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2013 Fantasy outlooks: Chicago Cubs

Senior Fantasy Writer
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The Cubs weren't expected to win in 2012, and true to form, they didn't, losing 100 games for the first time since 1966.

But at this stage of their rebuilding project, success isn't measured as much in wins and losses as in the accumulation of talent. And under the watchful eye of Theo Epstein, architect of the Red Sox's two most recent World Series winners, that's becoming the Cubs' specialty.

2013 Fantasy Outlooks
A.L. East N.L. East
Orioles Braves
Red Sox Marlins
Yankees Mets
Rays Phillies
Blue Jays Nationals
A.L. Central N.L. Central
White Sox Cubs
Indians Reds
Tigers Brewers
Royals Pirates
Twins Cardinals
A.L. West N.L. West
Astros Diamondbacks
Angels Rockies
Athletics Dodgers
Mariners Padres
Rangers Giants

Granted, most of that talent is still in the minor leagues, where Fantasy owners can only dream of it. Javier Baez and Jorge Soler should give them plenty of home runs to look forward to, though. And Daniel Vogelbach, bad body and all, might turn out to be an impact hitter as well.

Of course, not all of last year's developments happened on the farm. Jeff Samardzija's transition from the starting rotation to the bullpen couldn't have gone much better. His strikeout-per-inning potential gives the Cubs two legitimate front-liners at the top of their rotation, provided Matt Garza bounces back from a season-ending triceps injury and subsequent stress reaction in his elbow. Anthony Rizzo also made a smooth transition to the majors last summer after botching his debut with the Padres in 2012. His 15 homers in 337 at-bats are a pretty good indication he's here to stay, with room to grow at age 23.

Those early returns have the Cubs feeling so confident about their nucleus that they were actually willing to invest a little something in their present this offseason, signing Edwin Jackson and Carlos Villanueva to multi-year deals. True, neither is a budding All-Star, but Jackson at least adds legitimacy to a starting rotation that's slowly molding into something halfway respectable.

Naturally, the Cubs have all the stopgaps and retreads you'd expect to find on a rebuilding club. Alfonso Soriano's unexpected resurgence at age 36 buys him another year as the cleanup hitter, reclamation project Ian Stewart gets a mulligan for his injury-plagued (and gloriously inept) 2012 and David DeJesus and Nate Schierholtz somehow form two-thirds of a starting major-league outfield. Fantasy owners should know better than to count on any of them.

2013 projected lineup
Player Name Position
1. David DeJesus CF
2. Starlin Castro SS
3. Anthony Rizzo 1B
4. Alfonso Soriano LF
5. Ian Stewart 3B
6. Welington Castillo C
7. Darwin Barney 2B
8. Nate Schierholtz RF
Bench Scott Hairston OF
Bench Josh Vitters 3B
Bench Tony Campana OF

But among the rough, the Cubs have their share of diamonds, and those diamonds only figure to increase in number going forward.

Breakout ... Jeff Samardzija, starting pitcher

Be honest. You scoffed when you read that assessment of Samardzija just now. "Front-liner? He went 9-13. He had a 3.81 ERA. The only line he's fronting is the one to get the spelling fixed on the back of his jersey." Au contraire, mon frere. Sure, he had a few rough patches. What first-time starter doesn't? But the differentiator for him, other than his 9.3 strikeouts per nine innings, is that he got better with the accumulation of innings. While most converted relievers discover too late that they haven't extended themselves properly, Samardzija somehow found a second gear, pitching seven-plus innings in nine of his final 13 starts and compiling a 2.58 ERA, 1.02 WHIP and 9.8 strikeouts per nine innings during that stretch. The Cubs still shut him down early because, you know, that's what a team in their position is supposed to do with a talented young pitcher, but had they allowed Samardzija to finish the year on his own terms, chances are he would have priced himself out of this discussion.

Bust ... Edwin Jackson, starting pitcher

Jackson deserves consideration as a bust if for no other reason than because he's been one before. Oh so many times before. After a year in which he produced a career-low 1.22 WHIP and career-high 8.0 strikeouts per nine innings, you might be tempted to think he's turned the corner, targeting him alongside pitchers with similar numbers such as Ryan Vogelsong and Homer Bailey. But if he turned the corner, why did his ERA jump to 4.38 and his WHIP to 1.31 in the second half? It's all too reminiscent of his supposed "breakout" in 2009, when he made the All-Star team with a 2.52 ERA in the first half only to compile a 5.07 ERA in the second half. And if you thought he had bad luck with the Nationals last year, going 10-11, just wait until you see what pitching for the Cubs does to his record. The chances of Jackson's WHIP regressing to the 1.40 range are too high for you to make a significant investment in him.

