate (75 percent) makes his batting average unlikely to be repeated this season. At this point, I feel like he is only worth consideration in NL-only leagues on draft day but LaHair could hold some mixed league value as the season goes on.
2012 Projection: 340 AB, .270 BA, 16 HR, 59 RBI, 1 SB
Anthony Rizzo was acquired by the Cubs from the San Diego Padres this offseason, and he has now been traded in back-to-back offseason after going to San Diego in the Adrian Gonzalez trade prior to 2011.
Rizzo had a very good season at Triple-A last season, hitting .331 with 26 home runs and 101 RBI over 356 at-bats, but he struggled during his first taste of big league action (.141, 1 HR, 9 RBI, 21 strikeouts in 128 at-bats) and may need further minor league seasoning.
Moving out of pitcher-friendly PETCO Park stands to help Rizzo’s offensive production, even though he is expected to start the season at Triple-A. But it may only be a matter of time before he is called up, particularly if Bryan LaHair struggles out of the gate, and the opportunity for regular at-bats could yield solid production. It is worth remembering Rizzo is just 22 years old, which enhances his value in keeper leagues even if he does not see much time with the Cubs in 2012. He is not worthy of anything more than a late-round flier in mixed league drafts.
2012 Projection: 350 AB, .260 BA, 14 HR, 55 RBI, 4 SB