Cubs

Fantasy Baseball: The impact of emerging rookies in 2015

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Fantasy Baseball: The impact of emerging rookies in 2015

Rookies have become an integral part of the Fantasy Baseball world.

First-year players may not be having quite the impact in Fantasy Baseball as rookie wide receivers had in the fall in Fantasy Football, but they're still changing the landscape of the game.

[ROTOWORLD: Waiver wire targets]

Kris Bryant and Joc Pederson have already become franchise-altering players in the first two-plus months of the Fantasy season and are rewarding their owners who took big risks in the draft (remember when some people scoffed at the idea of Bryant in the first three rounds?).

But it's not just Bryant and Pederson. There are plenty of rookies changing the Fantasy game:

Rusney Castillo, OF, Red Sox

It's only been 26 games, but Boston is still waiting to see its investment in the Cuban outfielder pay off. He hasn't really hit for power or average and isn't a base-stealer. Out of his 12 hits so far this year, 11 have been singles. The good news for Castillo is that the Red Sox have invested a lot of money in him so they're most likely going to keep him in the lineup even when Shane Victorino returns from his injury. I just don't see any value Castillo can add in fantasy right now in any category, so I'd stay away from him for now until he figures out MLB pitching. (John "Professor" Paschall)

Carlos Correa, SS, Astros

The future of the Houston Astros has arrived, and in just three games baseball's top prospect has proven he's here to stay. In a three-game set against the White Sox he went 4-for-12 with a double, home run and three runs batted in; in fact, his three RBI have accounted for all but one of Houston's runs produced since he's been called up. One quick glance at the 20-year-old and it's apparent the type of numbers he's capable of producing; standing 6-foot-4, he hit .313 in four seasons in the minors and while he only slugged .491, the double and homer were a nice surprise of power. He's going to get all the run he can in Houston - he batted 6th in all three games against the White Sox - and deserves to be owned in most leagues. If he struggles over the next month you can cut bait, but I wouldn't bet on that happening from the 2012 first overall pick. Correa looks like the real deal.

Chi Chi Gonzalez, SP, Rangers

In eight starts at AAA this season Gonzalez went 3-5 with a 4.15 ERA. So it was only natural when the Rangers called him up two weeks ago that he'd throw 5.2 scoreless innings against the Red Sox, and then toss a complete game shutout in Kansas City five games later. Thursday he threw seven innings and allowed just one earned run against the A's on the road. Yes, it's time to consider picking Chi Chi up. After all, Gonzalez was a first-round pick in 2013 (so this isn't coming out of nowhere), the Rangers are red-hot and, at the very least, you've got plenty of fantasy team names to consider with him on your squad.

Eduardo Rodriguez, P, Red Sox

Jon who? OK, OK I know that's a bit much already. But Rodriguez has looked awfully good in his first three starts with the Red Sox. Acquired at the trade deadline last year from the Orioles for Andrew Miller, Rodriguez is the first pitcher since 1912 to record three straight games of 6+ IP with one earned run or fewer and at least seven strikeouts. In case you're wondering, his stat line so far is this: 2-0, 0.44 ERA, 21 K, 7 BB. 

Mercy.

The only thing holding back Rodriguez is a streaky Red Sox offense. If you're in a league that only counts quality starts, then stop reading this and make sure Rodriguez isn't on your waiver wire. Because if he is, then you have to get him now. If your league only takes wins for pitchers, it's a slightly riskier move but with the way he's pitching, it should only take the Red Sox a couple of runs to get him a win every night. Get him now and hope he doesn't hit a rookie wall later in the summer. (JPP)

Addison Russell, 2B/SS, Cubs

Perhaps the least touted top-5 prospect in the majors in quite some time, Russell has quietly gone about his business in the shadows of names like Bryant, Rizzo and Soler on the North Side. His numbers haven't been great - he's batting just .242 and is down to .192 in June - but there's a reason the Cubs were so quick to call him up. If he can find his groove and settle into the offense he could become a nice source of runs while batting 9th in the Cubs' lineup. That may mean fewer at-bats, but if he can get on base the lineup flips over for him and it should yield plenty of results. He's probably one of the lower prospects on this list just because he's struggling right now, but once he picks it up he's going to provide a major boost at a weak fantasy position. He's more of a "keep-your-eye-on-him" player right now, but make sure it's a close eye.

