The curse of the Cubs ended after 108 seasons without a World Series title. Chicago won 103 games in 2016 leading to an exciting October. They came from back from a 3-1 deficit to defeat the Indians for their third World Series championship in the team’s 141-year history. General Manager Theo Epstein is destined to go into the Hall of Fame for being part of two storied franchises.
The success of the 2016 team was due to a huge step forward in runs scored (808 – 2nd in the NL), which was 111 more runs than 2015 (689). Chicago hit 199 HRs (5th). Their pitching staff has been on the rise over the last two seasons. The Cubs allowed 52 fewer runs than 2015 (608) and 151 less than 2014 (707. They led the National League in ERA (3.15 ERA). Chicago finished 8th in the majors in bullpen ERA (3.56) with 22 wins, 19 losses, and 38 saves. On the year, the Cubs outscored their opponents by 252 runs.
Their biggest loss in the offseason was CL Aroldis Chapman who signed with the Yankees. Chicago traded for CL Wade Davis to hopefully replace him in the 9th. They gave up OF Jorge Soler who will be a nice addition to the Royals’ franchise. The Cubs signed RP Brian Duensing, OF Jon Jay, and RP Koji Uehara. They lost OF Dexter Fowler, OF Chris Coghlan, RP Trevor Cahill, and RP Joe Smith to free agency. Chicago added SP Brett Anderson to compete for a starting job while acquiring SP Eddie Butler in a low-level deal with the Rockies.
Their offense should be electric again in 2017 with a healthy OF Kyle Schwarber added to the starting lineup plus a year of development for C Willson Contreras. The centerfield position will be the biggest area of concern while trying to find a way to get Javier Baez in the starting lineup.
Chicago has potentially three aces with a veteran fourth arm. The fifth spot in the starting rotation is up for grabs.
If healthy, Wade Davis offers plenty of upside as closer with two viable closing arms behind him on the roster.
The Cubs will enter 2017 as the favorite to win the World Series, but their success will come down to the repeatability of their pitching staff.
1. OF Kyle Schwarber
Schwarber was only able to get four at bats in the regular season leading to no hits or production. He did play well in the playoffs (7-for-17 with two RBI and a SBs). His lost season was due to a left knee injury that required surgery in mid-April. Here’s a look at his 2016 profile: Schwarber blasted his way to the majors after about only one full season in the minors (.333 with 101 runs, 34 HRs, 102 RBI, and six SBs in 519 at bats). He had a plus walk rate (14.2) with almost repeated success in the majors (13.2). Kyle did strike out more in the majors (28.2 - 20.8 in the minors). With Chicago, Schwarber offered an edge against RH pitching (.278 with 14 HRs and 32 RBI in 176 at bats - .557 SLG). He struggled against lefties (.143 - 27 Ks in 56 at bats). In the minors, Kyle hit .305 against LH pitching in 72 at bats with four HRs and 11 RBI. The Cubs gave Schwarber full time at bats in August where he flashed immense power (nine HRs and 24 RBI in 95 at bats), but he only hit .221. His bat seemed to be exposed in September (.208 with four HRs and seven RBI in 72 at bats). Schwarber hit .333 in the playoffs with five HRs and eight RBI in 27 at bats. He had a huge HR/FB rate (24.2). Unfortunately, Kyle has a game that is built to be a DH at age 23. This season he will qualify at catcher, which will add great draft day value. Schwarber has an ADP of 32 in the NFBC early draft season in the NFBC in 15 team leagues. His batting average should move in a neutral area while offering 30+ HRs and 80+ RBI with only 450 at bats. I don't expect him to play every day with a question about his upside vs. LH pitching. Kyle is a defensive liability, so he will lose at bats in games when Chicago is leading headed into the 7th inning. His approach at the plate points to a top of the order opportunity, but his lack speed is a negative. He may offer more protection for Rizzo by hitting 5th. I fully expect 30+ HRs with 90+ RBI with an excellent chance of hitting over .300.
