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2012 Fantasy outlooks: Chicago Cubs

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After a second straight fifth-place finish in the NL Central, the Cubs are looking for a new identity. Lovable losers doesn't cut it anymore. These days, championships are in vogue.

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To that end, the Cubs made arguably the biggest splash of the offseason, luring Theo Epstein away from Boston. Joined by longtime sidekick Jed Hoyer, most recently with San Diego, the architect of the Red Sox's two most recent World Championship teams is sure to bring change to the North Side.

Unfortunately, change takes time, especially at the pace Epstein and Hoyer have set so far. Instead of completely overhauling the roster, the two began preparing a blank slate by ridding themselves of two massive contracts (Aramis Ramirez and Carlos Pena) and one massive head case (Carlos Zambrano). The players they did add are either reclamation projects, such as Ian Stewart and Travis Wood, or undervalued efficiency types, such as David DeJesus and Paul Maholm.

Consider them the Chicago versions of David Ortiz and Kevin Millar.

That's an absolute best-case scenario, of course, but you get the idea. In their rebuilding state, the Cubs can afford to give high-upside players the opportunity to break out and would prefer to do that rather than stick with the status quo. After all, even a presumed Quadruple-A player like Bryan LaHair has a chance to be something more. If the Cubs hit on one or two of them, as the Red Sox did with Ortiz, they'll be that much closer to contention by the time prospects like Anthony Rizzo and Brett Jackson arrive.

In the meantime, they'll continue to beef up their farm system whenever possible, plugging holes as necessary while waiting for Alfonso Soriano's, Ryan Dempster's and Marlon Byrd's contracts to expire. It's a methodical way to build a contender, no doubt, but it's also a breeding ground for Fantasy sleepers.

Because only shortstop Starlin Castro and ace Matt Garza have any real job security, the door is open for the unknown to emerge and the unheralded to thrive.

Bounce-back player ... Ryan Dempster, SP

How could a 34-year-old who produced an ERA near 5.00 last year be any sort of candidate for a bounce-back season? That's what most Fantasy owners will say when they stumble across Dempster on Draft Day. But before you fall into the same trap, take a second look at the numbers. Maybe that 4.80 ERA isn't the most accurate reflection of Dempster's abilities. Something went wrong for him last April -- something to the tune of a 9.58 ERA -- but he soon figured out whatever it was, posting a 3.94 mark the rest of the way. Meanwhile, his strikeout, walk and home run rates were almost identical to the ones he put up in 2010, when he went 15-12. Dempster didn't lose his stuff last year. He simply got buried early and stayed buried pitching for a bottom-of-the-division club. The latter remains an issue, but if he can avoid the former, his heavy workload and near strikeout-per-inning potential should make him a late-round bargain.

Bust ... Carlos Marmol, RP

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When Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer took over this offseason, one of the first issues they had to address was what to do with Marmol. They established pretty early that, yes, the right-hander would again be the Cubs' first choice for saves entering 2012, but the media's need to ask shows just how short the leash has gotten. If blown saves were Marmol's only problem, it'd be one thing, but the bottom line is he's not the efficient out-getter that Epstein and Hoyer would like their closer to be. His walk rate is as bad as it gets, and as a result, he's always pitching out of jams. Sure, his high strikeout rate helps compensate for it, but if he produces anything short of a best-in-the-league-type hit rate, his WHIP is in the danger zone. Even if Marmol gets off to a hot start, chances are the Cubs will deal him while his value is high. Whether or not he's the closer for his new team is anyone's guess.

Sleeper ... Bryan LaHair, OF

It sounds like a joke, a player as lowly as LaHair getting handed the starting first base job prior to spring training, but if Theo Epstein is willing to endorse it, gosh darn it, so am I. Epstein's Red Sox teams may have ultimately resorted to the Yankees' model of big-name, big-money stars up and down the lineup, but they only got to that point because of his willingness early in his tenure to give long looks to under-the-radar players like this one. Usually, when a player in his late 20s puts up eye-popping numbers at Triple-A like a .331 batting average, 38 homers and 1.070 OPS, he's dismissed right away as a Quadruple-A player, but apparently the Cubs' front office thinks LaHair is different -- and not just because of his impressive 59 at-bat stint in the majors last year. The experiment could still be a failure of Kila Ka'aihue proportions, which is why you shouldn't bother with LaHair in mixed leagues, but late in NL-only formats, why not?