2013 rotation/bullpen
Player Name Throws
1. Matt Garza RHP
2. Jeff Samardzija RHP
3. Edwin Jackson RHP
4. Scott Feldman RHP
5. Carlos Villanueva RHP
ALT Travis Wood LHP
Bullpen Breakdown
1. Carlos Marmol RHP
2. Kyuji Fujikawa RHP
3. Shawn Camp RHP
4. James Russell LHP
5. Michael Bowden RHP

Buyer beware ... Carlos Villanueva, starting pitcher/relief pitcher

Villanueva will go undrafted in a decent number of Fantasy leagues, and for that reason you could just as easily classify him as a sleeper. But particularly in Head-to-Head points leagues, where his eligibility at relief pitcher earns him a special distinction, his sleeper appeal might be a little overstated. Yeah, he averaged 8.4 strikeouts per nine innings as a starter last year, but he made only 16 starts. And the last five of those starts were nothing short of brutal, elevating his ERA from 3.10 to 4.16. Villanueva has never had sustained success as a starter, and considering he's taking the rotation spot of Travis Wood, who delivered a respectable 3.56 ERA and 1.11 WHIP over his final 13 starts last year, a two-year deal might not be enough to compel the Cubs to stick with him if things go south. So yeah, Villanueva has eligibility at relief pitcher, but if he delivers a 4.50 ERA and winds up back in the bullpen, what good does it do you?

Prospects Report

Anthony Rizzo may have graduated to the majors last year, but the Cubs still have two of the game's best position prospects in shortstop Javier Baez and outfielder Jorge Soler. Baez is at least a year away, but his lightning-quick bat should generate monster power numbers at the weak shortstop position. Soler has enough playing experience from his days in Cuba that he could speed all the way to the majors this year, though only if he makes a mockery of minor-league pitching. Both are no-brainers in long-term keeper leagues ... Brett Jackson's disastrous debut last year only reinforced concerns that he strikes out too much to maximize his five-category potential, but at age 24, he's still the most likely of the Cubs prospects to contribute in 2013. Don't forget about him in NL-only leagues ... Arodys Vizcaino, the prize of the Paul Maholm deal, represents the best the system has to offer pitching-wise. The Cubs will handle him with kid gloves in his first year back from Tommy John surgery, but at least now you don't have to worry about him getting confined to the bullpen. Unlike the Braves, the Cubs won't let Vizcaino's injury history dictate his path to the majors.

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 e-mail us at fantasybaseball@cbsinteractive.com .

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Player News
Rangers pitcher Nick Tepesch admits to pressing too hard last spring
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(12:41 am ET) Rangers pitcher Nick Tepesch is still pushing to earn a spot on the team's starting rotation this spring, but he knows he pushed a bit too hard last year, reports the Dallas Morning News.

"I was just trying to do a little too much," said Tepesch, who threw a scoreless inning on 14 pitches in Sunday's intrasquad game. "I was trying to make perfect pitches and staying who I am. Getting sent down allowed me to look at what made me successful and try to own those types of things. It was beneficial. I also now know that I can only control what I do. If I stay focused on that, pressure takes care of itself."


Tigers' Blaine Hardy hoping to reign in his accuracy in 2015
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3/1/2015) Tigers pitcher Blaine Hardy is using this spring training to work on his control. Hardy struggled in 2014 with his control, walking 20 batters in 39 innings pitched.

"Last year I walked more people than I would've liked," he said to MLB.com. "That's definitely a learning point, learning the strike zone. It's a little bit different, a little bit smaller, but more consistent. With that being said, I felt like I had a good year, and hopefully I'll be able to come in and do the same thing with less walks."

Manager Brad Ausmus didn't think Hardy's season was as bad as people believe it was.

"I thought he did a good job for us, quite frankly," Ausmus said. "It kind of irks me a little bit when people want to split players' seasons up: Player X had a good year, but he really struggled in the second half. He still had a good year.

"Guys are going to struggle at some point in the season. It's probably more likely they struggle in the second half as they tire, but you can't discount what they did in the first half. Those games are just as important to win."


Rockies' Jhoulys Chacin faces hitters for first time Saturday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3/1/2015) Rockies pitcher Jhoulys Chacin is feeling good about his health so far in camp. Good enough, in fact, that the 27-year-old faced hitters Saturday for the first time this spring.

Sunday, Chacin said he was without pain.

"Today I feel normal -- not like before," Chacin said. "I threw everything and felt good. I need to get into games to really feel back to normal, like it did two years ago [14-10 with a 3.47 ERA in 31 starts]. I know I've got a long way to go. I don't know what my velocity was, but it'll come up a little."

Chacin injured his rotator cuff in the middle of last season, forcing him out of action for nearly half the season.


