Over the next several weeks, the Rotoworld staff will take an in-depth look at some players whose value is on the rise headed into the 2016 season. We'll break them down by division. The National League East, NL West and American League East have been covered. Now it’s time to turn to the NL Central.
The season just ended, but the Hot Stove is already picking up. Keep refreshing Rotoworld's player news page for all the latest throughout the winter.
Kris Bryant, 3B, Cubs
The Cubs kept Bryant in the minors for a couple weeks to begin the 2015 season, which gained them an extra year of control of the youngster. The late start almost surely kept Bryant from reaching the 100-RBI mark, but it didn’t greatly affect his numbers in what wound up being a National League Rookie of the Year-winning campaign. Bryant hit .275/.369/.488 with 26 home runs, 99 RBI, 87 runs scored and 13 stolen bases for the Cubbies, settling in at third base while also seeing some playing time in the outfield.
Bryant swings and misses a lot. His 199 strikeouts were 12 more than anyone else in the NL despite beginning the year in the minors. The 23-year-old has an upper-cut swing and freely admits that his goal is to hit the ball in the air four times per game and see what happens. That combo isn’t going to lead to a good batting average, which is why Bryant’s .275 mark in his rookie year is probably about as good as fantasy owners should expect. However, the power with Bryant is exceptional, and he’s going to hit in the middle of a good young Cubs lineup for many years.
Carlos Martinez, SP, Cardinals
After being used mainly as a reliever in his first two seasons in the majors, Martinez got a chance to start in 2015 and didn’t disappoint. The fiery right-hander put up a 3.01 ERA while striking out 184 over 179 2/3 innings for the Redbirds, earning a trip to the Midsummer Classic. Only a shoulder injury in late September put a damper on what was otherwise a fantastic season.
The shoulder ailment is a bit of a concern, as Martinez is a relatively small guy and bested his previous career high in innings by 65 1/3 in 2015. The Cardinals, at least publicly, are saying that they expect Martinez to go through his normal offseason program. If he’s at 100 percent, the 24-year-old’s ability to miss a bunch of bats while also generating a ton of groundballs is a lethal combination.
Kyle Schwarber, C/OF, Cubs
The Cubs raised some eyebrows when they took Schwarber and not a pitcher with the No. 4 overall pick of the 2014 Draft. After all, their farm system was already chock full of position player talent and needed a jolt of pitching help. That’s why you don’t draft based on need, kids. Schwarber has raked since entering pro ball, producing an absurd .333/.429/.613 batting line with 34 homers and 102 RBI over 147 games in the minors and a .246/.355/.487 line with 16 longballs across 69 contests with the big club.
Schwarber did show a vulnerability to left-handed pitching in the majors, with southpaws holding him to a .143/.213/.268 batting line. The 22-year-old hit .295/.394/.533 against left-handers in the minors, so it’s certainly possible he’ll improve versus them in the majors in time. However, for the time being it’s probably wise to expect portsiders to drag down his average a bit. The power is most certainly for real, and Schwarber will retain catcher eligibility for fantasy purposes in 2016 even if he remains in left field.
Raisel Iglesias, SP, Reds
The Reds didn’t have a whole lot to get excited about this past season, but the improvement of Iglesias down the stretch was certainly a bright spot. The Cuban defector showed flashes in the first half for Cincinnati while being used both as a starter and reliever but ultimately posted a 5.90 ERA across 29 innings. Things then clicked for Iglesias after the All-Star break, as he held a 3.39 ERA and 77/19 K/BB ratio over 66 1/3 frames. That included a three-start stretch when he whiffed 10+ batters in each game.
Iglesias doesn’t throw terribly hard, with his fastball sitting in the low-90s. What the right-hander does is vary his speeds and arm angles very well, allowing him to get plenty of swings and misses. That could change as the league sees him more (he made more than one start against just four clubs), but for now Iglesias is looking like a guy who might get underdrafted next spring if your league mates didn’t take notice of how good he was in the second half.
Stephen Piscotty, OF, Cardinals
Needing a spark for a stalling lineup, the Cardinals promoted Piscotty just after the All-Star break and then watched him become arguably their best offensive performer down the stretch. The former Stanford Cardinal sported a robust .305/.359/.494 batting line with nine dingers, 15 doubles and 39 RBI over 63 games for St. Louis, numbers that could have been even better had he not missed a handful of contests in September following a scary collision. Piscotty made a miraculous recovery from that injury and then smacked three homers in four NLDS games versus the Cubs.
Whether Piscotty is able to unlock all of his raw power could be the difference in him becoming a good or great player. After putting up modest home run totals in his first three minor league campaigns, Piscotty tweaked his swing last winter in hopes of unleashing more pop. The changes seemed to take hold, as after a slow April the 24-year-old hit 19 home runs over his final 499 at-bats of the regular and postseason. Even if the home run total doesn’t spike, Piscotty is a guy with a high contact rate who should hit for average from the get-go.
