Unfortunately for Cubs faithful, 2013 doesn’t have the most promising of outlooks. As the rebuilding project continues, us Northsiders need distractions to make the 162-game season seem, well, not as soul-crushingly long. Is ‘soul-crushingly’ even a word? It is now.
The good news is that fantasy baseball exists, and is there to help all fans, from the fair-weather to the die-hard, get through another potential 90 loss season. Even better news is that the Cubs will have some interesting options on their roster come fantasy draft day. Here is my list of the top five players on the Cubs roster, fantasy-wise, as well as a value and sleeper pick. Happy Drafting!
1) Starlin Castro – Now entering his fourth season, the soon to be 23-year-old is primed to take a step forward in his development. His batting average dropped nearly 25 points last year, but his home run and steal totals increased slightly. Personally, I don’t think an expectation of a .280/.350/.475 slash line (BA/OBP/SLG) is unreasonable for 2013 with somewhere in the ballpark of 20 home runs and 25 steals. If he can lower is strikeout rate and boost his walk rate at the same time, Castro might become a top-three shortstop option in the (fantasy) game. He could be a steal on draft day as a mid-round pick at a relatively shallow position.
2) Anthony Rizzo – In 87 games in 2012, Rizzo hit 15 bombs and drove in 48 runs while maintaining a .285 BA. While it is more difficult to produce at that level over 162 games, it was encouraging to see after a disastrous 2011 call-up in San Diego. As the everyday first baseman in 2013, I would be excited to see something along the lines of .290/.350/.480 with 25 home runs and 90 RBI’s. It will be his first full season, so some second-half drop off can be expected. First base is also a deeper position than shortstop, so remember to resist overpaying for him.
(Side Note: I am REALLY excited to have these guys patrolling the infield at Wrigley for the better part of the next decade)
3) Jeff Samardjiza – He just turned 28 last week, but will only be entering his second season as a full-time starter, giving his arm a little more life with which to work. He came out of nowhere in 2012, throwing 174 2/3 very productive innings. With 180 strikeouts and only 56 walks, he was 30th in the league in K/BB ratio. His ERA and WHIP, which sat at 3.81 and 1.22, respectively, are great for a fantasy player who can also put up significant K numbers. Wins will obviously come less frequently for him compared to his peers on say, the Yankees or Dodgers, but he brings enough value in other categories to offset that category which is based mostly on luck. He isn’t a flashy option, but could provide solidity in the middle of your rotation.
4) Alfonso Soriano – Stop laughing. Seriously. Please, stop laughing. While he hasn’t hit .300 since his stellar 2002 campaign in New York, he has hit at least 18 homers every year since 2001 and managed to slug 32 last year at age 36 while setting a career high in the RBI category with 108. If he gets off to a hot start, he will not only maintain some legitimate real life trade value, but could easily anchor your fantasy team’s 3rd outfield or utility spot. The average and OBP will not do you any favors, but the power is undeniable.
5) Matt Garza/Edwin Jackson (tie) – Well I guess this is a top-six list. They are both 29, and both have shown flashes of brilliance. However, they won’t fill the spot at the top of your fantasy rotation. When healthy, both can throw 180 innings and strike out eight batters per nine. Both will have ERAs around 4.00, WHIPs around 1.20, and a win total around 10. Neither are bad options to fill out your third or fourth starter spot. I’d probably take Jackson first, if only due to Garza’s injury concerns and the possibility of him ending up in the AL East by season’s end.
Value Pick: Scott Baker – Signed this offseason to a one-year deal, Baker missed the entire 2012 season after having elbow surgery. He had a very productive 2011 until injuries slowed him down late in the season, and anything close to the 3.14 ERA and 1.173 WHIP he put up would probably represent a best case scenario. He has also shown strikeout potential, averaging eight per nine innings over the 2010 and 2011 campaigns. He will most likely fall down your draft board, but is worth a flyer in the late rounds.
Sleeper Pick: Josh Vitters – Since being drafted 3rd overall in 2007 out of high school, Vitters’ development has been slower than most Cubs fans hoped for. However, he has worked his way through the system and put up a solid line of .304/.356/.513 in his first time at AAA in 2012. His cup of coffee didn’t go well at all at the end of the major league season, however, as he hit .121 in 109 plate appearances. While some outfits have other options listed ahead of him at third base looking to the future, such as Jeimer Candelario, Vitters will get an extended look this spring and has an outside shot at getting the job out of major league camp. If he starts the year at AAA again, he will definitely get another look sometime in 2013 and could take a step forward like Rizzo between 2011 and 2012. He isn’t worth drafting, but keep your eye on his development in the event that you have a serious need at the hot corner.