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2016 Fantasy Baseball: Chicago Cubs Team Preview

Of all the 2015 playoff teams, it’s safe to say that the Chicago Cubs made the biggest improvement to their big league club this offseason. 2015 was supposed to be a year in which the Cubs graduated their minor league talent to the majors, in which they could each get experience in the majors before making the playoff push in 2016. Things happened sooner rather than later, and now we’re looking at the best team in baseball (on paper, anyway). They offer top players at most positions, and the team will look to capture their first World Series title since 1908.

Lineup

Catcher: Miguel Montero

First Base: Anthony Rizzo

Second Base: Ben Zobrist

Shortstop: Addison Russell

Third Base: Kris Bryant

Right Field: Jorge Soler

Center Field: Jason Heyward

Left Field: Kyle Schwarber

The big names on this list are Anthony Rizzo, Ben Zobrist, Kris Bryant, Jason Heyward, and Kyle Schwarber. Rizzo and Bryant are the clear juggernauts on this list, as they both enter the 2016 season as top twenty fantasy players. There’s a good chance Rizzo breaks out in a huge way this season and solidifies himself as the best first baseman in baseball. While the home runs and RBIs were there last year for Rizzo, the .278 batting average left a little something to be desired. That being said, 2015 brought forth something we thought we would never see from Rizzo, a huge spike in his stolen base total. Prior to last season, Rizzo had never swiped more than six bags in a single season in the majors. He must have taken a few pointers from Paul Goldschmidt, as Rizzo finished the season with 17 stolen bases. I have Rizzo has the #2 first baseman coming into the season, right behind Goldschmidt.

Bryant lived up to the all the hype surrounding him heading into the 2015 season, as he hit 26 home runs and was unanimously named the NL Rookie of the Year. Bryant is easily a top five player at his position, but he does come with one downside. He struck out 199 times last season, and while he was still able to put up some fantastic numbers, that does tend to scare people a bit. I’m not one of those skeptics, however, as I believe Bryant will continue to develop on a star-studded roster. This will be Bryant’s age 24 season, so it will be very exciting to see how he continues to grow and what kind of numbers he will produce in that lineup. The only third basemen I would consider taking over Bryant are Nolan Arenado and Manny Machado, though you can’t go wrong with any of the three.

Schwarber is name that interests many, but also frightens some. Luckily, fantasy baseball doesn’t factor in defense; otherwise most people would be avoiding Schwarber. Here’s the good news: while he likely won’t see much, if any, playing time behind the plate this season, he had enough of it in 2015 to make him eligible at catcher this season. It’s extremely difficult to come across a catcher with Schwarber’s power, which makes him easily one of the best options at the position. It seems as if the Cubs are going to run him out full-time in left field, hoping that his defense plays out a little better than it did last year. Nonetheless, Schwarber has so much potential in his bat that the Cubs can deal with him playing subpar defense in left field. Schwarber hit 16 home runs in 232 at-bats in 2015.

Heyward was the most coveted position player on the free agent market, and the Cubs were able to pry him away from the division rival St. Louis Cardinals. Heyward saw the potential in this young roster, so the 26-year-old saw Chicago as a great opportunity to win a championship. Plus, the $184 million wasn’t a bad payday, either. Heyward has been one of the most frustrating fantasy players since coming into the league in 2010, as he’s shown flashes of both power and speed, though he hasn’t hit over 20 home runs since his 2012 campaign. That season, however, showed fans and fantasy owners just what he’s fully capable of doing, and many people believed a 30/30 season was in the near future. In a new ballpark and with a new hitting coach this year, anything is possible, though I wouldn’t hold my breath on the 30/30-season happening. That being said, 2016 could be the year Heyward taps into his power potential and reaches 20 home runs yet again. The composite projections at Rotochamp.com have Heyward hitting 16 home runs, while driving in 69 runs and slashing .281/.356/.433 with 18 steals.

Zobrist isn’t the same player he was when he was with the Rays, but the 34-year-old is still a solid and versatile piece that’s valuable to have in any fantasy format. Zobrist seemed like an obvious fit for the Cubbies, as they lacked a true second baseman that could fit into their lineup. The divorce with Starlin Castro divorce had seemed inevitable for a couple years, so Chicago shipped him out of town immediately following the deal with Zobrist. The contract reunited Zobrist with former manager Joe Maddon, who praised Zobrist’s ability following the announcement of the deal. While Zobrist lost a step in 2015 (just three stolen bases) he still provides just enough power and a solid average to make him a worthwhile fantasy player in 2016.

Starting Rotation

  1. Jake Arrieta
  2. Jon Lester
  3. John Lackey
  4. Jason Hammel
  5. Kyle Hendricks

Jake Arrieta tops this rotation following two brilliant campaigns in Chicago, with the most recent naming him the NL Cy Young Award winner. Arrieta posted an absurd 1.77 ERA this past season, and while it’s unlikely that his ERA dips below 2.00 again this season, we can still expect him to be one the best pitchers in the game. Truly, the only pitcher I would take in front of Arrieta is Clayton Kershaw, but that’s because Kershaw has the much longer track record of being a shutdown ace, and I believe most would agree he is the best pitcher on the planet right now. While I very seldom recommend taking a pitcher early in a draft, an exception can be made here if you believe Arrieta will repeat what he did last season. Rotochamp’s composite projections have Arrieta going 15-8, pitching to a 2.84 ERA with 207 strikeouts across 200 innings.

Jon Lester’s first season in Chicago was a success, even if he isn’t considered a true “ace” anymore. Luckily, Lester doesn’t need to be an ace, since they have Arrieta in the rotation. Lester is a very good #2 pitcher, and his peripherals suggest that he was a bit unlucky in 2015. The Cubs’ outfield defense last season was not very good, but with the addition of Jason Heyward to the outfield, perhaps his luck gets a little better in 2016. Lester is 32 years old now, but he still was able to strikeout over a batter an inning in 2015, showing us that he’s still a force on the mound. Look for Arrieta and Lester to once again be one of the best 1-2 punches in baseball.

The Cubs went out and not only pried Jason Heyward away from the Cardinals, but they persuaded John Lackey to come on board as well. Lackey enjoyed a fine season in St. Louis, posting a 2.77 ERA across 218 innings for the Cardinals. Lackey is not young, as he’s 37 years of age, but the Cubs believe that he can slot right in as the #3 in the rotation, further positioning themselves for a deep postseason run.

Bullpen

 The Cubs will enter the season with Hector Rondon as the closer, as he did a fine job in the very same role this past season. There have been rumblings that Pedro Strop could win the job in Spring Training, so that’s a something to keep an eye on. With a team that is pressured to win in 2016, don’t be surprised to see them make a change if Rondon struggles out of the gate. We could also see the team in the market for a closer at sometime in the season, though that’s just pure speculation on my part.

Minors

 The team entered the 2015 season as Keith Law’s #1 farm system in a baseball. This year, Law ranks them as the fourth best farm system in baseball, even after the graduation of Addison Russell, Kris Bryant, and Kyle Schwarber to the major leagues. That just goes to show you what kind of job Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have done since taking over in Chicago. None of their current top prospects are expected to reach the majors this season, which is the perfect situation for the team considering there isn’t a desperate need on the current major league roster. Keith Law ranks shortstop Gleyber Torres as their top prospect, ranking him #15 in all of baseball. The 19-year-old has both a plus bat and a plus glove, Law notes, and could find himself ranking in the top five next year.

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