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2011 Fantasy outlooks: Chicago Cubs

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After three straight winning seasons in which they finished no lower than second in the National League Central, the Cubs endured a calamitous 2010 in which they slumped to a 75-87 record and a fifth-place finish. They did wind up the season strong with interim manager Mike Quade at the helm, going 24-13 after Lou Piniella retired, which helped to remove the "interim" tag from Quade's title going into the 2011 season.

While the Cubs begin the year without the volatile Piniella, the team is still largely unchanged. The outfield of Alfonso Soriano, Marlon Byrd and Kosuke Fukudome is intact, Geovany Soto returns behind the plate, and Carlos Pena is the only new face in the infield. The pitching staff remains stable as well, aside from Matt Garza replacing Tom Gorzelanny in the rotation and Kerry Wood joining the bullpen mix.

Hopes for improvement rest heavily on the arm of Garza, who brings a higher profile than Gorzelanny, but whose 3.91 ERA from last year was only a shade lower than Gorzelanny's 4.09. Add in Garza's long-time struggles when pitching away from his former home of Tropicana Field -- his career ERA away from Tampa Bay is 4.51 -- and there are fewer reasons to be optimistic about a turnaround.

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The Cubs are not exactly brimming with youth, but as a 20-year-old rookie, shortstop Starlin Castro provided one of the team's bright spots, batting an even .300. Veterans Aramis Ramirez and Carlos Zambrano made up for disappointing starts with strong second halves. If Ramirez can stay healthy and Zambrano can stay focused, both could help the Cubs inch closer to .500 again, if not make them contenders in an improved NL Central that features an emerging Reds powerhouse and a retooled Brewers squad in addition to the steady Cardinals.

However, without a stable of youngsters to build upon, a healthy and consistent corps of middle-of-the-order hitters or a true ace atop their rotation, this could be the beginning of a long and difficult stretch at Wrigley Field.

Sleeper ... Randy Wells, SP

Even though Wells didn't pitch quite a full season in his rookie year in 2009, he finished a surprisingly robust 55th among all starting pitchers in Fantasy points. Last season, despite getting 32 starts, Wells fell to 80th in the rankings. The righty may have overperformed in '09, but his value was hurt last season by an 8-14 record. Only 10 qualifying starting pitchers received less run support than Wells in that disappointing campaign. The Cubs' offense may not have been world-beaters, but Wells should have certainly received more help than he did. Look for him to lower his ERA and WHIP slightly and to get his record back to around .500, making him a relevant hurler in standard mixed leagues again.

Bust ... Blake DeWitt, 2B

As a minor leaguer, DeWitt showed good contact skills a decent amount of pop for a middle infielder, but as a major leaguer, neither of those skills has been in evidence. The 25-year-old DeWitt could still grow into being a better contact hitter, but there are reasons to suspect his power. His Triple-A stats were compiled in good hitting environments in the Pacific Coast League. He did hit 13 doubles and six home runs in only 178 at-bats at Double-A Jacksonville back in 2007, but he was repeating that level, not to mention that we're looking at a small sample. After a much larger sample of 857 major league at-bats, it's getting harder to expect DeWitt to become even a 15-homer threat. Even if he can get his batting average out of the .260s, DeWitt's bat is not one to roster outside of NL-only leagues.

Bounce-back player ... Carlos Pena, 1B

With a batting average that has dropped steadily from .282 to .196 over the last three seasons, it's hard not to be skeptical about Pena's chances for a comeback season in 2011. However, there are signs that the former Tampa Bay slugger could have a nice rebound in his near future. His power is still as evident as ever, as his home run per flyball rate of 20 percent was just one percentage point lower than his 2009 rate. His homer output dropped from 39 to 28, however, because of a growing tendency to hit grounders. Not only did this rob Pena of precious long balls, but it was an unfortunate trend for someone who has hit below .200 on ground balls in three of the last four seasons. Pena's aversion to flyball hitting was a sudden change, so there is no reason to assume that this will become a long-term pattern. Expecting a return to his .282-46-121 line from 2007 is not advisable, but he could pay off as a late-round grab in mixed league formats.

