The Chicago Cubs have a lot of new faces this year and a lot of low expectations to go with them. This is the perfect storm for finding keepers. Let’s take a look at some players who might be flying under the radar for the Cubs this year.
1B Bryan LaHair put up some gaudy numbers at AAA last year, with a slash line of .331/.405/.664, including 38 homeruns in just 456 at bats. However, at age 29 and with Anthony Rizzo breathing down his neck, not many are giving LaHair much of a chance to hold onto the first base job for long. But, if he gets out of the gate quickly, he should stick with the big club and could move to the outfield once Rizzo is ready.
SP Ryan Dempster was the victim of some bad luck last year, as his hit rate was above his norm, while his strand rate was below normal. This resulted in an ERA of 4.80, the highest he has posted since returning to the starting role in 2008. Giving normal regression to the mean, he should return to his sub-4.00 level. Getting some wins, however, is another question.
3B Ian Stewart was another victim of bad luck. His Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP) was just .224 in 2011 compared to a career average of .302. Giving his low contact rate, he is unlikely to hit much more than .250 in any given season, but he certainly is capable of bouncing back from his .156/.243/.221 line in 2011. With top third base prospect, Josh Vitters still at least a year away, Stewart will be giving every opportunity to prove that 2011 was a fluke.
OF Marlon Byrd flies under a lot of radars as he doesn’t dominate any one category. However, he is capable of providing double digit homers and a .280-.290 average. Plus, depending on where he hits in the Cubs order, he could add either 75 rbi’s or 75 runs. He has lost 40 pounds this offseason and is in his contract year, so he is playing for what could be his last big payday. However, with Brett Jackson waiting in the wings, Byrd will also be the subject of numerous trade rumors this year, so those of you in NL only leagues that don’t carry over stats should be wary.
SP Paul Maholm quietly put together a fine season last year with a 3.68 ERA and 1.29 whip. He will not provide a lot of strikeouts, with just 97 in 162.1 innings last year, nor will he rack up a lot of wins for the Cubs. But is worth targeting in the late rounds.
RP Carlos Marmol has run hot and cold every other year with the Cubs. So, after a down year in 2011, we can expect a good year, right? Well, if he can keep his control in check, Marmol is downright unhittable. He struck out 138 batters in just 77.2 innings in 2010 and is certainly capable of putting up those numbers again. Watch him closely this spring.
SP Matt Garza posted the lowest ERA and highest strikeout totals of his career in 2011, so its hard to think of him as being undervalued or a potential keeper. However, Garza seemed to get stronger as the season wore on, posting a 2.45 ERA in the second half compared to a 4.26 ERA in the first half. If he can carry that over to 2012, he could become a fantasy ace.
The following players are likely not keeper material:
SS Starlin Castro will likely be overvalued after a strong sophomore campaign. He is a player on the rise, just don’t overpay for him.
C Geovany Soto had a down year after what seemed like a comeback year in 2010. He still has some power, but he struggles against righthanders, which will limit his batting average.
2B Darwin Barney got out of the gate fast last year before wearing down in the second half. The Cubs appear to think of him as more of a utility infielder type and he may have to hold off Adrian Cardenas to keep his job.
The Cubs cannot give away aging veteran OF Alfonso Soriano. So, they will keep plugging him into the lineup for now, but his defense screams DH and he is not getting any younger.
Finally, OF David DeJesus blames his poor 2011 season on his surgically-repaired right hand. There could still be some upside there, but let someone else take that chance.