Cubs

Fantasy baseball pitcher stock watch

Fantasy baseball pitcher stock watch

By David Ferris
CSNChicago.com
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Ronald Belisario, RP, Dodgers: He looks like the new closer for the Dodgers (Kenley Jansen is out indefinitely with a heart problem), and while Belisario doesn't have elite control or a silly strikeout rate, he's proven to be a trustworthy bullpen arm (2.84 ERA, 1.01 WHIP). Belisario's ground-ball profile should keep him out of trouble, as he induces a worm-burner 62.5 percent of the time. The dry run went well, as Belisario recorded the final five outs - en route to a save - Wednesday at Colorado. 
Kyle Lohse, SP, Cardinals: Throw strikes, work quickly, keep the ball in the park - it's working wonders for the veteran right-hander. And while Lohse's surprising year has been sparked by an outstanding resume at home, he's no shrinking violet on the road (7-1 record, 3.06 ERA, 1.11 WHIP). Take a bow in retirement, Dave Duncan. You turned Lohse into one of the NL's Top 20 pitchers, getting more sink on his otherwise-ordinary fastball. The cushy environment of a weak division also helps Lohse's roto value. 
Javier Lopez, RP, Giants: While he's supposed to be the lefty specialist in the Giants bullpen, not a heavy-usage guy, Lopez has found a way to record four saves in the last ten days. He hasn't allowed a run in the second half, over 19 appearances, and manager Bruce Bochy is slowly-but-surely starting to trust Lopez in longer relief appearances. Sergio Romo is still around to handle right-on-right chances, but don't worry about Santiago Casilla or Jeremy Affeldt - Bochy doesn't trust either of those guys right now. 
Hold
Tim Hudson, SP, Braves: A sore back delayed his start by about three weeks in April, but Hudson has proven to be worth the wait (and he's still fresh as we turn into September). Hudson might be a tricky call in K9 leagues because he doesn't miss that many bats, but what's wrong with six wins over nine starts, along with a 1.24 WHIP and an ERA in the mid-3s? The Braves help the cause plenty, supporting their starters with outstanding outfield defense and the best right-handed closer in all of baseball. Look out for this club in October. 
Shelby Miller, SP, Cardinals: The highly-touted prospect isn't up with the club yet, but it's probably just a matter of time with September roster expansion on the way. Miller was a mess during the first half of the PCL season, but he's struck out 61 batters (against just seven walks) since the break. With a ratio like that, the rest of the numbers don't even matter. And don't forget how hitter-friendly the PCL is; in a lot of ways, the NL Central could reflect an easier assignment for Miller (especially with elite catcher Yadier Molina behind the plate). It's not clear how much the Redbirds might want to use Miller in September - the 21-year-old has already passed the 130-inning mark - but with a playoff spot in the balance, he might turn into a useful arm, for real life and for fantasy. 
Sell
Alfredo Aceves, RP, Red Sox: He's lost his way during an August nightmare (three blown saves, 13 runs allowed), and there was a dustup with manager Bobby Valentine in the middle of that (leading to a short team suspension). Now that Andrew Bailey is ready to handle the ninth inning again, there's no fantasy value tied to Aceves. Call him a cab. 
Luke Hochevar, SP, Royals: Why does Kansas City keep slotting this failed prospect in the rotation? Although Hochevar does have an acceptable 1.21 WHIP in the second half, it's tied to one win (over nine starts) and a 4.55 ERA. And his first three months were a horror show (5.14 ERA, 1.39 WHIP). If you rank every starting pitcher for what he's accomplished in the second half, per fantasy value, Hochevar isn't even in the Top 100. Move on, Royals. See if Hochevar can reinvent himself as a reliever. Even in AL-only leagues, we can't recommend Hochevar in good conscience. 
Dale Thayer, RP, Padres: A brief stint on the paternity list cost him his spot in the closing line - Luke Gregerson has been closing of late - and it's all going to be a moot point soon enough, with Huston Street returning from the DL. Even in San Diego's big park, you don't want a reliever who's merely the No. 3 option for saves. 

How close is Ian Happ to rejoining the Cubs?

How close is Ian Happ to rejoining the Cubs?

Is Ian Happ nearing a return to Chicago?

In a surprise move at the end of spring training, the Cubs sent the 24-year-old switch-hitter down to the minor leagues to work on his swing and try to cut down on strikeouts.

Happ's numbers in Iowa don't jump off the page at you (.240/.362/.422), but it looks like he may be turning a corner of late. He homered Monday night then went 4-for-4 with another homer, 2 doubles and 5 RBI in the second game of a doubleheader Wednesday.

That's obviously a very small sample size, however, and even including that, Happ is still struggling to make consistent contact. He has struck out 14 times in 25 at-bats over his last 8 games. 

His overall strikeout percentage on the season is 25.9 percent — a major improvement on the 36.1 percent mark he struggled through in the big leagues last year. But Happ had never struck out more than 23.6 percent of the time in a season coming up through the minor leagues, so that number is still higher than the Cubs would like to see.

"If [the mini hot streak] were sustained, you'd have to really start listening," Joe Maddon said. "I'm following him via video, watching the at-bats. I'm doing that almost daily with him. I know prior to that, he had still had some problems with strikeouts. 