2. OF Jason Heyward
I don’t know how Heyward goes from his 2012 success (27 HRs, 82 RBI, and 21 SBs) as age 22 to his discusting season in 2016. He’s now in his prime of his career while his game invites more doubts than endorsement about his upside. Jason has a low K rate (15.7), which is a check in box number one. He takes walks (10.6 percent in his career), but Heyward has regressed in this area over the last three years. His AVH (1.410) is well below his resume in 2012 (1.778) and 2013 (1.680). His CTBA (.279) was feeble in 2016 while offering much more upside in 2015 (.350). Jason had the lowest HR/FB rate (4.8) of his career while ranking with some of the Judy hitters in the game. His swing was more balance when compared to 2015 when Heyward had a huge ground ball rate (57.2 – 46.2 in 2016). When looking back at his previous year, there isn’t one period where his game or swing showed a high level of success. Jason is a big man with a strong enough approach to hit at the top of the batting order. His early resume suggested middle of the order ability. Paid handsomely (over $20 million over the next seven seasons) so it’s time for him to shine. The best approach is throwing out his 2016 stats, which means you should give him a mulligan. His approach makes the most sense on the Cubs to bat leadoff in 2017. Possible .280 with 100+ runs, 15+ HRs, 65+ RBI, and 20+ steals. He has an ADP of 251 in the early draft season.
3. 3B Kris Bryant
Bryant won the NL MVP award last year. I like his growth in his K rate (22.0 – 30.6 in 2015) while continuing to take a high volume of walks (10.7 percent). Even with a rise in HRs, he had a drop in his CTBA (.392) while his RBI rate (15) regressed. Kris fell short of expectation in SBs (8), which was expected to be his edge over the other top third baseman in the game. His swing was impressive against lefties (.314 with 14 HRs and 31 RBI over 156 at bats – .641 SLG). Bryant had three strong months of production (May – .274 with seven HRs and 22 RBI, June – .275 with 11 HRs and 23 RBI, and August – .383 with 10 HRs and 22 RBI). He left plenty of stats on the table in July (.308 with four HRs, eight RBI, and five SBs) and September (.221 with three HRs and 12 RBI). Kris has a fly ball swing (45.8 percent) with more room to grow in his HR/FB rate (18.8). Special player with impact upside. He needs better play in front of him in the lineup to create more RBI chances. His uppercut swing will invite some regression in his batting average unless his CTBA moves in a range with his minor-league resume. Coming fast with a 50 HR season on the horizon. I’m seeing .280 with 100+ runs, 45+ HRs, 120+ RBI, and 15+ SBs.
4. 1B Anthony Rizzo
The Red Sox had a part in two players becoming a vital piece of the Cubs winning the World Series. They drafted Rizzo in the 5th round in 2007 while arriving in Chicago via a trade with the Padres. Anthony hit over 30 HRs in his last three seasons with back-to-back years with 100+ RBI. Of all the players I’ve written about this season, Rizzo had the second most RBI chances (502). He couldn’t repeat his success in speed. His K rate (16.0) has been below his career average (17.6) over the last two years while maintaining a high walk rate (11.0). Anthony was at his best against righties (.305 with 24 HRs and 76 RBI over 407 at bats). Over the last four months of the season, he hit .316 with 21 HRs and 72 RBI. He tends to be a fly ball hitter (41.3) with a solid HR/FB rate (16.2). Next step: .300 with 100+ runs, 35+ HRs, and 120 RBI while chipping in with some steals. Just reaching the prime of his career.
5. SS Addison Russell
Russell had a nice season while spending his whole year hitting below the fourth slot in the batting order. His rise in power (21 HRs) was created by growth in his AVH (1.752), which was supported by his minor-league resume. His CTBA (.321) was much lower than 2015 (.353) and his minor-league career leading to a second straight season with a low batting average. His opportunity hitting behind Bryant and Rizzo led to a high number of RBI chances (461) while showing growth in his RBI rate (17). His K rate (22.5) moved closer to league average (20.4) after showing risk in his rookie season (28.5). Addison also showed the ability to take a walk (8.2 percent). Russell played the best in July and August (.252 with 11 HRs and 45 RBI). Over four seasons in the minors, he hit .301 with 38 HRs, 159 RBI, and 44 SBs over 961 at bats. His path points to him hitting 5th in the batting order in 2017. His batting average should move closer to the neutral range with continued growth in his approach. I expect his stolen base total to rise as well. Possible .270 with 80 runs, 20 HRs, 80 RBI, and 10 SBs with more upside in RBI if he does indeed hit behind Rizzo.