2012 Chicago Cubs Fantasy Outlook
Projected Lineup Pos. Projected Rotation
1 David DeJesus RF 1 Matt Garza RH
2 Starlin Castro SS 2 Ryan Dempster RH
3 Marlon Byrd CF 3 Paul Maholm LH
4 Bryan LaHair 1B 4 Randy Wells RH
5 Alfonso Soriano LF 5 Travis Wood LH
6 Ian Stewart 3B Alt Chris Volstad RH
7 Geovany Soto C
Bullpen Breakdown
8 Darwin Barney 2B CL Carlos Marmol RH
Top bench options SU Kerry Wood RH
R Reed Johnson OF RP Jeff Samardzija RH
R Tony Campana OF RP James Russell LH
R Welington Castillo C RP Marcos Mateo RH
Rookies/Prospects Age Pos. 2011 high Destination
1 Anthony Rizzo 22 1B Majors Triple-A
The Cubs will be more patient with Rizzo after the Padres rushed him last year, but he could get the call if LaHair falters. His outlook is much brighter at Wrigley than it was at PETCO.
2 Brett Jackson 23 OF Triple-A Triple-A
Like Rizzo, Jackson is destined to break through as a major-league regular at some point this season. He has five-category potential if his strikeout rate doesn't come back to bite him.
3 Javier Baez 19 SS Class A Class A
Baez has a higher ceiling than both Rizzo and Jackson, but at age 19, he's a ways away. If he's able to remain at shortstop, his power potential will make him the envy of every dynasty league owner.
4 Welington Castillo 24 C Majors Majors
Castillo will begin the year as the backup to Soto, but if the power he showed in the minors is legit, he could earn more and more at-bats over time. He's a definite sleeper for NL-only leagues.
5 Josh Vitters 22 3B Double-A Triple-A
The former third overall pick hasn't made any progress in the minors but isn't yet a lost cause at age 22. He'll need to take a step forward this year to remain a worthwhile keeper.
Best of the rest: Trey McNutt, SP; Matt Szczur, OF; Junior Lake, SS; Chris Carpenter, RP; Rafael Dolis, RP; Dave Sappelt, OF; Lendy Castillo, RP; Scott Maine, RP; Steve Clevenger, C; John Gaub, RP; Dae-Eun Rhee, SP; Ronald Torreyes, 3B; Jeff Beliveau, RP; and Jay Jackson, SP.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Scott White at @CBSScottWhite . You can also send our staff an e-mail at fantasybaseball@cbsinteractive.com .

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Player News
Cubs' Kris Bryant using walks to contribute while searching for power
by Ted Leshinski | Staff Writer
(2:07 am ET) Although Kris Bryant hasn't hit any home runs yet, his batting eye remains locked in as he's using the walk to contribute, showcased Monday when he took four free passes, reports the Chicago Tribune.

"I’ve always walked a good amount," Bryant said. "My junior year in college I had a pretty good amount of walks, and I think that made me a better player, just seeing a lot of off-speed pitches, and it made me the player I am today. I'm just taking that same approach."

Bryant has 16 walks in 17 games this season.

Mariners' Logan Morrison reaches base four times, extends streak
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(2:02 am ET) Mariners first baseman Logan Morrison reached base four times and extended his hit streak to seven games Tuesday night against the Angels.

Morrison doubled in the second, doubled again in the fourth, drew an intentional walk in the sixth and singled in the eighth. He finished 3 for 3 with a walk and two runs scored in a 5-4 victory. Morrison has three games with at least two hits during his streak. He is hitting .500 (13 for 26) with three doubles, one triple, three homers, five RBI and six runs scored over his last seven games.