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Jorge Soler, OF, Cubs

Soler is currently on the DL with an ankle injury, but should be back later this month or in early July. But his injury isn't even the most pressing question surrounding the Cuban sensation right now.

Every Soler owner has been wondering the same thing this year: Where's the power?

Soler hit only four homers in 49 games before landing on the DL, but a closer look at the advanced stats show there is plenty of reason for optimism. The 23-year-old put up a .281 ISO (isolated power) during his late-season cup of coffee last season, but that mark is at just .138 this year. He is hitting a line drive 29 percent of the time this year, more than double his mark from a year ago (11.8 percent). He's hitting fewer ground balls and fewer fly balls, but the increase in line drives has his hard-hit contact (39.5 percent) right where it was last year (40.3 percent).

Whenever Soler returns, expect the power to come eventually. He's simply hitting the ball way too hard to expect such a low homer total. (Tony Andracki)

Steven Souza, OF, Rays

Scoring differs across each league, but the staples offensively are still homers and steals. It's those two categories that make Souza such an enticing option despite a .211 average.

Souza ranked as Baseball America's No. 37 prospect before the season and he racked up 93 homers and 158 steals across eight minor-league seasons. He went 18 and 28 in the two categories in the Washington Nationals system in 2014.

The 26-year-old rookie is on pace for 30 homers and 19 steals this year and if he ever cuts down on his strikeouts and starts to figure it out more at the plate, that average is going to come up to a more-respectable range. At the moment, however, his power-speed combo is enough to roster and get in your lineups (especially during a hot stretch). (TA)

Blake Swihart, C, Red Sox

Right now, Swihart isn't much of an impact in Fantasy circles. I have him on one team as a filler for Travis d'Arnaud and now that d'Arnaud is back from the DL, I'm kind of at a crossroads of what to do with Swihart. For the time being, I'm keeping him on my bench because there is potential there. Swihart has a career .287/.341/.428 line in the minors and was ranked as a Top 20 prospect coming into the 2015 season by Baseball America, MLB.com and Baseball Prospectus.

It's just going to take some time for the 23-year-old catcher to figure it all out at the plate. He's hitting just .207 with a .533 OPS through 28 games right now, but he's also been working hard at his game behind the plate with the Red Sox pitching staff.

At some point, it will all click for Swihart, but will that happen this year? It's a situation worth keeping an eye on, but the top catching prospect probably isn't worth owning right now. (TA)

Noah Syndergaard, P, NYM

Oh, those first few starts were so promising. And his 400-foot monster home run was quite the feat. But is he really worth owning?

His last two starts have been quite troubling. Back-to-back 10-hit outings against the Padres and Giants are concerning for me because he's got elite stuff yet teams are still hitting him. Can he adjust? That's always the biggest issue with rookies. But the Mets seem to be willing to let Syndergaard ride out some of the bumps in the road. He's 2-4 this year but he does provide strikeouts for your team and doesn't walk many batters.

If you have him on your team, I'd hold on to him for now. He's got two starts against the Braves coming up and that should hopefully get him back on track. But he's on a short leash for me and a couple of poor performances could have me looking elsewhere quickly. (JPP)

There's more change coming for the Cubs this offseason, but in what form?

There's more change coming for the Cubs this offseason, but in what form?

David Kaplan said it best on the most recent CubsTalk Podcast:

"I think it's gonna be the most impactful offseason since Theo and Jed have been here."

He's not wrong, which is saying something given the Cubs have had plenty of impactful offseasons in the tenure of Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer. This is a group that added Joe Maddon and Jon Lester ahead of the 2015 season and then the next winter, added Jason Heyward and surprised everybody by bringing back Dexter Fowler a couple days into 2016 spring training.

Anytime a team sets World Series or bust expectations and instead is going home just one day into the MLB postseason, change is coming. That may be especially true with HOW the Cubs got knocked out — leading the division and boasting the best record in the National League from the All-Star Break all the way through Game 162...yet they didn't even make it to the NLDS.

It's impossible to predict exactly what changes will be coming for the Cubs because as of this writing, three teams still remain and some of the winter's biggest names (Manny Machado, Clayton Kershaw, Craig Kimbrel) have yet to begin their offseason. There's still so much that can change even before free agency opens.