Chicago Cubs Fantasy Outlook
Projected Lineup Pos. Projected Rotation
1 Kosuke Fukudome RF 1 Ryan Dempster RH
2 Starlin Castro SS 2 Matt Garza RH
3 Marlon Byrd CF 3 Carlos Zambrano RH
4 Aramis Ramirez 3B 4 Randy Wells RH
5 Carlos Pena 1B 5 Carlos Silva RH
6 Alfonso Soriano LF Alt Andrew Cashner RH
7 Geovany Soto C
Bullpen Breakdown
8 Blake DeWitt 2B CL Carlos Marmol RH
Top bench options SU Kerry Wood RH
R Tyler Colvin OF RP Sean Marshall LH
R Jeff Baker 2B/3B RP James Russell LH
R Darwin Barney SS RP Jeff Samardzija RH
Rookies/Prospects Age Pos. 2010 high Destination
1 Brett Jackson 22 OF Double-A Triple-A
Stolen base and on-base threat has shown good doubles and triples power in the minors as well. He'll start at Triple-A but could easily work his way into the Cubs' outfield picture this season.
2 Chris Carpenter 25 SP Triple-A Triple-A
Just like Chris Carpenter of the Cardinals, the younger Carpenter is a Tommy John survivor. The hard-throwing righty gets plenty of ground balls and with continued success, should spend time in the Cubs' bullpen this year.
3 Trey McNutt 21 SP Double-A Double-A
Another hard-throwing righty, McNutt is generally considered the organization's best arm now that Chris Archer has moved on to the Rays' system. Unlikely to arrive in 2011, he is more of a keeper league option.
4 Josh Vitters 22 3B Double-A Double-A
Though he has been young for every minor league level he's reached, Vitters has shown good home run power. He still has to learn to be patient and to hit in the gaps. Making his return to Double-A, this will be a crucial year for the former first-round pick.
5 Hayden Simpson 21 SP College Class A
Last year's first-round pick missed out on his professional debut due to a case of mononucleosis. His strong four-pitch repertoire could land him in the Cubs' rotation, but it's not likely to happen this year.
Best of the rest: Jay Jackson, SP; Matt Szucur, OF; Rafael Dolis, SP; Reggie Golden, OF; Robinson Lopez, SP; Austin Reed, SP; Alberto Cabrera, SP; Marquez Smith, 3B; D.J. LeMahieu, SS; Brett Wallach, SP; Brooks Raley, SP; Su-Min Jung, SP; Austin Kirk, SP; and Welington Castillo, C, 1B.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us via Twitter . You can e-mail us your Fantasy Baseball questions to DMFantasyBaseball@cbs.com . Be sure to put Team outlooks in the subject field. Please include your full name, hometown and state.

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Player News
Travis d'Arnaud emerging as mixed-league catcher
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(7:35 pm ET) It's too early to tell anything -- most any player can go off for a two-week stretch -- but the timing of this particular hot streak and the history of the player in question make it too enticing to ignore.

In 13 games since returning from the minors, Mets catcher Travis d'Arnaud is hitting .300 (15 for 50) with three home runs and a .900 OPS.

No, his plate discipline hasn't been especially good -- he has 13 strikeouts to just three walks during that stretch -- but that wasn't exactly his calling card in the minors either. He was just a good hitter, routinely hitting well over .300 with plus power.

It's worth noting he hit .436 (24 for 55) with six home runs and a 1.384 OPS during his stint in the minors, but that was at Triple-A Las Vegas of the Pacific Coast League, a level he dominated while in the Blue Jays organization as well. Still, it all plays into d'Arnaud's theory that he was simply trying to do too much in his previous stints in the majors.

So a former top prospect who struggles to find his footing in the majors gets sent down, rediscovers his stroke and comes back to put up the numbers everyone from him all along. Again, it's not an open-and-shut case, but if you need a catcher (perhaps if you lost Yadier Molina), it's reason enough to act.


Ronald Belisario takes the loss in extras vs. Boston
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(7:35 pm ET) White Sox pitcher Ronald Belisario was charged with the loss Thursday against the Red Sox in Boston.

