• Ben Zobrist looks like the Cubs' best option in the leadoff spot, which is why you should grab him in fantasy despite the fact that he had a disappointing first half.
By Michael Beller
July 22, 2017

The Cubs searched for a Dexter Fowler replacement atop their order for the entire first half of the season. The Kyle-Schwarber-as-leadoff-man experiment failed miserably, and ultimately resulted in a brief trip to Triple-A Iowa for the slugger. Anthony Rizzo had a brief stint in the leadoff spot, and while he did succeed there, the Cubs are better off when he’s in the middle of the lineup. All told, eight different players led off a game for the Cubs in the first half, and the offense was painfully inconsistent. That likely isn’t a coincidence. Luckily, it seems the Cubs have found the obvious answer to its leadoff woes.

Joe Maddon has placed Ben Zobrist atop his order in four of the seven games since the All-Star break. Zobrist has gone 4 for 18 with a pair of walks in those games, but Maddon is going to keep him at or near the top of the order for the foreseeable future. Zobrist led off two of the final three games of the first half, and has been in the top spot in 18 games this season.

While Zobrist has had a down year—he’s slashing .222/.311/.380—his skill set is a perfect fit for the leadoff spot, especially on a team that doesn’t have a slam-dunk choice like it did with Fowler last year. He has always been an on-base machine, posting a career OBP of .356. What’s more, in seasons in which he has played at least 125 games, he has never had an OBP worse than .346. That may end this season, but it doesn’t change the fact that his on-base skills make him the best option to hit in front of the Cubs big boppers.

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Zobrist isn’t likely to lead off every day. The Cubs have too many mouths to feed, and Maddon prizes that roster flexibility. The only guaranteed everyday players in the Cubs lineup are Bryant, Rizzo and Contreras, with Zobrist joining the large group of players that also includes Schwarber, Ian Happ, Javier Baez, Addison Russell, Jason Heyward, Albert Almora and Jon Jay, that rotate in and out of the five other defensive positions. As such, Zobrist will spend more time on the bench than a typical leadoff man.

Still, the likelihood that he’ll lead off the vast majority of games for a potent offense that is finally finding its way should catch the attention of the fantasy community. Zobrist was dropped in a wide swath of leagues during his miserable first half. If you’re in one of those leagues, now is the time to grab him.

Josh Harrison, 2B/3B/OF, Pirates

Harrison continues to contribute across the board, taking a .276/.353/.432 slash line with 11 homers, 10 steals, 44 runs and 32 RBI into play on Saturday. Pittsburgh’s offense received a boost with the return of Starling Marte, which should provide more RBI opportunities for everyone in the top half of the order. Harrison’s flexibility should help make him an easy add for a number of fantasy owners.

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David Peralta, OF, Diamondbacks

Peralta’s team received a shot in the arm earlier this week when it traded for J.D. Martinez. That makes an already dangerous offense even better, and lifts the prospects of everyone in it. Peralta has bounced back strongly this season, hitting .325/.373/.500 with 10 homers, 32 RBI and six steals. He’s doing enough of everything to be a top-60 outfielder, which should have him, at the very least, on the fringes of every fantasy league. The acquisition of Martinez should make him an even greater run-scoring threat.

Wilson Ramos, C, Rays

Ramos’s bat is coming along nicely since he returned from the DL at the end of last month. While he’s still hunting for consistency, he already has three homers and 11 RBI in 54 plate appearances. It’s a bit troubling that he’s dealing with a hamstring issue so early in his return to the field, but the fact that it didn’t cost him too much time is encouraging. Remember, the barrier to entry at the catcher position is awfully low, and Ramos hit .307/.354/.496 with 22 homers and 80 RBI last season. Put him in the middle of an order like Tampa Bay’s, and he’s easily a top-10 fantasy option behind the dish.

Nicholas Castellanos, 3B, Tigers

Castellanos’s first-half numbers were maddening. Despite a hard-hit rate that ranked among the league leaders all year, Castellanos took a .240/.307/.414 slash line into the break. He’s finally starting to see his luck turn, however, and that should make him an attractive fantasy commodity. Since June 21, he’s 31 for 93 with six homers, four doubles and 17 RBI in 103 plate appearances. With J.D. Martinez now in Arizona, Castellanos will spend the rest of the season right in the middle of Detroit’s order, hitting behind Justin Upton and Miguel Cabrera. That’s a great spot for any hitter. Castellanos can be a top-12 third baseman for the remainder of the year.

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Shin-Soo Choo, OF, Rangers

We passed the threshold for ridiculous long ago. Choo’s still-outrageously-low ownership rate is an insult at this point. He’s the 22nd-ranked outfielder in standard 5x5 leagues. He has a better OBP than Justin Upton, more homers than Matt Kemp, more runs than Robinson Cano, more RBI than Adam Jones, and more steals than Charlie Blackmon. We say this every week, but apparently it can’t be said enough. Choo is a true five-category contributor who is available at the acquisition cost of the worst player on your roster. Make this move now.

Collin McHugh, SP, Astros

McHugh will make his 2017 debut Saturday after spending the first four months of the season on the DL with an elbow injury. He threw the ball well enough in five rehab starts, but the important factor is that he didn’t have any flare-ups with the elbow, reaching 93 mph with his fastball in his last outing. McHugh has been a strong backend fantasy rotation option over the last three years, totaling a 3.71 ERA, 1.25 WHIP and 22.2% strikeout rate in that time.

Carl Edwards, RP, Cubs
Hector Neris, RP, Phillies
Archie Bradley, RP, Diamondbacks
Will Harris, RP, Astros
Brad Hand, RP, Marlins
Trevor Rosenthal, RP, Cardinals
Sean Doolittle, RP, Nationals
Darren O’Day, RP, Orioles
Pat Neshek, RP, Phillies
Arodys Vizacaino, RP, Braves
David Phelps, RP, Marlins
Mike Minor, RP, Royals

As always, we will keep a list at the bottom of our weekly waiver wire column of relief pitchers who are not full-time closers, but can still be fantasy assets because of their strikeout rate, ERA and WHIP.

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