So if you're looking for a bunch of predictions or projections about what is going to happen in the Cubs world this winter, you're in the wrong spot. But here's where change MAY take place over the next couple months:

Coaching staff

We'll start with the area that will probably have a resolution the soonest. Teams typically prefer to have their coaching staff settled as early as possible into the offseason so they can fill out the roster from there. An added bonus is the new coaches can start reaching out to players on the roster earlier in the offseason if they choose to, as well.

With the Cubs coaching staff, there very well may be more shakeup coming this fall even after Chili Davis was let go last week. All we know for certain is Anthony Iapoce will be the team's new hitting coach in 2019 on Joe Maddon's staff. Beyond that, the Cubs have not publicly confirmed that Jim Hickey or any the other coaches will 100 percent be back next spring. 

Lineup

There's a potential the Cubs' 2019 Opening Day lineup will be far different from not only the 2018 Opening Day lineup, but also even the NL Wild-Card lineup. 

Like their fans, the Cubs were unhappy with the way the offense performed in the second half, particularly in three of the final four games (the penultimate regular season contest, Game 163 and the Wild-Card game). 

So much has been made of the Cubs' young core of position players over the last few years, but the evaluation has to change after a bunch of the members of "The Core" took steps back in 2018 (Willson Contreras, Addison Russell, Ian Happ, Albert Almora Jr.). 

Kyle Schwarber enjoyed a bit of a resurgent season as he cut down on strikeouts, walked more and boosted his batting average while improving as a defender, but also saw a dip in power and still hasn't taken that big step forward toward one of the league's most feared run producers.

Kris Bryant also obviously experienced a dip in offensive production, but so much of that can be tied into the left shoulder injury that clearly affected his swing.

After a disappointing end to the season that highlighted the offensive shortcomings, Epstein was blatantly honest about how the evaluation of these players has to evolve:

"It has to be more about production than talent going forward," Epstein said. "And that includes our own assessments. Beyond that, it's also trying to understand why we're not where we should be with some individual players. In other words: If you look back, players who do certain things at 22 and 23 should be progressing into a better, more productive phase of their career at 24, 25 and 26.

"I'm the first one to talk about how development and progress — those aren't linear things all the time. There are a lot of ups and downs. But I think there's a trend where Javy took the big step forward, but there are other guys who went the opposite direction or have been trending the opposite direction a little bit. We have to get to the bottom of that.

"It's our job not just to assemble a talented group, but unearth that talent and have it manifest on the field. Because that's ultimately all that matters. It's an assessment on those two fronts. The talent that we have and who's going to be productive, who's not or where we can find that production. And then also understand the environment and are we doing everything that we can in creating just the right situation to get the most out of these guys."

And therein lies a perfect transition into the next category...

Potential trades

With that aforementioned core of young position players, the only former members of "The Core" that have been traded away are Jorge Soler and Starlin Castro. Year after year of trade rumors and yet as of this writing, guys like Schwarber and Russell and Happ remain in Cubs uniforms.

Will that change this winter? Obviously we don't know for sure, but it seems as likely as at any other point in the last few offseasons.

Reading the tea leaves, it would make sense for the Cubs to deal away at least one of those core members this winter to either bolster the bullpen or restock the farm system. 

For starters, the offensive dip in the second half could portend the need for change. It's very hard for a big group of young hitters to all develop on the same path at the same pace, which means the learning curve can lead to prolonged slumps that occur all at the same time — which we've seen often the last few seasons. 

Epstein was also candid about how the players aren't quite as happy with Maddon's ever-changing lineup as they once were which also means the Cubs probably have to shed some of their depth at some point if they truly want more stable playing time. Almora or Happ can't sit on the bench five times a week without completely inhibiting their development path.

The Cubs also showed exactly how they feel about this group of hitters when they went out and acquired Daniel Murphy in August, stressing the need for his "professional at-bats" in the lineup on a consistent basis at the most important time of the season.

Free agency

The Cubs will have World Series expectations in 2019, so once again, they figure to be big players in free agency. Even if they don't wind up with Bryce Harper or Manny Machado, they will at least kick the tires on the two superstars since they're clearly in the market for improved offense.