Belisario allowed a run-scoring single to Mike Carp in the 10th inning, which proved to be the difference. He was charged with one run on one hit and two walks over two-thirds of an inning in a 4-3 defeat. He owns a 5.16 ERA and a 1.30 WHIP over 45 1/3 innings of relief.

Arismendy Alcantara picks up four hits Thursday
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(7:31 pm ET) Cubs infielder Arismendy Alcantara picked up four hits Thursday against the Reds.

After striking out in his first at-bat, and hitting a sac fly his second time up, Alcantara quickly turned things around. He doubled in his third plate appearance, singled his fourth time up and clubbed a triple his fifth time at the plate. He would go on to add another single his final time up. Alcantara finished 4 for 5, with two runs scored and three RBI. The strong performance likely played a role in the Cubs keeping Alcantara on the active roster following the game. 


Clint Robinson designated for assignment Thursday
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(7:23 pm ET) Dodgers infielder Clint Robinson has been designated for assignment Thursday.

The club needed to make space on the roster for Carl Crawford, and decided to get rid of Robinson. Robinson had a .333 average over nine at-bats in the majors this season. 


Danny Santana will start rehab assignment this week
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(7:19 pm ET) Twins rookie shortstop Danny Santana will start a minor-league rehab assignment this weekend for Class A Fort Myers, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports. Santana remains hopeful of returning to the Twins for the homestand starting July 18.

What to do with Masahiro Tanaka?
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(7:16 pm ET) If you own Masahiro Tanaka in Fantasy, your best bet is to hang on to him for now. If you try to trade him with all the uncertainty surrounding his elbow, you might get only pennies on the dollar.

Pennies don't win championships. A crumpled dollar might.

I've downgraded Tanaka in my rankings because, like everyone else, I'm scared. We've seen enough season-ending elbow injuries this year to know how suddenly they pop up, and the lack of information on Tanaka's so far is unsettling. But a panic move is never advised. To trade one of the most valuable players in Fantasy knowing he could end up missing just 2-4 weeks (or whatever), you'd still need something awfully good in return.

Tanaka now ranks 14th for me, meaning I'd still need a true ace to part with him. Cole Hamels is the last of what I'd consider the "true aces," coming in at 13th.

Obviously, that's subject to change as the situation develops, but if you can get one of my top 13 starting pitchers for Tanaka, you might want to unload the worry on someone else.


Justin Morneau to take part in the Home Run Derby
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(7:16 pm ET) Rockies first baseman Justin Morneau will take part in the Home Run Derby.

Morneau was a finalist in the Final Vote, but lost out to Anthony Rizzo. Despite that, Morneau was asked to take part in the Derby. While Morneau could still find his way onto the All-Star roster as an injury replacement, he doesn't have to be on the team to take part in the Derby. Yoenis Cespedes won last season despite not being on the All-Star team.

Morneau won the Derby back in 2008. He's hitting .313/.346/.509 over 320 at-bats. He's hit 13 home runs. 


Stephen Vogt plates three in win over Giants
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(7:15 pm ET) Athletics catcher Stephen Vogt came up big at the plate again Thursday afternoon against the Giants in San Francisco.

Vogt singled in a run in the fifth inning and singled in two more in the sixth. He finished 2 for 5 with three RBI in a 6-1 victory. He is hitting .367 with three homers and 16 RBI in 98 at-bats.

Nate Jones hopes to pitch again this season
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(7:09 pm ET) White Sox reliever Nate Jones remains confident in pitching again this season, according to MLB.com. Jones is still aiming for a late-July or early-August return from back surgery.

"Absolutely. There's no thought that comes across my mind that it would have to wait until Spring Training or anything like that," Jones said. "I have confidence that it's going to be this year for sure."

Jonathon Niese unlikely to return against San Diego
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(7:07 pm ET) Mets pitcher Jonathon Niese is unlikely to return against the Padres, according to MLB.com.

Niese was expected to be ready for the team's first series, but will likely return the following Monday. If he returns Monday, his first start will come against the Mariners. Niese is dealing with inflammation in his shoulder. He has a 2.96 ERA over 103 1/3 innings. 


 
 
 
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