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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
Howie Kendrick finally slows down after torrid stretch
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12:43 pm ET) It took two weeks, but Angels second baseman Howie Kendrick has finally cooled off at the plate.

Kendrick is 2 for 12 in his last four games, which might not qualify as struggling until one considers he was 22 for 44 for a .500 average with 11 runs scored and 13 RBI in his previous 10 games. Despite his recent mini-slide, he still owns a stat line of .291/.345/.394.

The veteran has scored 84 runs on the season, two off his career-high, giving him an outside shot at 100.


Matt Shoemaker: I could be out 'for a week or two'
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12:32 pm ET) The rib cage injury to Angels impressive right-hander Matt Shoemaker has become a concern for the team, according to MLB.com, despite his proclamation Wednesday that it was feeling better. He added that it was 'a little sore' after undergoing an MRI that revealed a mild oblique strain. Shoeamaker is uncertain when he will return - he is set to miss his Saturday start.

"There is no time frame," he said. "Literally they said in two or three days you can feel good or it could be a week or two. We'll just go by feel. Once it stops feeling sore, they want to get into some activity just to test it and rehab it. I want to get into everything quick, but they're just being smart."

Shoemaker has won his last seven decisions. He has allowed just seven earned runs in his last 48 2/3 innings pitched.


Adam LaRoche in midst of deep slump for Nationals
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12:17 pm ET) Nationals first baseman Adam LaRoche has fallen into a slump from which he hopes he can emerge in time for the NLDS.

LaRoche is hitless in his last 17 at-bats covering four games. That dry spell followed a tear in which he slugged 12 hits, including five home runs, in nine games. His .257 average is at its lowest point since April 4.


Norichika Aoki on tear in leading Royals roll offensively
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12:00 pm ET) The Royals have picked it up lately offensively and right fielder Norichika Aoki is greatly responsible.

Aoki has been white-hot with 11 hits in his last 13 at-bats to raise his average 16 points to .281 - no easy feat at this time of year. That mark is at its highest point since May 25, but his overall hot streak has extended back to Aug. 27. Aoki has hit safely in all but four games since then and is 28 for 72 during that stretch.


Jimmy Paredes making impact with strong run
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(11:47 am ET) Third baseman Jimmy Paredes has received significant work and has taken advantage of it since arriving with the Orioles in late August.

Paredes has received an increasing number of plate appearances, particularly since the loss of Chris Davis to a drug suspension. He has hit safely in nine of his last 10 games with 13 hits, including two home runs, in 33 at-bats. He has eight RBI and seven runs scored during that stretch.

He boasts a tremendous stat line of .358/.383/.578.


Avisail Garcia solid, but not slugging in September
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(11:34 am ET) White Sox outfelder Avisail Garcia has inched his average in a positive direction since bottoming out at .222 on Aug. 30.

Garcia is 17 for 57 since then with one home run and nine RBI. But he has just one extra-base hit since Sept. 3. His stat line now sits at .254/.318/.413.


Lorenzo Cain on roll for Royals
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(11:26 am ET) Royals outfielder Lorenzo Cain merely accentuated a strong stretch Wednesday night against Chicago, when he blasted a three-run homer off super southpaw Chris Sale and added two more hits.

Cain has hit so well that he has been moved to the third spot in the lineup. He has hit safely in seven of his last eight games with 12 hits in 32 at-bats during that run. Cain has eight RBI and seven runs scored in his last 10 games, sweetening his stat line on the season to .298/.337/.413. He has also contributed 25 stolen bases.


Yasmani Grandal bringing good and bad news to the plate
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
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Grandal began the comparative hot stretch on Aug. 26. He has three home runs and 10 RBI in 20 games during that period, but remains a windmill at the plate. He has 19 strikeouts in the last 16 games and has fanned 102 times in 345 at-bats this season.


Wade LeBlanc set to start Saturday
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(10:57 am ET) Left-hander Wade LeBlanc, who was clobbered in his last opportunity to start for the Angels, will get another shot Saturday at home against Texas. He is replacing the injured Matt Shoemaker.

LeBlanc has been fine in relief with four consecutive scoreless appearances covering five innings. But he surrendered six earned runs on seven hits in 3 1/3 innings in an Aug. 25 start against Miami. He owns a 6.88 ERA on the season.


MRI reveals only jammed shoulder for Eduardo Escobar
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(10:50 am ET) Twins shortstop Eduardo Escobar underwent an MRI on his right shoulder Wednesday that revealed no structural damage. He was diagnosed with a jammed shoulder and is considered day to day, per mlb.com.

Escobar hurt the shoulder diving for a ball Tuesday and was forced out of the game.


 
 
 
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