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Finding Keepers: Chicago Cubs

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Finding Keepers: Chicago Cubs

Posted on 03 March 2012 by Mark Sherrard

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.

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Finding Keepers: Pittsburgh Pirates

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Finding Keepers: Pittsburgh Pirates

Posted on 02 March 2012 by Ryan Van Bibber

Whenever I start thinking about keepers, I go straight to the most important minor league team in Major League Baseball: the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Pirates are the talent development operation for the rest of the league, seasoning talented young hitters and pitchers before sending them off to bigger and better things elsewhere. It is “moneyball” in a different sense; the Pirates make money, winning is a secondary pursuit.

Pittsburgh has some interesting names on the roster and waiting in the wings this season. Some are indeed worth one of your precious draft picks. If, er, when they get traded to a good team, those players could really start paying dividends.

Andrew McCutchen, OF – The most obvious of the entire roster and one of the top keeper players in the entire league. Just 25 this season, many expect McCutchen to take a big jump from a very solid 20/20 season in 2011. His batting average suffered thanks to a twenty-point drop in BABIP, but he improved across the board. He walked more too as pitchers realized the threat posed by his bat and the shame of giving up runs to the Pirates. The Pirates’ lineup will have more to say about whether or not he can produce the kind of fantasy stats required from a top hitter, stuff like RBI and runs scored. He has the ability to be a 30/30 player. Unless some team is willing to dump the family farm in Neil Huntington’s lap, the Pirates will not be trading him this year. McCutchen is eligible for arbitration after the season, and will not be a free agent until after 2015. He is the only viable keeper on the Pirates’ roster at this point.

Good, Not Great

Neil Walker, 2B – Walker has value as an acceptable, mostly consistent player in the middle infield. He is tentatively penciled in for the fourth spot in the batting order, something that may change depending on what happens with their two third basemen. This is Walker’s age 26 season. You can count on him for a dozen home runs. With McCutchen hitting in front of him, he can produce some RBI. The Pirates have him locked up through 2016. If they were to trade him to a better team, his counting stats could get a nice boost. Walker might not be the second-best hitter in the Pirates’ lineup by the time the season ends, but he has a certain level of reliability that no other hitter on the roster, outside McCutchen, has.

For Those Willing To Think Young

Alex Presley, OF – Pittsburgh has very little power to speak of in its lineup. A full season of work from Presley would certainly help that. In 231 plate appearances last season, Presley had an .804 OPS with four home runs. What can he do with a full season of plate appearances? If Presley can keep or even improve his .167 ISO, double digit long balls are a possibility. He can also steal 20 bases.

Jose Tabata, OF – Penciled in to lead off the batting order, Tabata needs a full season of health. Tabata is capable of stealing 25 or more stolen bases. He has a solid walk rate, hovering around 10 percent. At the very least, he could be a cheap source of steals and someone to hang onto as he starts to find his stride.

I should probably put some pitchers in here, but the Pirates’ current rotation is led by the merely above average.

Charlie Morton leads the rotation, and he should be ready to go by opening day after offseason hip surgery. His secret to success is keeping the ball on the ground. He earned a big raise in arbitration, going from the league minimum to $2.445 million in 2012.

Joel Hanrahan, the Pirates’ closer, is arguably the best pitching option on the team. I always think that closers on bad teams cannot accumulate saves, a stupid, misguided stereotype. Hanrahan might get 30 or more saves.

As far as minor league prospects go, I have to defer to someone else. They do have some upper tier names among prospects. The Pirates are a regular presence in the top of the draft. They get young players in trades. Yet, they still struggle. Did they only read the first half of “Moneyball”?

 

 

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