Chicago Cubs: 2016 Fantasy Preview

N.L. Central

Chicago Cubs

Must Own Fantasy Player: Anthony Rizzo

Potential Fantasy Bust: Kyle Schwarber

Prospect to Watch: Willson Contreras

For the first time in what seems to be forever, the Chicago Cubs are the odds on favorite to win the World Series. Now the perils of “paper” champions are well-known, but after bringing in the free agent pieces that the team did this offseason, it is hard not to subscribe to the Cubbie hype.

The core of the Cubs success has been their ability to not only develop their top draft picks into quality major leaguers, but also the reclamation pieces that the team has been able to bring in and turn into gold. There is no better example of a reclamation project gone well, than Jake Arrieta.

The reigning Cy Young Winner could never get things going with the Orioles, making the move to Chicago a career saving move. Drafters were not committed to selecting him coming off his emergence in 2014, but after last season all doubts have been silenced. There will be some regression, a 1.77 ERA and 236 K are hard to replicate, but he still remains one of the best SP in the game and should be gone by the third round this spring.

The rest of the rotation looks to be one of the better groupings that the team has had in years, as Jon Lester, John Lackey, Jason Hammel, and Kyle Hendricks/Adam Warren, are a solid 2-5.

Lester cannot throw to first to save his life, but when throwing to the plate, he was pretty good. His, 207 K and 2.92 FIP, leads one to think that last season’s success was not fluky by any means. His 11-12 record, just further shows how unforgiving Wins totals can be, so his record needs to be ignored. He should continue to produce and be drafted in the mid-rounds this spring.

Out of all the free agent signings the Cubs brought in, John Lackey may actually prove to be the key offseason acquisition. The Cubs are going to score plenty of runs, but the Lackey addition deepens the rotation and gives them that formidable starting trio, that plays well into October. Expect some regression as his 2.77 ERA will be hard to maintain, but he shapes up nicely as a fantasy SP3 or SP4 selection.

Hammel, Hendricks, and Warren, could all have fantasy appeal this season. But with pitching being so deep, combined with their limited upsides, they should be left on the waiver wire heading into the season.

While Lackey served as the biggest pitching free agent brought in, the team topped that with their additions of Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist to spearhead the offense. Heyward and BenZo are more valuable in real life than fantasy, but each brings a nice skill set that owners can target to help stabilize the core of their teams.

Everyone is waiting for Heyward to breakout, and he certainly has the ability and youth to do just that, but drafters should expect more of his usual stat-lines, .270-.290 AVG/12 HR/60 RBI/20 SB/.771 OPS. Zobrist still has multi position eligibility on his side, but the power and speed are waning, which makes him nothing more than a mid-round UTIL or MI add. They both should see a nice uptick in their counting stats though, thanks to the thunder in the order behind them.

If it was not for Paul Goldschmidt, Anthony Rizzo would certainly be considered the best fantasy first basemen heading into next season. In 2013 and 2014, Rizzo was mainly a 4-cat contributor, R/HR/RBI/AVG, but last season he added the speed element to his game. He will still mash next season and warrants a first round selection, but owners should not chase the speed again as his 17 steals were his highest total over both his minor and major league career.

The next cog of the Cubs offense is, Kris Bryant. After a slow start, Bryant would go on to show the raw power that he possesses. He led the league in strikeouts and his .378 BABIP is high, so the .275 AVG he posted last season may be the best we see. But, the 26 homers, 31 doubles and 13 SB can be replicated, if not improved on in 2016. He is already a late first or early second rounder, and has one of the hugest upsides you will find in the draft.

The shortstop position is now solely in the hands of Addison Russell. He showed flashes last season, but understandably so, mostly in his rookie season. He has 15+ HR upside and it is easy to expect the AVG to bounce back as long as he can hone his plate approach. He serves as a nice high ceiling SS selection for those who wait till the mid rounds to fill the spot.

Two of the more interesting players for the Cubs next season will be the corner outfielders. Jorge Soler and Kyle Schwarber have some of the best raw power in the game, but question marks still linger.

Soler could never get going last season thanks to nagging injuries, but he also needs to cut down his swing and wild approach at the plate. He is an interesting buy low candidate with previous owners being scared off from last season, so do not sleep on his potential heading into 2016.

Schwarber is listed as a bust candidate partly due to the draft hype that is surrounding him going into drafts this spring. He can certainly mash and his mammoth homers are fun to watch, but last season’s struggles have to get owners attention as well. He was a .300 hitter in the minors, but his .143 AVG against lefties over the course of the season and .214 AVG over the last two months, begins the question of whether or not he may still need time to adjust to big league pitching. He is getting taken within the first three rounds already, and while he should post 20+ homers, you are going to have to pay a huge price tag to see if he takes that next expected step to stardom.

Miguel Montero will be the starting catcher, but will still lose time to David Ross. Montero has struggled to post the type of production we saw in his prime fantasy years only four years ago, making him nothing more than a low-end catcher option this season.

The Cubs bullpen sorted itself out last season after Joe Maddon finally left Hector Rondon alone and kept him as the full-time closer. On one of the best teams in the league and armed with decent K totals, he should be ranked as a top ten closer. Both Pedro Strop and Justin Grimm are solid setup men and would be good picks in leagues that reward Holds.

Chicago has called up just about every top prospect they have in the organization and that even takes into account that Javier Baez may be on the bench heading into the season. But, since the catcher spot is the weakest spot on the club, Willson Contreras could get the promotion and prove to be an upgrade this season.  He is already a polished hitter and his defense is ever improving, so if he can get a call up, he would be worth a look.

Cubs’ fans may hate to admit it and may even refuse to embrace it, but the 2016 squad certainly has all the pieces needed for a deep October run. This may finally be the year where Chicago can break away from being the lovable losers.

Looking for more team previews?

NL West: L.A. Dodgers, San Francisco Giants, Colorado Rockies, San Diego Padres, Arizona Diamondbacks

NL East: Philadelphia Phillies, Atlanta Braves, Miami Marlins, Washington Nationals, New York Mets

NL Central: Milwaukee Brewers, Cincinnati Reds, Pittsburgh Pirates, St. Louis Cardinals