6. 2B Ben Zobrist
Zobrist has been on the last two winning World Series teams. Last year he hit .357 in the World Series with five runs and two RBI. For the first time in his career, Ben had more walks (96) than strikeouts (82). His K rate (13.0) came in better than his career average for the 6th straight season. He tied his career high in his walk rate (15.2). Zobrist was a better hitter against lefties (.301 with four HRs and 11 RBI over 143 at bats). His CTBA (.322) remains in a tight range while his AVH (1.641) moved into a stronger area. A big portion of his 2016 success came in May (.406 with six HRs and 25 RBI over 101 at bats). Over the last three years, Ben has hit a lot more ground balls (2014 – 48.8, 2015 – 49.0, and 2016 – 48.0). His HR/FB rate (13.4) was his highest level since 2009. Top of the order approach, but his game is on the back nine at age 35. Zobrist offers no real upside in speed. A neutral hitter with league average stats in runs and RBI for his position. His HR total will fall closer to 10 than 20 based on his swing path.
7. C Willson Contreras
Over eight seasons in the minors, Willson hit .283 with 39 HRs, 282 RBI, and 31 SBs over 1896 at bats. He had a league average walk rate (8.4) and a favorable K rate (16.6). His game made a step forward over his last two seasons at AA and AAA (.339 with 111 runs, 17 HRs, 118 RBI, and eight SBs over 658 at bats). This success projected over 500 at bats would be 84 runs, 13 HRs, 90 RBI, and six SBs. Contreras started his major career with a seven-game hitting streak (8-for20 with three HRs and nine RBI). After 23 games, Willson hit .305 with five HRs and 16 RBI over 85 at bats. Pitchers seemed to catch with his game over the next two months (.227 with four HRs and 14 RBI over 141 at bats). His swing bounced back over the last two weeks of the seasons (14-for-31 with three HRs and five RBI). Contreras couldn’t match his minor-league success in his K rate (23.7) while taking a few more walks (9.2 percent). He hit the ball well vs. lefties (.311 with two HRs and seven RBI over 74 at bats). His swing does deliver a high volume of ground balls (54.3 percent). Willson was productive in HRs (12 over 252 at bats) due to a huge HR/FB rate (23.5). His AVH between the minors (1.681) and the majors (1.703) in 2016 was much higher than his previous two years in the minors. He had a huge jump in his CTBA (.400) over the last two seasons possibly suggesting that he added some JUICE to his swing. A talented player who looks to be improved. He has more speed than his resume offers while his power looks to be coming fast. Willson had a strong enough swing and approach to hitting near the top of the order for the Cubs. Maybe an early Russell Martin type player with more overall upside. I’ll set the bar at .285 with 60+ runs, 15+ HRs, 65+ RBI, and a chance at double digit steals while knowing there is a chance for better production across the board.
8. OF Jon Jay
Jay will be favorite to get the most at bats in centerfield, which still leaves Javier Baez on the bench. Over seven years in the majors, Jon hit .287 with 31 HRs, 253 RBI, and 45 SBs over 2703 at bats. His K rate (20.9) was well above his career average (16.3) with regression in his walk rate (5.1). In 2016, he missed ten weeks with a broken right forearm. At best a 10/10 player with an edge in batting average. By hitting at the bottom of the order, he’ll offer minimal value in runs and RBI.
BN: 2B Javier Baez
The injury to Schwarber allowed Baez to get a better than expected opportunity in 2016. He did a nice job getting his strikeouts under control (24.0 percent) after striking out 38.5 percent of the time over his first 309 plate appearances in the majors. At this point of his career, Javier won’t take many walks (3.0 percent). In June and July, he gave the Cubs quality at bats (.308 with nine HRs, 33 RBI, and seven RBI over 172 at bats). His bat faded in August and September (.250 with three HRs, 20 RBI, and three SBs over 156 at bats). Baez played well vs. LH pitching (.311 with four HRs and 21 RBI over 122 at bats). In his pro career, he had more strength in his CTBA (.367) and AVH (1.548), which points more upside. Over six seasons in the minors, Javier hit .287 with 90 HRs, 301 RBI, and 81 SBs over 1524 at bats. Impact bat that needs an opportunity to showcase his talents. Future 30/20 skill set with some early batting average risk until he improves his approach. The Cubs need to find a way to get him in the lineup every day.
