Cubs

Fantasy Baseball: Bold predictions for second half of 2015

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Fantasy Baseball: Bold predictions for second half of 2015

It's never fun to state the obvious.

So our CSN Fantasy crew decide to stick their necks out and make some bold predictions heading into the second half of the season. 

Call us crazy (or geniuses if/when these predictions come through), but we have a hunch about a couple players heading into the second half of the season.

[FANTASY SPORTS: Midseason awards for Stud, Dud and more

Check out our predictions here:

1. Carlos Correa will be the top-rated fantasy shortstop by the end of the year.

Maybe I've caught rookie fever again after suffering from it during Fantasy Football season. For all the talk about Kris Bryant's smooth stroke and Joc Pederson's monstrous power, Correa came up after both of those guys and has been off to a solid start start (.276/.312/.507, 7 HR, 19 RBI, 5 SB). How many rookies do you see slotted into the No. 3 spot of a team that's in playoff contention?

His main competition to take the top spot for fantasy shortstops comes from Troy Tulowitzki and Jhonny Peralta. While there's a chance Peralta has some staying power, Tulo seems to always be an injury waiting to happen. Correa has the combination of power, speed and production that will make him a superstar in the years to come and the last half of 2015 will be his time to shine. (John "The Professor" Paschall)

[LISTEN: Previewing White Sox & Cubs second half on new podcast

2. Christian Yelich will finish as a Top 25 outfielder.
 
He's 59th right now, but he was also been hampered by a back injury in the first half and was hitting .178 with a .493 OPS on May 22. Since that date, Yelich has hit .311/.389/.439 in 45 games with seven doubles, one triple, four homers and four stolen bases. Ever since a four-hit day June 27, Yelich has put up a .426/.534/.574 (1.109 OPS) line in 14 games with three stolen bases, five extra-base hits and 11 walks. And if that doesn't get you going enough, Yelich's career second-half numbers are enticing: .291 AVG, .372 OPS and 20 steals. (Tony Andracki)
 
3.  Bryce Harper wins the National League Triple Crown

At the ripe age of 22, Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper is posting the best season of his young career. Through 81 games, Harper is batting a dazzling .339 with 26 homers, 61 RBI and has an eye-popping 1.168 OPS. Harper is just a tenth of a point behind Paul Goldschmidt (.340) for tops on the NL batting average leaderboard and trails only Miami Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton (27) for the MLB home run lead. With Stanton sidelined until mid-August, Harper has a good chance to gain a little breathing room in the home department. However, Harper has some work cut out for him in the RBI department (4th in the NL and nine RBI behind Goldschmidt), but I'm going out on a limb to predict that he passes the Diamondbacks MVP candidate, and becomes the first NL Triple Crown-winner since Joe Medwick won the award in 1937. (Scott Krinch)

 [SHOP: Buy a Kris Bryant All-Star Game jersey]
 
4. Mike Trout will hit 50 home runs
 
At this point we're talking about the things Mike Trout can't do instead of what he can. After earning a historic second straight All-Star Game MVP last week, Trout enters the second half of the season with 24 home runs and 74 games to play. He's already hit six home runs in July (and another in the Midsummer Classic), and with his eight homers in June he has 14 long balls in his last 37 games. If he keeps that pace (a long shot) it'd give him 28 home runs in the second half, and 52 for the year. He's an Angel in the outfield. Hey, it could happen. (Mark Strotman)
 
Bonus (Chicago style): Starlin Castro will finish as a Top 10 shortstop.
 
Castro is currently the 23rd rated shortstop on ESPN's ranking, but that's with a .247/.283/.321 slash line. We all know he's better than the .603 OPS he's put up in the first half. I'm expecting a much better second half for the Cubs shortstop, utilizing the four days off during the All-Star break to recharge and reset. Watch out for Starlin over the final 75 games. (TA)
 

Javy Baez can do anything defensively, but what's next for him at the plate?

Javy Baez can do anything defensively, but what's next for him at the plate?

MESA, Ariz. — You don’t need to spend long searching the highlight reels to figure out why Javy Baez goes by “El Mago.”

Spanish for “The Magician,” that moniker is a fitting one considering what Baez can do with his glove and his arm up the middle of the infield. The king of tags, Baez also dazzles with his throwing arm and his range. He looks like a Gold Glove kind of player when you watch him do these amazing things. And it’s no surprise that in his first media session of the spring, he was talking about winning that award.

“Just to play hard and see what I can do. Obviously, try to be healthy the whole year again. And try to get that Gold Glove that I want because a lot of people know me for my defense,” he said Friday at Cubs camp. “Just try to get a Gold Glove and stay healthy the whole year.”

Those high expectations — in this case, being the best defensive second baseman in the National League — fall in line with everything the rest of the team is saying about their own high expectations. It’s been “World Series or bust” from pretty much everyone over the past couple weeks in Mesa.

Baez might not be all the way there just yet. Joe Maddon talked earlier this week about his reminders that Baez needs to keep focusing on making the easy plays while staying a master of the magnificent.

“What I talked to him about was, when he had to play shortstop, please make the routine play routinely and permit your athleticism to play. Because when the play requires crazinesss, you’re there, you can do that,” Maddon said. “But this straight up ground ball three-hopper to shortstop, come get the ball, play it through and make an accurate throw in a routine manner. Apparently that stuck. Because he told me once he thought in those terms, it really did slow it down for him. And he did do a better job at doing that.”