Addison Russell, SS/2B, Cubs
Like a couple other Cubs rookies, Russell had to bide his time in the minors for a bit last year before getting a call to the big show. After being used as the club’s regular second baseman for four months, the Cubs flip-flopped Russell and Starlin Castro, putting the youngster at his more familiar position of shortstop. Russell showed flashes of brilliance both in the field and at the plate, ultimately settling for a .242/.307/.389 batting line with 13 home runs and 54 RBI over 523 plate appearances.
Russell might not be ready to break out as a premiere hitter in 2016. He strikes out quite a bit (156 times in 153 games between the majors and minors in 2015) and will turn just 22 in January. However, the infielder did show incremental improvement with a 94-point jump in OPS after the All-Star break while cutting down his whiffs a bit. Russell could also run more in 2016 after a disappointing four steals this past season, as he posted pretty good steals totals in the minors.
Jung Ho Kang, SS/3B, Pirates
Kang made the Pirates look really smart for investing a modest $5 million posting fee and subsequent $11 million contract in him. The former KBO star batted .287/.355/.461 with 15 home runs and 58 RBI over 467 plate appearances for Pittsburgh on his way to a third-place finish in the National League Rookie of the Year voting. Unfortunately, Kang’s season ended in mid-September when a Chris Coghlan takeout slide resulted in a torn left MCL and fractured tibia.
The Pirates placed a 6-8 month timetable on Kang after he had surgery, which means at best he’ll miss a large chunk of spring training and most likely he’ll be out at least a month of the regular season. When he returns, Kang could again split time between shortstop and third base, sharing starts with Jordy Mercer and Josh Harrison. He should see a starter’s share of at-bats, though, and Kang is a guy who’s shortstop-eligible and capable of hitting for average and power.
Hector Rondon, RP, Cubs
Skipper Joe Maddon has often been unpredictable with his bullpen management, but it was odd to see him ever turn away from Rondon as his closer. That’s what happened around midseason, though, as Maddon went to Jason Motte and other relievers in the ninth inning for a while. Rondon predictably got his job back eventually and finished the season with a 1.67 ERA, 30 saves and a 69/15 K/BB ratio across 70 frames. There’s no disputing who the Cubs’ closer will be heading into 2016, and Rondon is a potentially elite ninth-inning option on a squad that should again win a lot of games.
Randal Grichuk, OF, Cardinals
Before the aforementioned Piscotty mashed down the stretch for the Cardinals, it was fellow rookie outfielder Grichuk who wowed with his raw power. Grichuk smacked 17 home runs and drove in 47 for the Cards over just 350 plate appearances, and he did so with the sixth-best average exit velocity (94.3 mph) in the game. The bad news is that he was limited from mid-August on due to ligament damage in his right elbow. Grichuk didn’t have surgery, as St. Louis feels he’ll be able to heal over the offseason. The plate discipline is lagging (career 141/27 K/BB ratio), but Grichuk has 30-homer potential as the Cardinals’ likely regular center fielder in 2016.
Eugenio Suarez, SS, Reds
Suarez wound up being a sneaky-good pickup by the Reds last winter when he was acquired from the Tigers in the Alfredo Simon deal. The 24-year-old served as the club’s regular shortstop after Zack Cozart blew out his right knee in June, and he batted .280/.315/.446 with 13 longballs and 48 RBI across 398 plate appearances. Cozart will be back for Opening Day, which means Suarez’s position for 2016 is up in the air. However, the rebuilding Reds have discussed trying him out in left field, and they could also create a spot for him by trading Todd Frazier and/or Brandon Phillips. Suarez figures to find a starting spot one way or the other, and he has some nice pop from a middle infield position.
Domingo Santana, OF, Brewers
Santana got a few looks with the Astros the last two seasons, but his first chance at regular playing time at the big league level came after he was shipped to the Brewers at the trade deadline in the Carlos Gomez/Mike Fiers deal. The fit wasn’t perfect, as the presence of Ryan Braun and Khris Davis forced the Brew Crew to stick Santana in center field, a position he had played sparingly. He looked comfortable enough there that Milwaukee said they’ll consider him as their regular there in 2016. Santana hit just .231 over 145 plate appearances with the Brewers, but he also slugged six homers, giving him 18 between the majors and minors in 2015. A career .312/.403/.518 hitter at Triple-A, Santana has holes in his swing, but there’s big power upside in his bat.
John Lamb, SP, Reds
It’s been an interesting journey for Lamb, as he had been looking like a failed former top prospect when he was unable to regain his stuff post-Tommy John surgery. It’s come back slowly but surely, though, resulting in a 2.67 ERA and 117/36 K/BB ratio over 111 1/3 Triple-A innings in 2015. Lamb put up a 5.80 ERA over 10 starts for the Reds after coming over from the Royals in the Johnny Cueto deal, but that came along with an excellent 58/19 K/BB ratio across 49 2/3 frames. The left-hander should have a spot locked up in what will again be a young 2016 Reds rotation, and there’s definite strikeout potential with Lamb even if his ERA figures to lag behind.