C Miguel Montero – There wasn’t much left in Montero’s game late year. He hit only .216 with eight HRs and 33 RBI over 241 at bats. He continues to take walks (13.4 percent) with a league average K rate (20.4). Miguel had a back injury in late April leading to a DL stint with a knee issue over the summer. The Cubs will be paying him $14 million in 2017, so he’ll find his way into the lineup on many nights unless he’s traded. Montero has seven seasons with double digit HRs and two years with over 80 RBI. A veteran bat that should rebound in 2017.
IF Tommy La Stella – He’ll compete for a utility role on the Cubs this year, but the presence of Javier Baez may lead to him being sent packing. Tommy is a career .258 hitter over 534 at bats in the majors with four HRs, 53 RBI, and four SBs.
OF Albert Almora – With weak options to play in center this year, Almora may work his way into at bats. Over five years in the minors, Albert hit .290 with 24 HRs, 191 RBI, and 33 SBs over 1622 at bats. He has low K rate (11.7) while taking minimal walks (4.3 percent). Pretty much a younger version of Jon Jay with a weaker resume in SBs.
1. SP Jake Arrieta
Despite losing his ability to throw strikes (3.9 walk rate – 1.9 in 2015), Jake remained one of the toughest pitches in baseball to hit (.194 BAA – .185 in 2015). He had the identical success against RH (.194) and LH (.194) batters, but he did issue 51 of his 76 walks to lefties. Over his 15 starts, Arrieta went 12-2 with a 1.74 ERA and 107 Ks over 98 innings. During this stretch, he did walk four or more batters in six starts. His arm had much more disaster downside over his last 16 starts of the season (seven games with four runs or more allowed). His K rate (8.7) slid backward for the second straight year. His AFB (94.3) was about a half mph lower than 2015 (94.9) with less life in September (93.2). Every one of his pitches had elite value (four-seam – 0.071 BAA, sinker – .205 BAA, slider – .212 BAA, curveball – .192 BAA, and changeup – .130 BAA). Special arm with his upside in Ks tied to his command. The way the Cubs score runs; 20+ wins should be a given with a chance at a league leading ERA and 225+ Ks if he gets his walk rate under 2.5. I would love to own him as my SP2 by drafting two aces early.
2. SP Jon Lester
Lester has pitched the best ball of his career over the last three seasons (46-28 with a 2.74 ERA and 624 Ks over 627.1 innings). His walk rate (2.3) took a step back from his recent success while remaining in an elite area for the third straight year. Jon had an edge against both RH (.214) and LH (.200) batters. He had an ERA under 2.00 in April (1.83), June (4-0 with a 1.41 ERA), August (3-0 with a 1.71 ERA), and September (5-1 with a 1.48 ERA). He went 14-2 over his last 16 decisions. For some reason, his stuff lost all value in July (7.36 ERA with 39 base runners and six HRs allowed over 22 innings). His AFB (93.1) has been in a tight area over the last three seasons. Batters struggled to hit his four-seamer (.212 BAA), cutter (.201 BAA), and curveball (.093 BAA) while his sinker did offer risk (.333 BAA). Proven major league arm who will now be drafted up with the top pitchers in the game (ADP of 36 as the 9th starter drafted). Plays for a potent offense with strength in the bullpen so 15+ wins with a sub 3.00 ERA and 200+ Ks looks like a nice starting point.