But beyond the big fish, the Cubs need to add to the bullpen, bolster the lineup, acquire some more shortstop depth and potentially even add a veteran backup catcher to help give Contreras more regular rest. All those moves could come from the free agent market.

Addison Russell

Will he be back? Even if he is still on the Cubs roster at the start of next year, would he make it through the year? The Cubs may eventually trade him, but why give up on him at a time when Epstein said it's important for the organization to support Russell and his value is also the lowest it's ever been? Strictly thinking in a baseball sense, he could be a perfect midseason trade piece.

Regardless of what happens with Russell, there is some change for the Cubs in that for the first time ever, Javy Baez will enter the official offseason as the clear starter at shortstop next year (at least for the first month). 

Defensive puzzle

Whoever the Cubs add this offseason to help the lineup and subtract from the roster that ended 2018 will still have to fit in the same defensive puzzle somehow. For example, if the Cubs signed Machado, they could slot him in at shortstop a bunch, which opens up Baez to float and play second a bunch or third, which moves Bryant to the outfield, which moves Schwarber to the bench. And on and on with any potential move the Cubs make this winter.

On the other hand, taking guys away from the current defensive puzzle also would have ripples throughout the rest of the roster. For example, if Happ is traded away, that also removes a switch-hitter and a guy with a ton of defensive versatility away from the roster. What does that do to the depth chart in the outfield or at third base? 

Starting Rotation

There might not be any change in terms of additions to the Cubs' rotation ahead of 2019, but that's not to say there won't be any movin' and shakin'.

Assuming the Cubs pick up Cole Hamels' $20 million option — which they should and probably will — that will leave them with Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, Hamels, Jose Quintana, Yu Darvish, Tyler Chatwood, Drew Smyly and Mike Montgomery all under contract for next season and all projected to be healthy enough to pitch by the start of spring training. (Before you ask: yes, the Cubs are planning on Smyly as a starter right now; Epstein said as much in September.)

Lester, Hendricks and Quintana are locks for the Opening Day rotation, as is Hamels if that option is picked up. Darvish will surely be in the rotation, too, assuming he's fully over the elbow/triceps issue that limited him to only 40 innings in his first year in Chicago.

So what will the Cubs do with Smyly, Chatwood and Montgomery? Smyly will be on an innings limit in 2019 after missing the last two years due to Tommy John, so it's possible the Cubs opt to switch gears and just throw him in the bullpen to start the year. They may do the same with Montgomery, but will the veteran lefty be OK with that after publicly admitting he wants to start at various points over the last year-plus? Would Chatwood be OK in moving to the bullpen or would the Cubs just move him if he is still having command woes? 

Epstein and Hoyer often remind you can never have too much pitching, but in a way, the Cubs may have too much starting pitching on their roster for 2019 taking up a big part of the team's payroll. Is it possible we'd see a guy get moved this winter as a result? You never know.

40-man roster

This is the most mundane area, as every team makes pretty significant changes on their 40-man roster each offseason — even under the radar. There will always be shakeups with players getting DFA'd to create room for new additions, prospects added to the 40-man roster so as to be protected from the Rule 5 Draft, etc. 

Kyle Hendricks takes in a Blackhawks game with... Bastian Schweinsteiger?

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NBC Sports Chicago

Kyle Hendricks takes in a Blackhawks game with... Bastian Schweinsteiger?

A Cubs pitcher taking in a Blackhawks game in a suite is nothing special, but doing so with a World Cup winner is... different.

Kyle Hendricks was spotted by the cameras of Thursday's Blackhawks-Coyotes broadcast on NBC Sports Chicago. The guy he was standing next to was none other than Chicago Fire midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger, a World Cup with Germany and Champions League winner with Bayern Munich.

Hendricks is known for being reserved on the mound and in his interviews with the media. Meanwhile, Schweinsteiger was filmed yelling "Bear Down" in the hallway of Toyota Park after a Fire practice earlier in the day.

There's no telling what inspired Schweinsteiger to do this, but he has definitely embraced Chicago sports teams since joining the Fire in March of 2017.

Makes you wonder what Hendricks and Schweinsteiger were talking about. Best places to get brats in Chicago?