Indians P Gavin Floyd comes out of live BP session pain free
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(3/1/2015) Following his first live batting practice of spring training, Indians pitcher Gavin Floyd came away without any pain the elbow he broke last season.

With the Braves in 2014, Floyd fractured his elbow in a game against the Nationals on June 19. The injury required surgery, which ended his season. Sunday morning's batting practice marked the first time he'd thrown to a batter since that game. 

"It's just another step," Floyd said via MLB.com. "It's the first time I had a significant bullpen, cooled down for a little bit and then got back out there. I felt really good. I've just got to continue to make progress and build up strength. Usually, that's just by doing it over and over again, and using spring to do that."


White Sox's Gordon Beckham working at multiple infield positions
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(3/1/2015) Gordon Beckham's main goal this spring training is to win the White Sox's starting second baseman position. 

But for now, the White Sox are planning to use him at multiple positions in the infield during Cactus League play, according to MLB.com. This is somewhat new for Beckham, as he played second base during his first five-plus Major League seasons with the White Sox. 

Though Beckham is looking to earn the starting job at second base, he seems to be enjoying playing multiple spots so far. 

"I'm actually kind of enjoying running around," Beckham said. "I like popping around the infield. I know the coaches and the people making the decisions know I can play second base and know I can play it well. There has been an emphasis on them just telling me to get some work in other places."

Beckham actually played shortstop in college at the University of Georgia and played that position, as well as third base, after the White Sox traded him to the Angels. He was brought back to Chicago on a one-year deal. 

Beckham hit a single-season worse .226 for both the Angels and White Sox a season ago. 


Giants' Tim Lincecum to 'piggyback' starter this week
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(3/1/2015) Giants manager Bruce Bochy said pitcher Tim Lincecum will see a relief appearance early this week, according to MLB.com

Lincecum is generating rave reviews for his performance early on in spring training. However, he won't be getting a start this week. Bochy said Lincecum will "piggyback" either Madison Bumgarner (Tuesday), Jake Peavy (Wednesday), Ryan Vogelsong (Thursday) or Yusmeiro Petit (Friday) this week. 

This means Lincecum will come in and get a starter's workload in relief. 


Giants' Jake Peavy to start Wednesday for Giants
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(3/1/2015) Following Madison Bumgarner's exhibition start on Tuesday, the Giants will go with Jake Peavy to start Wednesday's Cactus League game against the Athletics, manager Bruce Bochy announced via MLB.com

Ryan Vogelsong will pitch Thursday against the Cubs and Yusmeiro Petit will go Friday against the Rangers. 


White Sox's Gordon Beckham working at multiple infield positions
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(3/1/2015) Gordon Beckham's main goal this spring training is to win the White Sox's  starting second baseman position. 

But for now, the White Sox are planning to use him at multiple positions in the infield during Cactus League play, according to MLB.com. This is somewhat new for Beckham, as he played second base during his first five-plus Major League seasons with the White Sox. 

Though Beckham is looking to earn the starting job at second base, he seems to be enjoying playing multiple spots so far. 

"I'm actually kind of enjoying running around," Beckham said. "I like popping around the infield. I know the coaches and the people making the decisions know I can play second base and know I can play it well. There has been an emphasis on them just telling me to get some work in other places."

Beckham actually played shortstop in college at the University of Georgia and played that position, as well as third base, after the White Sox traded him to the Angels. He was brought back to Chicago on a one-year deal. 

Beckham hit a single-season worse .226 for both the Angels and White Sox a season ago. 


Phillies pitcher Paul Clemens fighting for spot in bullpen
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3/1/2015) Phillies pitcher Paul Clemens has been told he has a great arm. But Clemens, who posted a 5.51 ERA in 48 appearances with the Astros over the last two years, knows it'll take more than that.

"Some pitching coaches tell me how incredible my arm is and that I could play for a long time, so I think I've been showing some guys what I bring to the table," Clemens said. "I had a couple really good conversations with front office and some guys around here, so it's definitely motivating."

He wants to be able to pick out his spots better during spring training, knowing he has to impress as a non-roster invitee.

"Sometimes I think I get too overzealous with my fastball and I just pound it and pound it and pound it. So picking my spots more, being smarter. You can't really challenge guys at this level. Once in a while you've got to pick your spots, but you can't challenge too many guys, even the guys you don't really know their names as much. You've still got to pitch."


Athletics to ease Coco Crisp into action this spring
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3/1/2015) Athletics manager Bob Melvin wants to take things slow with veteran outfielder Coco Crisp this spring, reports MLB.com.

"I'll probably hold him out the first few because I'm going to cut down on his workload," Melvin said Sunday.

Crisp, who is dealing with a case of pinkeye, was held out of an intrasquad scrimmage, even though he was able to take part in batting practice.


 
 
 
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