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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
Twins' Byron Buxton named No. 1 prospect by MLB.com
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:00 am ET) Twins outfielder Byron Buxton was named the top prospect in baseball by MLB.com Friday.

Buxton played just 31 games in 2014 due to wrist and concussion issues and finished with a .240/.313/.405 line along with four home runs, 16 RBI and six stolen bases in 121 at-bats with high Class A Fort Myers. He also went 0 for 3 at the Double-A level. Buxton is making his second straight appearance atop MLB.com's top prospect list.

The rest of MLB.com's top-five prospects (in order) are Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant, Astros shotstop Carlos Correa, Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor and Cubs shortstop Addison Russell. None of the quartet appeared in the top five of last year's MLB.com prospect list, though all four cracked the top 12.


Red Sox designate Drake Britton for assignment
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1/30/2015) The Red Sox designated pitcher Drake Britton for assignment Friday, clearing a roster spot for pitcher Alexi Ogando.

Britton appeared in seven games with the Red Sox in 2014, tossing 6 2/3 scoreless innings while striking out four batters and walking two. He posted a 5.86 ERA and 37:38 K:BB ratio in 58 1/3 innings with Triple-A Pawtucket.


Peter Moylan 'doing fantastic' in return from Tommy John
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1/30/2015) Free-agent pitcher Peter Moylan indicated Friday that he's "doing fantastic" in his return from his second Tommy John surgery, the Houston Chronicle reports.

"I’m doing fantastic, mate. Dropped 35 pounds," Moylan said. “My goal is to be 100 percent by end of spring. Ball is coming out great, though. Probably have to throw for some teams right around the start of spring to gauge interest, but there have already been some nibbles, which is encouraging."

Moylan underwent the procedure last March after receiving a non-roster invitation from the Astros. He's throwing from about 70 percent strength off a mound and in the process of deciding whether to sign a a deal in the near future or after the season begins. He hopes to resume pitching in the big leagues by midseason at the earliest.

Moylan has made 309 appearances since debuting in 2006, compiling a 21-9 record, 2.80 ERA and 213:121 K:BB ratio in 276 innings.


Braves' Shelby Miller: Sinker is 'going to take me to the next level'
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1/30/2015) Braves starting pitcher Shelby Miller had an up-and-down season with the Cardinals in 2014. He began the season by going 6-2 with a 2.79 ERA before going 2-7 with a 5.11 ERA over his next 16 appearances (15 starts).

Miller, however, was able to finish the season on a high note, going 2-0 with a 2.08 ERA and .190 opponents' batting average over his final seven starts. Miller attributes his success down the stretch to incorporating a sinker into his repertoire, per FOX Sports South.

"I said I'm going to throw some of these, and we'll see where it's at," Miller said of a conversation he had with catcher A.J. Pierzynski before an Aug. 23 start against the Phillies. "It felt good so we just went with it. I started throwing it literally within three days. It's a good pitch that I picked up quick.

"I still need a lot of work with it. I need a lot of work with all my pitches. There's all sorts of ways to get better. But I think that's definitely a pitch that will help me be more efficient and take me deeper into games. That's [the sinker] going to be a huge pitch for me this year that's ultimately going to take me to the next level. Not only that but kind of mixing it all together, becoming more of a complete pitcher more than a thrower."

Miller added he will also begin to work more on his changeup, which he threw just 2.2 percent of the time in 2014, per FanGraphs.com.

"I know [Braves pitching coach] Roger [McDowell] has been known for changeups," Miller said. "A lot of great pitchers have come through this organization, [and] that's a pitch I would love to pick up. I want to be able to throw it more consistently, [and] have a little bit more confidence in it."


Scott Baker agrees to minor-league deal with Yankees
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1/30/2015) The Yankees agreed to a minor-league deal with pitcher Scott Baker, according to CBSSports.com Baseball Insider Jon Heyman. If Baker makes the major-league roster, he will be paid $1.5 million.

Baker made 25 appearances (eight starts) for the Rangers in 2014, going 3-4 with a 5.47 ERA. He had 55 strikeouts in 80 2/3 innings.


Rockies designate Jayson Aquino for assignment
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(1/30/2015) After completing a two-team trade Friday, the Rockies decided to designate Jayson Aquino for assignment, the team announced.

Aquino spent 2014 bouncing around the minor league, pitching in 18 games with a 5.13 ERA in 107 innings pitched. He went 5-10 with 83 strikeouts in stints with both Double-A Tulsa and Class A Modesto.


Report: Red Sox express willingness to trade Edward Mujica
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1/30/2015) The Red Sox have expressed a willingness to trade reliever Edward Mujica, a source told FOX Sports. The right-handed reliever is set to make $4.75 million in 2015.

Mujica, who was an All-Star with St. Louis in 2013, went 2-4 with a 3.90 ERA and eight saves in his first season with Boston in 2014.


Orioles 1B/OF Steve Pearce agrees to $3.7M salary for 2015
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1/30/2015) The Orioles avoided arbitration with outfielder/first baseman Steve Pearce, agreeing to a $3.7 million salary for 2015, according to CBSSports.com Baseball Insider Jon Heyman. Pearce reportedly filed for $5.4 million, while the Orioles reportedly offered $2 million.

Pearce is coming off his best season as a major leaguer, batting .293 with a .373 on-base percentage, .556 slugging percentage, .930 OPS, 21 home runs, 26 doubles and 49 RBI in 102 games.


Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki is 'staying put'
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1/30/2015) A team source told CBSSports.com Baseball Insider Jon Heyman that Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki is "staying put."  Rockies general manager Jeff Bridich told FOX Sports earlier in the week that it is "highly, highly unlikely" Tulowitzki will be traded before opening day.

Tulowitzki, who has been linked to trade rumors involving the Mets this offseason, is under contract through 2020 on a six-year, $118 million deal. He is also recovering from August hip surgery.


Red Sox agree to deal with pitcher Alexi Ogando
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1/30/2015) The Red Sox have agreed to a deal with pitcher Alexi Ogando, according to CBSSports.com Baseball Insider Jon Heyman. It is a one-year, $1.5 million contract, which includes $1.5 million in bonuses, according to USA Today.

Ogando has been a free agent since being non-tendered by the Rangers in December. Ogando made just 27 relief appearances in 2014 due to an elbow injury. He went 2-3 with a 6.84 ERA.

Ogando, who was an All-Star in 2011, also has experience starting at the major-league level, going 19-12 with a 3.40 ERA in 48 career starts.


 
 
 
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