But the biggest question for Cubs fans when it comes to Baez is when the offense will catch up to his defense. Baez hit a game-winning homer run in his first major league game and smacked 23 of them last season, good for fifth on a team full of power bats. But arguably just as famous as Baez’s defensive magic is his tendency to chase pitches outside of the strike zone. He had 144 strikeouts last season and reached base at a .317 clip. Seven Cubs — including notable struggling hitters Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist — had higher on-base percentages in 2017.

Baez, for one, is staying focused on what he does best, saying he doesn’t really have any specific offensive goals for the upcoming season.

“I’m not worrying about too much about it,” he said. “I’m just trying to play defense, and just let the offense — see what happens.”

Maddon, unsurprisingly, talked much more about what Baez needs to do to become a better all-around player, and unsurprisingly that included being more selective at the plate.

“One of the best base runners in the game, one of the finest arms, most acrobatic, greatest range on defense, power. The biggest thing for me for him is to organize the strike zone,” Maddon said. “Once he does that, heads up. He’s at that point now, at-bat wise, if you want to get those 500, 600 plate appearances, part of that is to organize your zone, accept your walks, utilize the whole field, that kind of stuff. So that would be the level that I think’s the next level for him.”

Will Baez have a season’s worth of at-bats to get that done? The versatile Cubs roster includes a couple guys who split time between the infield and outfield in Zobrist and Ian Happ. Getting their more consistent bats in the lineup might mean sacrificing Baez’s defense on certain days. Baez, of course, also has the ability to slide over to shortstop to spell Addison Russell, like he did when Russell was on the disabled list last season.

Until Baez learns how to navigate that strike zone a bit better, it might make Maddon more likely to mix and match other options, rather than considering him an everyday lock like Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant.

But like Russell, Albert Almora Jr. and Willson Contreras, Baez is one of the young players who despite key roles on a championship contender the last few years still have big league growth to come. And Maddon thinks that growth is right around the corner.

“I want to believe you’re going to see that this year,” Maddon said. “They’ve had enough major league at-bats now, they should start making some significant improvements that are easy to recognize. The biggest thing normally is pitch selection, I think that’s where it really shows up. When you have talented players like that, that are very strong, quick, all that other stuff, if they’re swinging at strikes and taking balls, they’re going to do really well. And so it’s no secret with Javy. It’s no secret with Addy. Addy’s been more swing mode as opposed to accepting his walks. That’s part of the maturation process with those two guys. Albert I thought did a great job the last month, two months of getting better against righties. I thought Jason looked really good in the cage today. And Willson’s Willson.

“The natural assumption is these guys have played enough major league at-bats that you should see something different this year in a positive way.”

MLB.com's Cubs' 2018 Top Prospects list full of potential impact pitchers

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USA TODAY

MLB.com's Cubs' 2018 Top Prospects list full of potential impact pitchers

Could 2018 be the year that the Cubs finally see a top pitching prospect debut with the team? 

Thursday, MLB.com released its list of the Cubs' 2018 Top 30 Prospects, a group that includes six pitchers in the Top 10. The list ranks right-hander Adbert Alzolay as the Cubs' No 1. prospect, projecting him to debut with the team this season. 

Alzolay, 22, went 7-4 with a 2.99 ERA in 22 starts between Single-A Myrtle Beach and Double-A Tennessee last season. He also struck out 108 batters in 114 1/3 innings, using a repertoire that includes a fastball that tops out around 98 MPH (according to MLB.com).

Following Alzolay as the Cubs' No. 2 overall prospect is 19-year-old shortstop Aramis Ademan. Ademan hit .267 in just 68 games between Single-A Eugene and Single-A South Bend, though it should be noted that he has soared from No. 11 in MLB.com's 2017 ranks to his current No. 2 ranking. He is not projected to make his MLB debut until 2020, however.

Following Alzolay and Ademan on the list are five consecutive pitchers ranked 3-7, respectively. Oscar De La Cruz, No. 3 on the list, slides down from his 2017 ranking in which MLB.com listed him as the Cubs' top overall prospect. De La Cruz, 22, finished 2017 with a 3.34 ERA in 13 games (12 starts) between the Arizona League and Single-A Myrtle Beach.

De La Cruz is projected to make his MLB debut in 2019, while Jose Albertos (No. 4), Alex Lange (No. 5), Brendon Little (No. 6) and Thomas Hatch (No. 7) are projected to make their big league debuts in 2019 or 2020. All are right-handed (with the exception of Little) and starting pitchers.

Hatch (third round, 2016) and Lange (30th overall, 2017) and Little (27th overall, 2017) were all top draft picks by the Cubs in recent seasons.

Having numerous starting pitchers on the cusp of the big leagues represents a significant change of pace for the Cubs. 

Since Theo Epstein took over as team president in Oct. 2011, a plethora of top prospects have debuted and enjoyed success with the Cubs. Majority have been position players, though.

The likes of Albert Almora, Javier Báez, Kris Bryant, Willson Contreras, Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell all contributed to the Cubs winning the World Series in 2016. Similarly, Ian Happ enjoyed a fair amount of success after making his MLB debut last season, hitting 24 home runs in just 115 games.

Ultimately, Alzolay would be the Cubs' first true top pitching prospect to make it to the big leagues in the Theo Epstein era. While him making it to the big leagues in 2018 is no guarantee, one would think a need for pitching will arise for the Cubs at some point, whether it be due to injury or simply for September roster expansion.

The Cubs have enjoyed tremendous success in recent years in terms of their top prospects succeeding in the MLB. If the trend continues, Alzolay should be a force to reckon with on the North Side for years to come.