"And then hit a home run the other day and that seems like that's led to this other home run. That would be primarily a call on the front office and the minor-league part [on when to call him up], but I will watch the video. The home run I saw, I liked. I thought he had much better balance on the entire swing."

Obviously the Cubs aren't going to overreact to a couple games and deem Happ ready to return to the big leagues based off a handful of at-bats.

But there's also a solid case to be made that he could help the club in Chicago right now.

Despite a hot start to the season, the Cubs' role players have really fallen off the last few weeks and much of the offensive damage has come from the big boppers (Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Javy Baez, Willson Contreras) recently.

There's no indication Ben Zobrist is coming back anytime soon, as Maddon said Thursday morning he hasn't spoken to the veteran in a couple days. 

David Bote and Jason Heyward have looked better this week, but they were struggling for the first couple weeks of May. 

Daniel Descalso has really been scuffling, hitting .097 with only 1 extra-base hit in May and his defense at second base has been below average.

Then there's Mark Zagunis, who isn't doing much of anything for the Cubs — literally. He hasn't started a game since April 26 and hasn't seen even one inning in the outfield since then, either, serving exclusively as a pinch-hitter for the last month.

So if the Cubs decide soon that Happ is ready to return to the big leagues, they have a simple decision on the roster spot and right now, there might be an avenue to a decent amount of playing time either at second base or the outfield.

Happ may not be the best or most experienced defender at second base, but he's seen some time there in the minors this season (59.2 innings) and he can also play either of the corner infield spots and all three outfield positions.

But would it be prudent for the Cubs to call up Happ if they don't even have room for him to play every day? That could throw a wrench in his development, which is clearly something the organization has been committed to.

Albert Almora Jr. is still easily the best centerfielder on the roster and has been great offensively for the last month, so it's not like he's done anything to deserve falling back into a platoon with Happ in center like they shared for much of 2018.

"It's hard. You would want to [call him up only if there's ample time to play him]," Maddon said. "But if you could morph him in and there's a platoon that's worthwhile, you could do that, also.

"But part of him being [in the minors] right now on a consistent basis is to get these kind of at-bats to get this all worked out and you would not want to lose that, either. But when he were to come back, being that he could hit left-handed obviously permits us to do other things."

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The Bears are getting a different type of nickel cornerback in Buster Skrine

3-11busterskrine.jpg
USA Today

The Bears are getting a different type of nickel cornerback in Buster Skrine

When the Bears’ defense takes the field against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers on Opening Night, they’ll be returning 9 of the 11 starters that were part of a 2018 squad that was one of the best in Bears’ history. 

One of the few new faces that figure to be among the starting 11 is cornerback Buster Skrine. Gone is Bryce Callahan, who left for Vic Fangio’s Denver team after spending the first four years of his career in Chicago. Though Bears’ scouts have had their eye on Skrine for a few seasons now, it was his more palatable three-year, $16.5 million contract -- compared to Callahan’s three-year, $21 million contract -- that finally got him in house. 

“Me and Buster came out the exact same year, and I’ve watched him,” Prince Amukamara said after OTAs on Wednesday afternoon. “He actually played with my best friend and he would always talk about how fast Buster is -- especially when Buster played gunner. 

“I’ve always watched him, and I feel like he’s very similar to Bryce [Callahan] by being quick and being active. I’m definitely happy with the pick up.” 

Once considered a spot to place the third-best, less-athletic cornerback, no position has seen it's value increase so dramatically over the last decade. Offenses are changing dramatically; no team saw more three receiver sets in 2018 than the Bears’ defense. Per Sharp Stats, opposing offenses lined up in 11 personnel against Chicago 78% of the time. The next closest was the Chiefs at 71%, and the NFL average is 65%. 

“I think nickel is a different ball game,” Amukamara added. “I would say it can be one of the hardest positions on the field, just because you’re on an island, but the receiver has so much room to work with. Plus, it’s a lot of mental gymnastics, so you’ve got to know when you’re blitzing, know when you’re running, and so we put a lot on our nickel.” 

Despite not being considered part of a what teams have traditionally considered base defense, the pass-happy nature of this era in the NFL has all but mandated that nickel corners are on the field for most of the defensive snaps. It’s no coincidence that before breaking his foot against the Rams in Week 12, Callahan was on pace to set a career-high in snap percentage. 

“Nowadays, you see a lot more sub packages,” Bears defensive backs coach Deshea Townsend said. “You’re probably playing 70% in sub during a game now… Otherwise, it hasn’t really changed - he just plays more. That’s the thing - he is technically a starter. He’s probably going to run on the field first in a lot of games, and by rule that’s a starter.

“One thing about the nickel position is that you’ve got to do a little bit of both. You can’t just go out on 3rd down and cover and run the option routes. Now they’re going to hand off the ball and find out where you’re at and you’re going to have to make a tackle. That’s the difference in the position now - it’s a first and second down type of guy that has to be able to do it all.”

While Skrine isn’t considered as good a cover corner as Callahan, Skrine’s pass rush and run defense looks pretty similar. Per Pro Football Focus, Skrine’s run defense graded out significantly higher (80.7) than Callahan’s (57.8). 

“With Buster, it’s about his playing experience,” Townsend added. “He’s a guy who will mix it up in the run. He can blitz, and he’s reliable. He’s tough.”