3. SP Kyle Hendricks
Hendricks led the NL in ERA (2.13) while posting about the same walk rate (2.1) and K rate (8.1). Batters only hit .207 against him while handling both righties (.198) and lefties (.219). After a slow start in April (3.91 ERA), Kyle had an ERA of 2.50 or lower in each of the next five months. Over his last 26 starts, he had a 1.89 ERA with 151 Ks over 167 innings highlighted by his success in July and August (1.33 ERA). Hendricks is a ground ball pitcher (48.4). His AFB (88.9) is well below the league average. His edge came from his changeup (.132 BAA) and four-seam fastball (.195 BAA). Batters did handle his sinker (.282 BAA). Over 75 starts in the majors, Kyle went 31-17 with a 2.92 ERA and 384 Ks over 450.1 innings. His stuff and velocity doesn’t add up to his 2016 success the majors, but his combined minor league and major league resume (62-36 with a 2.80 ERA and 770 Ks over 902.2) confirms his ability to get batters out. I expect regression, but his path still points to an ERA of less than 3.00 with 175 Ks if he pitches over 200 innings.
4. SP John Lackey
In his 14th year in the league, Lackey did the best job of his career getting batters out (.218 BAA). He held righties to a .201 batting average with 17 HRs allowed over 393 at bats. His K rate (8.6) matched his career high while his walk rate (2.5) is drifting higher. John struggled in April (4.97 ERA) and July (5.06 ERA). Over his last eight starts of the season, he had a 2.44 ERA and 43 Ks over 51.2 innings. His AFB (92.5) was just below his previous three seasons. Lackey still has a plus, plus slider (.137 BAA) while his four-seam fastball (.245 BAA) still gets batter out. John throws a ton of first pitch strikes and his growth in batting average was clearly tied to the value of his slider. He did miss some time in August with a right shoulder injury. Lackey will be a free agent in 2018 so he’ll be motivated to get another payday. Possible fade based on his recent career path, but it is clearly easier to pitch from the lead something the Cubs did well in 2016.
5. SP Mike Montgomery
It’s been a long haul for Montgomery to make it in the majors. The Royals selected him in the 1st round (36th pick) in 2008. He battled his command in the minors leading to eight seasons on the farm with below expected success (4.26 ERA and 703 Ks over 854.2 innings). In his five years at AAA, Mike had a 4.88 ERA with 429 Ks over 542.1 innings while walking 3.8 batters per nine. He flashed value over five starts in late August and early September in 2016 (3.33 ERA with 24 Ks over 24.1 innings) with the Cubs while pitching at a high level in the bullpen (2.10 ERA with 58 Ks over 64.1 innings). Montgomery has strength against LH batters (.183) while do a nice job vs. righties (.236). His AFB (94.3) was much stronger in the bullpen (94.3) than 2015 (91.3) as a starter. His secondary stuff was very good (curveball – .094 BAA, cutter – .161, and changeup – .100). His downside is tied to command (3.4 walks per nine) and his command of his fastball in the strike zone (four-seamer – .339 BAA and .503 SLG and sinker – .327 BAA and .500 SLG). Mike did a much job with his fastball with Seattle in 2015 (four-seamer – .293 BAA and sinker – .273 BAA). Over 16 starts with the Mariners, he had a 4.60 ERA with 64 Ks over 90.0 innings. Improving with playable value if he can lower his walk rate. He’ll battle a couple arm for the 5th starting job in 2017.
Brett suffered a back injury in early spring training leading to surgery and four and half months on the DL. When he returned to the majors in mid-August, he suffered a left wrist sprain costing him another month of the season. His arm had no value over four appearances (11.91 ERA). Here’s a look at his 2016 profile: For the first time since 2009, Anderson stayed healthy for the whole season. His walk rate (2.3) fell in line with career average with further decline in his K rate (5.8 - career low). After a rough start to his season in April (5.49 ERA), Brett pitched at a high level in May, June, and July (2.66 ERA with 70 Ks in 98 innings). Brett lost life on his pitches over the last two months of the year (4.74 ERA with 35 Ks in 62.2 inning). His arm has losing value against lefties (.284) and righties (.276). His AFB (90.7) improved from 2014 (89.8) while remaining below his career average (91.5). His slider (.216 BAA) is still his number two pitch followed by a questionable curveball (.415 BAA) and a beatable changeup (.338 BAA). Batters even had success against his four-seam fastball (.317 BAA). This resume is loaded with downside plus a history of injury risk. His ERA (3.69) will draw some interesting in 2016. HIs real edge is his ability to induce a huge number of ground balls (66.3 in 2015 - 58.4 in his career). Tough for me to pull the trigger, but he may pitch ok when he is healthy. His AFB came in at 91.3 in 2016, which was a short sample size. Most likely the favorite to win the 5th starting job. Over eight years in the majors, Anderson has a 3.86 ERA with 507 Ks over 685.2 innings.