Angels 1B Albert Pujols uncorks fifth HR of season
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(1:56 am ET) Angels first baseman Albert Pujols launched his fifth home run of the season Tuesday night against the Mariners.

Pujols took Seattle starter James Paxton deep for a two-run home run in the opening frame. He reached base three times and finished 2 for 3 with a walk, a single, a home run, two runs scored and two RBI in a 5-4 victory. He is hitting .239 with 12 RBI and a .314 on-base percentage in 25 games.


Angels' Huston Street collects first win of season
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(1:53 am ET) Huston Street struck out one and needed only 11 pitches to pitch a perfect ninth inning for the Angels Tuesday night against Seattle. Rookie catcher Carlos Perez launched a walk-off solo home run to give Street and the club a 5-4 victory.

Street, who picked up his first win of the season on Tuesday, owns a 0.90 ERA, a 0.80 WHIP and 11:3 K:BB ratio over 10 innings of relief. He has converted all nine of his save chances.


Rays' Jake McGee tosses perfect inning in 14 pitches
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(1:40 am ET) Rays pitcher Jake McGee struck out one and needed only 14 pitches to retire the side in order in the sixth inning of Tuesday's 7-0 win for Triple-A Durham. McGee, who is working his way back from arthroscopic elbow surgery in December, is expected to work multiple innings, and in consecutive games before he is activated from the disabled list, which could set up a return in late May.

Yankees' Girardi: Ellsbury has 'been unbelievable at the top of the order'
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(1:27 am ET) Yankees center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury collected three hits and swiped two bags in Tuesday's 6-3 victory over the Blue Jays.

Ellsbury finished 3 for 5 with two runs scored and one RBI. He has 17 hits over his last 32 at-bats and is hitting .418 since April 18.

"Hard to imagine you can be hotter than he is," manager Joe Girardi said after Tuesday's game, per NJ.com. "He's been unbelievable at the top of the order."


Rays' Casey Gillaspie goes deep twice in Class A game
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(1:21 am ET) Rays first base prospect Casey Gillaspie, the brother of White Sox third baseman Conor, is starting heat up at the plate for Class A Bowling Green. Gillaspie, who is considered the No. 5 prospect in the organization, went 2 for 4 with two homers and four RBI on Tuesday. He is hitting .294 (5 for 17) with two homers and five RBI over his last four games.

"It's kind of hit or miss," Gillaspie told MiLB.com after the game. "I feel like some games I've felt good and there's been some where I haven't felt so good. I'm battling right now, but I'm staying with my approach, trying to simplify things as much as possible over the last week.

"I've been able to not do too much on mistake pitches and just tried to hit those mistakes. You've got to talk yourself up and not get down on yourself."


Angels SP Garrett Richards goes seven strong in no-decision
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(1:13 am ET) Angels pitcher Garrett Richards went seven innings strong in a no-decision against the Mariners on Tuesday.

Richards allowed a run-scoring single to Mike Zunino in the second inning for his only blemish of the evening. He yielded one run on five hits and two walks while striking out five over seven innings of work in a 5-4 walk-off victory.

Richards is 2-0 with a 1.80 ERA over his last three starts. He will seek his third win of the season Sunday at home against the Astros.


Mariners' James Paxton settles for no-decision vs. Angels
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(1:03 am ET) Mariners starting pitcher James Paxton turned in a sharp outing but had to settle for a no-decision Tuesday night against the Angels in Anaheim.

Paxton permitted a two-run home run to Albert Pujols in the opening frame for his only damage of the evening before settling down. He was charged with two earned runs on four hits and three walks while striking out one over seven innings of a 5-4 defeat. Of his 91 pitches, 51 were strikes.

Paxton has allowed two earned runs or fewer in each of his last three starts, but has yet to pick up his first win of the season. He will seek win No.1 on Tuesday at home against San Diego.


2B Joe Panik connects for home run in Giants' victory
by Ted Leshinski | Staff Writer
(1:02 am ET) Giants second baseman Joe Panik connected for a solo home run Tuesday in the Giants' win over the Padres. 

The home run was Panik's second of the season and third in his career.


 
 
 
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