While fans of the Chicago Cubs certainly couldn’t have had high hopes for a great win-loss record heading into 2013, it was still a long season for the fans of the North Siders.
Fantasy players simply had to remember that the Cubs weren’t really built for 2013 so anyone who had a member of the Cubs on the roster really had to be cautious.
Will that scenario repeat itself in 2014?
Projected 2014 Cubs Offense
|1. Starlin Castro||SS||24||R||660||74||12||49||11||.262|
|2. Luis Valbuena||3B||28||L||325||30||9||33||1||.218|
|3. Anthony Rizzo||1B||24||L||580||67||22||77||5||.266|
|4. Nate Schierholtz||RF||30||L||460||63||17||61||6||.259|
|5. Junior Lake||LF||24||R||470||54||15||51||15||.270|
|6. Ryan Sweeney||CF||29||L||365||29||5||36||4||.263|
|7. Welington Castillo||C||27||R||315||25||6||31||1||.260|
|8. Darwin Barney||2B||28||R||515||47||8||38||5||.247|
- Crackerjack Fantasy Options: Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo, Nate Schierholtz, Junior Lake
None of these guys get a 100 percent vote of confidence, or all that close. Still, there’s potential value in all of these guys.
– Castro: You never want to look at a 24-year-old player and say that he’s regressing, but it certainly appears as though Starlin Castro is headed that way.
The good news is that Castro is only 24 and is still a 10-15 HR/15-20 SB kind of player. The question is, can he get his average up?
Well, per Fangraphs, his 2013 line drive percentage was right around the same mark as both 2011 and 2012, when he hit .307 and .283, respectively. He does need to be more selective at the plate and try to get the strikeout number down from 129 to closer to 100 but we have to remember that he is only 24 and that kind of stuff will happen.
The bottom line is that Castro was very good in both 2011 and 2012 before a terrible 2013 season. At a position like SS, we can certainly allow for one bad year.
– Rizzo: Not unlike Castro, Anthony Rizzo is 24 and definitely regressed in 2013. There are also differences between the two that need to be mentioned, though.
- Unlike Castro, Rizzo plays a position with plenty of depth.
- Unlike Castro, Rizzo doesn’t have a good full MLB season under his belt. He was good when he played in 2012, but pretty bad in 2013.
- Unlike Castro, Rizzo found a way to have over 20 HR and 80 RBI despite a poor batting average.
I wouldn’t have Rizzo as my starting first baseman, but as a utility man in deeper leagues or CI in leagues that use that position, he’s definitely got potential. He may still be a few years away from his absolute peak, but Rizzo can bring something good to your fantasy team.
– Schierholtz: I do feel pretty confident that Nate Schierholtz will come in around the numbers that I projected him at. The problem is that that means he’s looking at fewer than 500 at-bats. You need to find someone out there to platoon him with.
On the plus side, he’s looking pretty solid to be in the best RBI spot in the Chicago lineup when he’s out there. He also could well be traded at any point between now and July 31.
– Lake: He didn’t play much for the Cubbies in 2013, but Junior Lake wasn’t half bad when he was out there. That’s encouraging, because Lake showed steady improvement throughout his MiLB career where he was at times, a prolific base stealer. His power is a little hard to project but I feel pretty good in saying that if he gets 500 at-bats, he’ll be at 30 combined homers and steals.
If his average continues to improve, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Lake batting in one of the top two spots of the Cubs lineup, either, maximizing his run potential.
Projected 2014 Cubs Pitching
- Crackerjack Fantasy Options: Jeff Samardzija, Travis Wood, Jose Veras
You have to hope for the best in ERA and WHIP with The Shark, who was at his best in 2011 as a reliever. Still what he generates isn’t at all bad for a guy who gets you a strikeout an inning. There are plenty of lower ERA and especially WHIP guys that you can couple him with and let them balance each other out.
– Wood: Meet Travis Wood, a perfect coupling candidate for the aforementioned Samardzija. Actually, they are stylistically perfect coupling candidates. I wouldn’t actually suggest coupling two guys on a bad team unless your league doesn’t count wins, because you may not get to 20 combined from these two.
Wood is a nice example of a guy who manages to keep hitters off balance and use his defense. He doesn’t strike guys out, but his walk rates are good enough and he doesn’t often allow hitters to square up on him. I’m not expecting an ERA around 3.00 again this year, but he’s certainly someone who can be on a winning fantasy team.
– Veras: He probably won’t be anything close to an elite closer in 2014, but remember that Jose Veras knocked down 19 seasons in 2013 for the lowly Houston Astros, and he was traded to the Detroit Tigers in late July.
Definitely a third closer on a team, but any team’s primary closer should have nearly universal ownership.
- Fantasy Star: Anthony Rizzo
We’re definitely using the term “star” liberally here, but I do think that Anthony Rizzo will statistically be the best Cub in 2014. He had a down year last year and still had some positives working in his direction. As he gets more acclimated to big league pitching, I can’t see him not getting that batting average around .270, or even above.
Remember, this is one of Theo Epstein’s guys, and they have a tendency to pan out.
- Fantasy Bust: Starlin Castro
Based on last year, it’s really hard to find someone with high enough expectations that being a bust is all that possible this year. But for all the reasons we went over, Starlin Castro is the guy. Oh, and there is one other potential problem.
Castro has had a series of mental blunders throughout his short career that aren’t really acceptable for anyone beyond T-Ball. Seriously, if your 11-year-old is ever playing shortstop and has his back to the pitcher during a pitcher, he needs to be pulled. He has to be on thin ice with the Cubs organization and I can’t imagine new manager Rick Renteria being too patient with him.
Castro not only needs to get his act together, but he needs to do it fast.
- Prospect Watch: Javier Baez
I thought long and hard about giving this spot to Mike Olt, who’s more than three years older than Baez and has shown immense power in the minors, even if his average leaves something to be desired. If Castro does indeed hold his spot down at short, then he’ll be blocking Baez, and Luis Valbuena isn’t much of a roadblock at third.
That would all seem to be true but remember that Baez can play third, as well, is a higher rated prospect, and is coming off of a much better season. If the Cubs looked like more of a contender in 2014, I’d think harder about giving this spot to Olt. But with Rizzo, Castro, Baez, Kris Bryant, Arismendy Alcantara, Albert Almora, and Jorge Soler in the organization, I’m not exactly getting why the Cubs traded for Olt. It wouldn’t surprise me if he was on the move again shortly.
I don’t see that with Baez and he should log some significant MLB time in 2014.
- Fantasy Sleeper: Junior Lake
He’s certainly not an elite contributor, but that’s not what we’re looking for out of a sleeper. I can see Junior Lake being a significantly positive contributor in all five fantasy categories, which isn’t bad for a guy who probably won’t be drafted.
Again, Lake has shown significant improvement throughout his time as a professional baseball player. When we’re talking about a player who started when he was 17, you definitely want to skew to the more recent stats for predictions, and that makes Lake look even better.
Lastly, the Cubs MiLB system may be filled with highly-touted outfielders, but most of them are at least a year away. If Lake is healthy, he should have no problem getting playing time, making me feel even better about that 30 HR+SB prediction above.
- Final Thoughts
Much like the Minnesota Twins, the Cubs are a team that can be judged more based on what they do in 2016. There are guys with potential and even a few who can be contributors in 2014, but with the possible exception of Lake, I’m not really targeting any of them, and even he’s more of a contingency than anything else.