Over five seasons in the minors, Butler has a 32-25 record with 3.33 ERA and 339 Ks over 496.2 innings. His walk rate (2.8) isn’t far off, but he struggled to strike out batters (6.3 per nine). This gives the appearance of a soft tosser, but Eddie featured a 94.4 mph fastball in the majors in 2016. Over 36 games and 28 starts in the majors, Butler has a 6-16 record with a 6.50 ERA and 94 Ks in 159.1 innings. He’s walked 4.0 batters per nine with 28 HRs allowed over 159.1 innings. The Cubs took a flier on him in the offseason. They have plenty of work to do to rebuild his confidence and mechanics.
CL Wade Davis
The elite ride of Davis as the closer for the Royals didn’t go as planned in 2016. He threw a lot less first pitch strikes (52.8 – 60.7 in 2015) leading to fade in his walk rate (3.3) and a second straight year of decline in his K rate (9.8). Wade still finished with a plus ERA (1.87) while converting 27 of 30 saves, but he landed on the DL twice with a forearm and right elbow injury. This combination points to TJ surgery. Prior to the All-Star break, he had a 1.23 ERA with 28 Ks over 29.1 innings. Davis did regain his K ability and command in September (15 strikeouts and one walk over 9.2 innings). His AFB (95.4) was one mph lower than his two previous seasons (96.5). Batters have a tough time hitting his four-seam fastball (.222 BAA), cutter (.222 BAA), and curveball (.200 BAA). Great resume as a reliever (24-5 with a 1.51 ERA, 47 saves, and 328 Ks over 263 innings). Certainly capable of being one of the better closers in the game, but Wade needs to throw more strikes plus his arm still has injury risk.
Rondon converted his first 11 save chances of the season with a 1.40 ERA. He ran into trouble in June when he blew four of six save chances (four runs and eight baserunners over 7.1 innings). His struggles led to the Cubs making a move for Aroldis Chapman at the All-Star break. Before losing his job, Hector was 18-for-22 in save chances with a 1.95 ERA. In early August, he developed a triceps injury leading to a disaster finish to the year (12 runs, 23 baserunners, and four HRs over 9.2 innings) with a stint on the DL. Rondon had an edge against RH batters (.200), but he struggled vs. lefties (.260). Over seven appearances in the playoffs, Hector had a 4.50 ERA and 1.50 WHIP while allowing a HR over six innings. His AFB (96.7) remains elite. He relies on his slider (.237 BAA) as his out pitch. His four-seam fastball (.278 BAA) lost value in 2016 (.238 BAA in 2015). Live arm with closer upside, but Rondon could also be on a path for TJ surgery. He needs to correct his home run problem as well (eight allowed over 51 innings in 2016).
RP Pedro Strop
Strop has never had a long-term closing opportunity in the majors due to early struggles with his command. Last year he threw the most first pitch strikes (63.8 percent) of his career leading to his lowest walk rate (2.9) in his major-league career. This led to a career high K rate (11.4). His WHIP (0.887) has improved in each of his last four years as his stuff continues to be tough to hit (.163 BAA). He dominated both RH (.173) and LH (.143) batters. Pedro landed on the DL in August with a left knee injury that required minor surgery. His AFB (95.6) has been about the same over the last three years. Batters struggled to hit his slider (.124 BAA) and four-seam fastball (.125 BAA) while his sinker showed risk (.327 BAA). Over four seasons with the Cubs, Strop has a 2.68 ERA with 254 Ks over 211.1 innings. With repeated command, his arm would be closer-worthy.
Baseball America Prospect Handbook. (n.d.).
Baseball-Reference. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.baseball-reference.com/
Brooksbaseball.net. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.brooksbaseball.net/
Fangraphs. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.fangraphs.com/
Roster Resource. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.rosterresource.com/mlb
Rotowire. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.rotowire.com/
RotoWorld. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.rotoworld.com/
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