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2014 Fantasy Outlooks: Chicago Cubs

Senior Fantasy Writer
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The Chicago Cubs finished the 2013 season with 66 wins -- the second-fewest in the National League. The team had the fourth-lowest batting average (.238) and sixth-fewest steals (63), but managed to finish ninth in home runs (172) -- so the roster wasn't totally bereft of Fantasy value. The pitching was bad, but it wasn't a total disaster, with a 4.00 staff ERA (21st in the majors) and 1,184 strikeouts (22nd). And while the Cubs head into 2014 with a roster very similar to that of 2013, there are some bright spots and hope for Fantasy turnarounds (as well as a ton of talent in the pipeline).

The player likely to be under the most scrutiny is Starlin Castro. The 23-year-old was rolling through his first three seasons in the majors, coming into 2013 with a .297 career average, while contributing about 20 steals and 32 doubles per year. Things took a nosedive in 2013, though, as Castro hit .245 with just nine steals. He did still hit double digits in home runs (with 10) and had his second-best doubles total (34), but his OPS plummeted to .631 and he set a career high in strikeouts (129). While Castro's BABIP was still league average, it was far below his normally high career rate. But even outside of his peripherals pushing his numbers back to where they should be, the managerial change from Dale Sveum to Rick Renteria (with Bill Mueller the new hitting coach) should benefit Castro -- Cubs president Theo Epstein suggested in an interview last season that perhaps the team had over-saturated Castro with too much information and strategy, causing him to lose sight of, "who he was as a hitter".

2014 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

Close behind Castro on the "Scrutiny Scale" is Anthony Rizzo, who hit a career high 23 home runs last season, but saw his batting average drop from .285 in 2012 to .233 in 2013 (although he did finish fifth in walks among first basemen). Rizzo's BABIP suggests a bounceback is in order for 2014, with gains in walks and power being sustained, if not improved upon. Again, a change in voice and instruction with the new coaching staff could pay off for the 24-year-old.

Nate Schierholtz was one of the more surprising players in 2013, hitting .251 with 21 home runs and 32 doubles. While he could easily sustain the numbers, there is a player on the roster who could qualify as Schierholtz 2.0 -- Justin Ruggiano. The 31-year-old had a career year in 2012 with the Marlins, hitting 13 home runs in 288 at-bats. He followed it up with a .222 average last year, but still managed 18 home runs and 15 steals. Like Schierholtz, Ruggiano has never had the chance to play in a hitter-friendly park (being on Tampa Bay and Miami) and never had more than 425 at-bats in a season (two elements general manager Jed Hoyer pointed out as reasons for liking Schierholtz before last season). The problem here is playing time, as the Cubs are full of, "this guy could have a sneaky great season"-type players. Ryan Sweeney, Junior Lake, Schierholtz and Ruggiano all have upside. Throw Ryan Roberts in the mix, along with Ryan Kalish and Chris Coghlan, and the Cubs have a wide array of outfielders who all share an "underappreciated" (and, for some, "oft-injured") tag. Playing time could be the major roadblock to potential-fulfilling seasons from most of them.

On the pitching side, the Cubs may live and die with Jeff Samardzija. The 29-year-old finished with a 4.34 ERA and 1.35 WHIP in 2013, with 214 strikeouts in 213 2/3 innings. While the numbers were an overall disappointment -- his ERA, WHIP and walk rate were up significantly from 2012, with his strikeout rate and K/BB ratio taking hits -- Samardizja was carrying a sub-4.00 ERA into August, and had a sub-3.00 ERA through the first two months. A higher-than-normal BABIP could have helped this along, as his xFIP suggests Samardzija's ERA should have been almost full run lower. The good news here? His velocity was essentially the same and he still struck out a batter per inning. So there's hope for a bounceback.

The two most intriguing pitchers on this staff are Baltimore imports: Jake Arrieta and Tsuyoshi Wada (see below). Arrieta was acquired in an early July trade, and put together a 4-2 record with a 3.66 ERA and 1.12 WHIP over his nine-game late-season run with the Cubs (following a stint in Triple-A). Wada was quietly signed this offseason after the Orioles declined a $5 million option.

As for the bullpen, the Cubs brought in Jose Veras on a one-year deal. If the team is out of contention by the trade deadline, he could be a prime trade piece (although we thought the same about Kevin Gregg last season and he stayed with the Cubs through the end of the year). Veras is a solid late-round closer gambit, who should produce about 30 saves on the season and endure constant "he will be traded!" speculation. NL-only owners looking to speculate on post-Veras saves should invest a couple dollars in Pedro Strop -- yet another ex-Oriole who could make an impact -- as the backup closer.

