2014 Chicago Cubs Lineup Preview for Fantasy Baseball
In short, there’s not much fantasy intrigue in the field for the Cubs this year. Only two players have much more than back-end-of-draft upside, and they both come with serious risk. Such a poor group is going to struggle to cross the plate, deflating run and RBI totals across the board. The real fun on the position player side of the ball lies in a player like Javier Baez, who isn’t guaranteed to even play in the MLB this season, but has enormous upside if he does.
For the sake of brevity, I’ll omit how I have come to my projections, but feel free to ask me about them in the comments below! I’ll be happy to answer any and all questions here or on twitter. All values are based on a 12-team standard 5x5 league.
Catcher – Welington Castillo
With the departure of Dioner Navarro, Welington Castillo enters 2014 with no obvious playing time obstructions. A rare bright spot on the team late in the year, Castillo hit .288/.388/.475 in the second half, boosting his walk rate from 4.9% to 12.7% and his ISO from .087 to .187. Don’t expect a line quite that strong, but Castillo could surprise in 2014, with a fantasy ceiling of 15-18 HR with a .270+ average, making him a top 10-12 ranked catcher.
Projection: 500 PAs, .260/.330/.420, 15 HR, 50 RBI, 40 R, 2 SB
Fantasy Value: Not Drafted, $1 in auction. Castillo likely wont be a top-12 catcher (his teammates won't help in the R and RBI categories at all), but will live in that fringe positional range around #13-16. As such, I wouln’t draft him in standard leagues, but keep an eye on him on the waiver wire.
First Base – Anthony Rizzo
I’m going to drop a terrifying comp on Anthony Rizzo, and I’d like you to please try not to run away screaming: Ike Davis. Or, rather, what we all thought we’d get out of Ike Davis heading into 2013: A power-oriented 1B who wont destroy your average while racking up close to 30 homers and decent R/RBI totals. Davis was routinely drafted in the 100-130 range last year, and I expect Rizzo to go in the same range this season. Be aware, though. that the worries over Davis’s contact problems pre-2013 are just as real for Rizzo heading into 2014. I expect numbers very similar to his 2013, but with a slightly better BABIP.
Projection: 650 PAs .250/.320/.450, 25 HR, 80 RBI, 70 R, 5 SB
Fantasy Value: 100-120th Overall (8-10th Round), $10-$14 in auction
Second Base – Darwin Barney
Darwin Barney is terrible. He is unrosterable outside of leagues that are “why are you doing this to yourself” deep. I project him to hit .240/.280/.340 with 7 HR, 40 R, 40 RBI, 5 SB.
There are other options at 2B this season, but none are more than waiver wire fodder. Logan Watkins may receive some playing time, but whether or not his hit tool will play in the bigs remains to be seen. Luis Valbuena may also get a shot at second base this season.
Luis Valbuena is the incumbent third baseman, and unless a move is made, he’ll probably be seeing the lion's share of playing time at the hot corner. He should not be drafted in standard leagues. While there is a remote chance he may be slightly in the black value-wise at the end of the season, your bench spots are better used on higher-upside players (a group that includes roughly 130% of all MLB players). Projection: 500 PAs, .225/.320/.385, 11 HR, 45 RBI, 40 R, 1 SB.
Mike Olt may win the third base job outright this spring, but given the special circumstances surrounding his 2013 implosion, I think this is unlikely. Olt needs to go back to AAA to get in the swings he missed out on in 2013. I wouldn’t draft him, not even as a sleeper play. Too much has to go right. That said…here's my Miraculous & Unforeseen Health and MLB PT Projection: 500 PAs, .220/.316/.400, 18 HR, 60 RBI, 60 R, 0 SB
Shortstop – Starlin Castro
Possibly the most inscrutable fantasy player going into 2014, Starlin Castro is, well, I’ll put it this way: do you like risk and discomfort? Then Castro may be a good target for you. I think he’s going to come back and be a productive fantasy shortstop in 2014, but there is a lot of risk there. Luckily for believers like me, that's going to depress his draft-day cost.
Projection: 700 PAs, .285/.325/.435, 12 HR, 70 R, 60 RBI, 15 SB
Fantasy Value: 100-120th Overall (8-10th Round), $10-$14 in auction.
The Cubs outfield will be staffed by platoon situations at all three positions in 2014, depressing the ultimate upside that of any of these players might otherwise have had. Schierholtz is a good fifth-outfielder type who should provide 20 HR, and Ruggiano should provide decent speed and power numbers. Junior Lake is a really interesting player, but if your league has a crazy Cubs fan in it, he’s probably going to go higher than he should. He’s a good back-end-of-the-draft target, as the home run and stolen base potential is intriguing, but his value is tied to him sustaining a sky-high BABIP.
Overall, none of the players in the Cubs outfield are sexy, but they’re quite undervalued nationally. Tristan Cockroft, for example, ranks none of them in his top 90 outfielders. They're not worldbeaters, but three of the four could be valuable last-roster-spot options.
Nate Schierholtz: 500 PAs, .255/.300/.440, 17 HR, 50 R, 60 RBI, 5 SB (230-250 Overall, $12)
Junior Lake: 550 PAs, .255/.300/.400, 10 HR, 60 R, 50 RBI, 20 SB (210-240 Overall, $1-$3)
Ryan Sweeney: 300 PAs, .265/.325/.380, 3 HR, 30 R, 30 RBI, 2 SB (Do Not Draft)
Justin Ruggiano*: 450 PAs, .245/.315/.435, 17 HR, 50 R, 50 RBI, 15 SB (Do Not Draft)
*There is an important distinction with Ruggiano: at the moment, he's not a starting outfielder, and he will only see playing time in the thin side of a platoon. If everyone in front of him stays healthy/effective, he'll only get 250 or so PA. But that's a big if, as Lake is surrounded by questions and Sweeney is almost never healthy. Keep a close eye on Ruggiano on the waiver wire, as he could be a valuable pick up if/when one of the starting three goes down.
2014 Chicago Cubs - Impact Prospects
I’ll go more in-depth on the Cubs’ top fantasy prospects in a future post, but I’ll touch on them briefly here. I know you’ve been screaming "BUT WHAT ABOUT BAEZ" at your screen for half the article, and with good reason. Baez’s ceiling is enormous, possibly the highest of anyone in the minors. A shortstop with a 6+ hit tool and 7+ power tool would be an absolute monster, but Baez isn’t that player yet. His strikeout rate is concerning, and the batting average could be quite low to start off, but that shouldn’t keep you from stashing him on your bench to start the season. If he’s up by mid-June, I could see 10 to 15 home runs out of him. Whenever owners in your draft start scooping up prospects like Oscar Taveras and Addison Russell, jump in on that prospect run and target Baez.
Baez isn’t the only Cubs infield prospect worthy of your attention. Arismendy Alcantara should also make an appearance sometime late in the year. If he gets two months of play, I could see 5 HR and 5-10 SB to go along with a .260+ batting average. That would be a pretty nice line out of a second baseman. I wouldn’t stash him, but I’ll be keeping a very close eye on him in AAA this summer.
Kris Bryant is also very deserving of your attention, but he’s not a stash prospect for me in standard leagues. He’s only barely played in High A, and will be going into his first full professional season. The Cubs are pretty adamant about their “500 PAs” in AAA rule, and though I’m sure they’d bend it for an elite talent like Bryant (or Baez), I doubt any player would leapfrog Iowa altogether. Best case scenario: Bryant sees the bigs in September, at which point you’ll be getting very little return for having locked up a roster spot all season long.