Fantasy owners are always looking for answers heading into draft season, but sometimes the questions you’re asking are just as important. The Cubs figure to have one of the best offenses in the majors, but outside of Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Jason Heyward and Addison Russell, who’s going to be in the lineup every day? Does a particular aging slugger have another 600 plate appearances in his body? And which pitcher can rise from the middle rounds to the top 15 at the position?
We answer that and more below.
How will the Cubs deploy all those outfielders?
One of the Cubs biggest real-life strengths could frustrate fantasy owners all season. The Cubs are the deepest team in the majors, giving Joe Maddon the flexibility to mix and match players as he sees fit. The Cubs have four outfielders in Jason Heyward, Dexter Fowler, Kyle Schwarber and Jorge Soler who would all be everyday starters if they played anywhere else. Heyward is the best bet to get the most playing time, with Fowler a close second. Schwarber and Soler seem an ideal left-right platoon, but both are youngsters who need as many plate appearances as possible. Schwarber will also get time behind the plate, and his catcher eligibility has driven him up draft boards.
Fantasy owners should trust Maddon to figure out a way to get the most out of his players on a per-game basis, but the issue for all of them from a fantasy perspective, Soler especially, will be getting enough plate appearances. The good news is that playing-time concerns have been baked into all their draft-day prices, except Schwarber. That has turned the Indiana product into one of the most overdrafted players, while Soler could be a huge steal.
Can the young shortstops deliver?
Four of the top five shortstops on SI.com’s rankings are between 21 and 23 years old. Carlos Correa is a legitimate first rounder, while Corey Seager, Francisco Lindor and Xander Bogaerts could all be top-60 picks. That’s a lot to invest in players who don’t really have a track record and also play a position that, in real life, requires a lot more glove than bat. Correa doesn’t just have the highest ceiling. He’s also the safest at his draft-day price, which might not be obvious given that he’s going to cost you a top-10 pick.
Uncertainties surround Seager, Lindor and Bogearts. Seager undoubtedly has the right profile, but he has just 113 major league plate appearances under his belt. Lindor is already one of the best defensive shortstops in the game, and he hit .313/.353/.482 in 99 games last season. His bat, however, was never supposed to be that major league ready, raising questions about the repeatability of his numbers from last year. Bogaerts hit .320 last season and is still just 23 years old, but with 1,300 plate appearances already in his rear-view mirror, there’s a real chance this is who he is. You’ll be rolling the dice a bit if you take any of the three, but all are too good to fail. Seager, however, is the best bet.
Who is this year’s Jacob deGrom?
Last year, deGrom was selected outside the top 100 in typical drafts, only to finish the season as the No. 8 starting pitcher in standard leagues. There may not be a pitcher who climbs that high after starting the season where deGrom was last year, but there is one with legitimate top-15 upside, and that’s Houston’s Lance McCullers.
The 22-year-old McCullers had a phenomenal rookie season, posting a 3.22 ERA, 1.19 WHIP and 129 strikeouts in 125 2/3 innings. McCullers’ 2015 season is representative of Houston’s in general. He always had that ceiling, he just wasn’t supposed to get there last year. After all, before earning his promotion to the majors last May, McCullers had all of four starts above High-A ball in his entire professional career. With three plus pitches, including a fastball that sits at 95 mph and a curveball that is already among the best in the game, McCullers could take a deGrom-like step in 2016. He’s dealing with a shoulder issue in spring training that bears watching and will start the season on the DL, but he still projects as one of the best return-on-investment players in the league.
When do you say “when” on Michael Brantley?
Brantley has turned into a top-tier, five-category outfielder over the last two seasons, hitting .319/.382/.494 with an average of 18 homers, 19 steals, 81 runs and 90 RBI per season. You know how many other players have hit all of those thresholds? None. Brantley is that good.
Unfortunately, Brantley is also injured. He’s rehabbing his shoulder after offseason surgery—and may not be ready for Opening Day—which has sent his ADP plunging into triple digits. While the impulse to let someone else believe in Brantley’s return is understandable, he’s already one of the best risks to take this year. Every report out of Cleveland has Brantley ahead of schedule, and while you might think you should take that with a grain of salt, he started taking BP in the first week of March. Even if he does miss time in the regular season, it doesn’t seem like it will be more than three or four weeks. Once he returns, you’re adding a top-30 hitter, at worst, to your lineup.
Remember, outfield is the easiest spot to absorb risk, too. You can easily find an outfielder to keep Brantley’s seat warm if he starts the year on the DL. Make sure he’s highlighted on your cheat sheet.
Does David Ortiz have one more year in him?
In 2012, it looked like Ortiz was finally going to slow down. Then in his age-36 season, he played just 90 games, raking to the tune of .318/.415/.611. But in the three years since that season, he has played at least 137 games in each, slashing .281/.370/.545 with an average of 34 homers and 105 RBI per season in that stretch. Perhaps we should stop waiting for Ortiz to slow down.
Ortiz is now 40 years old and about to embark on his last season in the majors. Can he delight fantasy owners for one more year? The safe bet is on yes. Despite the fact that he clogs your utility spot, there’s no reason to be down on Ortiz. His production did not wane overall, or really in any one individual season, through his late-30s. Betting on that to happen this year is convincing yourself of the unseen without any evidence that it is coming.
Who’s the established player not getting enough attention?
Heading into 2015, Carlos Gomez was on a two-year run of hitting .284/.347/.491 with averages of 24 homers, 30 doubles and 37 steals per season. Injuries cost him 47 games last year, and had him at less than 100% for much of the time he was on the field. He sputtered to a .255/.314/.409 slash line with 12 homers, 29 doubles and 17 steals last season, and did not provide the big bat Houston hoped they acquired at the deadline.
All of that, however, is in the past. Gomez enters this season fully healthy and slotted fifth in what should be a potent Houston lineup. With Jose Altuve, George Springer, Carlos Correa and Colby Rasmus in front of him in the lineup, Gomez is going to have plenty of RBI opportunities. A.J. Hinch has never been shy about letting his speed guys run, making Gomez a good bet to get back to 25 steals. A return to the old Gomez is in order, and that means you’re getting a wildly affordable .275/.340/.460 with 20 homers, 25 steals, 70 RBI and 70 runs.
Can the Royals do it again?
Last year, the Royals were the ultimate example of the sum being greater than the whole of the parts. No one player jumped off the page, and yet they finished seventh in the majors in runs scored and had two top-25 hitters in standard 5x5 fantasy leagues (Lorenzo Cain and Eric Hosmer). Even knowing what we now know, these same names still don’t jump off the page. Are we being foolish, or is there something to fading the Royals?
The individual stats in Kansas City were so gaudy last year because everyone on the team had a career year. They hit .281/.347/.426 with runners in scoring position. Hosmer had 343 plate appearances with men on base, 194 of which were with runners in scoring position. Everyone in the majors is dependent on their teammates for RBI and run-scoring opportunities, and no team set up their teammates better than the Royals last year. They could still be very good and fall short of last season, and that would bring down the entire team’s counting stats. Make sure you have that in mind on draft day.