Breakout ... Jake Arrieta, starting pitcher

2014 projected lineup
Player Name Position
1. Starlin Castro SS
2. Luis Valbuena 3B
3. Anthony Rizzo 1B
4. Nate Schierholtz RF
5. Welington Castillo C
6. Junior Lake LF
7. Ryan Sweeney CF
8. Darwin Barney 2B
Bench Mike Olt 3B
Bench Justin Ruggiano OF

A former top prospect, Arrieta has been given several chances to fulfill his potential -- and stumbled almost every time. It wasn't until his late-season run in 2013 that he began to put things together. Over nine starts with the Cubs last year, Arrieta had a 3.66 ERA and 1.12 WHIP, striking out 37 batters over 51 2/3 innings. This Arrieta was the one many had expected, after the 27-year-old put up a 3.22 ERA and 1.25 WHIP over 472 minor league innings, striking out nearly a batter per inning. Arrieta enters 2014 with a 5.23 career ERA and 1.43 WHIP -- which are especially perplexing, considering the skills he put on display as he came up through the Baltimore system. Call it a fresh start, point to him getting out of the AL East or maybe things just clicked for him, but Arrieta looked like he was finally ready to deliver on his promise at the end of last season, and 2014 could be the year he takes it to the next level. He's worth a $1 flier in mixed Rotisserie leagues.

Sleeper ... Tsuyoshi Wada, starting pitcher

In December 2011, the Orioles signed Wada to a two-year, $8.15 million contract. He never pitched a day for the parent club, undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2012 and pitching 19 games in the minors last season. Over nine seasons in Japan prior to the Orioles signing him, Wada had a 3.13 ERA and 1.15 WHIP over 1,444 2/3 innings, with an 8.3 K/9. Last season in the minors, Wada produced a 4.03 ERA over 19 starts. However, that masks his run over his final 10 appearances, when Wada put up a 2.83 ERA. He has some things going for him in 2014 -- a possible opening at the back of the Cubs' rotation, a full offseason to strengthen his arm, more distance between Wada and the surgery and a move to the National League, where he won't have to face a DH. His numbers in Japan weren't as impressive as those of Yu Darvish, Hisashi Iwakuma or even Wei-Yin Chen, but Wada had nice control peripherals, which could carry him to a sub-4.00 ERA, provided he sticks in the rotation out of spring training.

Impact prospect ... Mike Olt, third base

2014 rotation/bullpen
Player Name Throws
1. Jeff Samardzija RHP
2. Edwin Jackson RHP
3. Travis Wood LHP
4. Jake Arrieta RHP
5. Carlos Villanueva RHP
ALT Tsuyoshi Wada LHP
Bullpen Breakdown
1. Jose Veras RHP
2. Pedro Strop RHP
3. Wesley Wright LHP
4. James Russell LHP
5. Blake Parker RHP

According to both Baseball America and MLB.com, Olt was a top 25 prospect heading into last season (and top 50 the year before). But he finished the 2013 season with a .201 batting average (in Double- and Triple-A), hitting just 15 home runs over 373 at-bats. This was after a 2012 in which Olt hit .288 with 28 home runs and a .977 OPS in Double-A. Most of Olt's problems last year can be traced back to a concussion he suffered in the Dominican Winter League before the season -- he experienced sustained vision problems, which are reportedly corrected now. Olt isn't expected to be named the starting third baseman out of spring training (Luis Valbuena should see the most playing time initially), but if he can show the Cubs' front office the vision issues are behind him and get back to his 2012 self, Olt should be up with Chicago by mid-June.

Prospects Report

While Mike Olt should have the biggest impact this season, the Cubs' best prospect is shortstop Javier Baez, who hit .282 with 37 home runs and 20 steals over two levels last year. The 21-year-old probably won't see much more than some September action in 2014, as he made 44 errors last season over 123 games, and probably isn't ready to handle the position in the majors just yet. ... Kris Bryant was the second overall pick in the 2013 draft and hit .336 with nine home runs and 14 doubles over 36 games last season (in Class A and the Rookie League). At 21 years old, the college product could be up with the Cubs by 2015 if he can keep the production up. ... Albert Almora has a .326 average over two seasons in the minors (topping out in Class A). The sixth overall pick in the 2012 draft, who has yet to reach double digits in steals or home runs in a season, had his 2013 cut short with a bruised bone in his groin. He is still a couple years away from playing with the Cubs. ... Jorge Soler followed up an attention-grabbing spring training (which had followed an attention-grabbing nine-year, $30 million contract in 2012) with a solid campaign in Class A, hitting .281 with eight home runs and five steals over 210 at-bats. Like Almora, Soler had his season cut short by injury (in this case, a stress fracture in his shin). ... C.J. Edwards, acquired as part of the Matt Garza deal with the Rangers in July, is yet another Cubs prospect who made it as high as Class A last season, producing a 1.86 ERA and 1.00 WHIP over 116 1/3 innings, striking out 155 batters. The 22-year-old could be a late-season callup if the Cubs trade away members of the rotation around the deadline. ... Kyle Hendricks doesn't have the strikeout potential of Edwards, but he finished 2013 with a 2.00 ERA and 1.06 WHIP over 27 starts. It was his third consecutive season with a sub-3.00 ERA. Hendricks will likely start 2014 in the hitter-friendly PCL and would probably be ahead of Edwards in the line for late season callups.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Nando Di Fino at @NandoCBS .

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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
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(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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