Rarely does a 73-win team become a World Series contender the following year. Yet, it appears to be the case on the North Side heading into this season, as expectations soar for the 2015 Chicago Cubs.
What has changed for the Loveable Losers?
First, as predicted here 12 months ago, Anthony Rizzo broke out, and Starlin Castro bounced back in 2014. Rizzo and Castro were a solid one-two punch in the middle of the lineup, and look poised to be the offensive foundation for years to come.
As the season progressed, the duo was joined by free-swinging middle infielder Javier Baez, power-inclined outfielder Jorge Soler and speedy utility-man Arismendy Alcantara. The Cubs lineup had a spark unseen for nearly a decade, and the team’s 156 home runs finished second in the National League.
Unheralded starters Jake Arrieta and Kyle Hendricks flashed the makeup of solid rotation locks. However, it is the signing of ace Jon Lester — on the heels of a career-best campaign — which has truly catapulted the Cubbies into the World Series conversation.
The offseason additions of catcher Miguel Montero and outfielder Dexter Fowler have also propelled the Cubs’ momentum to contention.
Add Kris Byrant’s looming MLB debut, after being awarded the 2014 USA Today Minor League Player of the Year and Baseball America Minor League Player of the Year, and there is finally cause for optimism around The Friendly Confines.
Still, #CubbiesIn2017 projects as a more fitting timetable.
We took the projected lineup, rotation and bullpen from RosterResources.com.
Projected “Go-To” Lineup
- CF Dexter Fowler
- SS Starlin Castro
- 3B Kris Bryant
- 1B Anthony Rizzo
- RF Jorge Soler
- C Miguel Montero
- LF Chris Coghlan
- 2B Javier Baez
- Utl Arismendy Alcantara
- LHP Jon Lester
- RHP Jake Arrieta
- RHP Jason Hammel
- LHP Travis Wood
- RHP Kyle Hendricks
- LHP Felix Doubront
- RHP Jacob Turner
- RHP Edwin Jackson
- RHP Hector Rondon (closer)
- RHP Pedro Strop (setup)
- RHP Neil Ramirez (setup)
2015 Chicago Cubs Fantasy Studs
The arrow is pointing straight up for 1B Anthony Rizzo, and with fewer legit power hitters, Rizzo is climbing draft boards. True four-category performers are rare finds, and No. 44 has potential to lead the National League in bombs. He’ll be better insulated in the lineup, and he should also see more opportunities to drive in runs.
Rizzo will turn 26 in August, and is entering his prime in the middle of a potent lineup. Last seasons .300/.421/.507 slash line against left-handed pitching should curb any fear of his struggles against southpaws, and his .913 OPS finished seventh in baseball. Don’t be surprised to see Rizzo gone by the fifteenth pick of mixed drafts.
— David Westergreen (@dwest9cubs) January 12, 2015
Expect a mini stint from Kris Bryant in the minor leagues, but upon arrival in the bigs, Bryant will be a Fantasy star. In fact, his stock ascends past a rookie mention. Third base is a dire heap of aging risk, and Bryant’s upside is second to none. He is worth targeting in the early-middle rounds on draft day. Strikeouts are a mild concern, and his batting average could suffer as a result, but his counting stats will help carry your team. His gaudy 2014 numbers across two levels scream elite bat: .325/.438/.661 slash line with 118 runs, 110 RBI and 43 round trippers. Reaching half those counting stats will land Bryant inside the position’s top-10 rank, which is a conservative projection.
Living up to Lester’s 2014 numbers is likely asking too much. However, relocating to the National League is a plus for Lester. He is a fringe No. 1 fake starter, but certainly can be counted on as a slam-dunk No. 2 for your fantasy roster. An improved walk (2.0 BB9) and strikeout rate (9.0 SO9) aided Lester’s career-best WHIP (1.10) in 2014. There is a chance Lester’s mega contract attaches an overrated narrative to his fantasy stock, which shouldn’t sway your interests. Simply meeting his career averages (15 wins, 192 strikeouts, 3.47 ERA and 1.25 WHIP) over the past seven seasons will do, and landing closer to his 2014 marks is a legitimate possibility. Expect a low-end No. 1 starter return from Lester.
Breakout Candidate: Jorge Soler
A late-season cup of coffee in the majors showcased Soler’s immense offensive upside, as he swatted 14 extra-base hits — five home runs — and drove in 20 runs in 24 games. To date, only injuries have slowed Soler, who will turn 23 before the season starts. In his ADP neighbourhood, few hitters have the power upside of Soler. His 162-game pace from last season tallies out at 34 home runs and 135 RBI. While those numbers are all but unobtainable, a 20-plus bomb and 80-plus RBI yield would play nicely in Rounds 8 through 10, which is where Soler can be had with ease. Expect a strong spring to drive up his price tag and parlay into a solid first full season.
OutsidePitchMLB: 2015 Breakout Candidate: Jorge Soler http://t.co/WGxl0o73jr
— FantasyLeagueGM (@FLGM_MLB) January 26, 2015
Sleeper Candidate: Arismendy Alcantara
Statistics cannot confirm the spark Alcantara brought to the park and the Cubs’ lineup. However, they’ll attest to his power-speed combo, which has 20/20 upside. The downside is the sub-.200 batting average Alcantara posted in August and September. Add his lack of guaranteed playing time, and Alcantara is well within sleeper territory — whatever that is exactly. Still, his 10 home runs and eight stolen bases in 300 plate appearances are exactly what makes Alcantara a worthy late-round flier. His ability to play multiple positions is a significant plus for crafty manager Joe Maddon, who is inclined to utilize speed. Plus, there are question marks surrounding Javier Baez’s propensity to strikeout and Dexter Fowler’s likelihood of staying healthy. The upside far outweighs the cost.
Bust Candidate: Javier Baez
There is substantial risk, until Baez curbs the strikeouts and gains the confidence of his new manager. His all-or-nothing approach (.169 batting average, .227 on-base percentage) won’t play in a competitive lineup, and the Cubs will take the patient approach with the 22-year-old infielder, if needed. At this point, a refresher at Triple-A Iowa appears probable. The power upside remains, and there is plenty of time for Baez to right his wrongs and stick with the team out of spring training. However, there is also no rush for the organization, whose focus will be on Baez’s long-term development. It’ll be best to pass in seasonal formats at his current cost, unless you’re desperate for pop, or Baez shows signs in spring training. Our Buck Davidson also picked Baez as a Fantasy bust this offseason.
Top Rookies: Kris Bryant, Jorge Soler, Addison Russell, Kyle Schwarber, Albert Almora
The Cubs are expected to contend this season, and their youth will have a tremendous part in whether they succeed or not. Although, Arismendy Alcantara and Javier Baez have surpassed 130 at-bats and are technically not rookies, they and the above mentioned Kris Bryant and Jorge Soler are all highly-touted prospects and are all deserving of varying fantasy attention. In the system, shortstop Addison Russell, catcher/outfielder Kyle Schwarber and outfielder Albert Almora all project as plus-players at the major league level. Although, their 2015 fantasy value will likely be tied to a trade from the organization, unless there is a rash of injuries to the major league club.
What Should We Know About the 2015 Chicago Cubs?
|2015 Team Previews: NL Central|
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There is finally excitement surrounding the Chicago Cubs again. Their offseason acquisitions and impressive youth movement will have a competitive team on the field for the first time in awhile. Be happy for their fans, and expect their top players to receive plenty of early attention in Fantasy formats.
Check out all of our “Fantasy 30 For 30 Team Previews,” as we post a new one every day.
Anthony Rizzo Photo Credit: Ben Gray
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