2015 Season Previews: Chicago Cubs

Over the next several weeks, The Baseball Haven will be creating season previews for all 30 MLB teams. You’ll find their projected records (based on PECOTA records from Baseball Prospectus, as of 2/15/2015), each team’s top three players (based on Steamer WAR projections from FanGraphs), and some valuable notes on each team, including likely bounce-back candidates, potential breakout players or fantasy sleepers, as well as a look back at offseason transactions which led to each team’s projections. Stop back frequently to see where your favorite team ranks!

Chicago Cubs

Courtesy: MLB.com
Courtesy: MLB.com

2015 Projected Record: 82-80 (2nd in NL Central, 14th in MLB)

Manager: Joe Maddon (1st season with Chicago, 781-729 in 11 seasons overall)

Top Three Players: 1B Anthony Rizzo (4.7), LHP Jon Lester (3.6), RHP Jake Arrieta (2.6)

Bounce-back Player: LHP Travis Wood

Wood posted an atrocious 5.03 ERA and 1.53 WHIP over 31 starts and 173.2 innings in 2014. He saw an increase in his walks (3.94 per nine) and a decrease in runners left on base (66.5 percent), both of which were career worsts. In addition to those numbers, Wood saw his strikeouts per nine reach career-high levels (7.57) and his home run per fly ball stayed below the league average (8.8 percent), so it wasn’t all bad; however, the highly inflated .320 BABIP, which was much higher than the career .278 BABIP. Wood doesn’t allow many home runs, he manages to keep the ball down (though, not at elite levels with a 33.2 percent ground ball rate), and he is entering his age-28 season, the supposed prime of his career, with only 738 major league innings on his arm. With a rapidly improving roster behind him and Jon Lester as a mentor, Wood is capable of an enormous, undervalued, and overlooked season.

Soler is just as good and capable of better than Bryant in 2015
Soler is just as good and capable of better than Bryant in 2015

Fantasy Player to Watch: OF Jorge Soler

All eyes will be on Kris Bryant whenever he is promoted from Triple-A, especially after his monstrous Spring Training, but Soler deserves just as much focus. The 6’4″ Cuban right fielder has a powerful swing and a solid approach at the plate. While he may never hit .300, he is more than capable of producing an on-base percentage over .370 in his first full season, as the 23-year-old sets himself up for tremendous opportunities to succeed. The biggest issue for Soler has been his inability to stay healthy, as the 2014 gave him the most plate appearances of his brief career when he reached 333 plate appearances over four levels, including 97 with Chicago. While everyone jumps at Bryant, do yourself a favor and grab Soler, who, if healthy, is likely to outproduce Bryant due to starting at the major league level on Day One.

Offseason Overview: The Cubs made several additions this winter. They added OF Dexter Fowler in a deal with Houston, 2B Tommy La Stella in a deal with Atlanta, re-signed RHP Jason Hammel, bought low on former All-Star catcher Miguel Montero, and, of course, made the huge splash in free agency by signing LHP Jon Lester. The Cubs made simple additions to improve their roster, teaming up the veterans with the superb group of young talent on hand. Now, Chicago has a more than capable leadoff hitter in Fowler (career .366 OBP) to set the stage for SS Starlin Castro, 1B Anthony Rizzo, Soler, and Montero in the meat of the order, with more help on the way if/when Bryant and Javier Baez are ready in the next month or so. Oh yeah…they got one of the best managers in baseball, as well.

The Verdict: To jump from 76-86 to 82-80 doesn’t seem like a big deal, but that would put the club in 2nd place in the division (based on PECOTA projections). This team is capable of a few more games than that, especially if they have consistency out of Rizzo, Castro, Fowler, and Soler. With utility-man Arismendy Alcantara filling a Ben Zobrist role, the Cubs have enough depth on the major league roster and within their system to overcome some injuries. Additionally, they have the talent to improve at mid-season, as 2014 MLB Draft pick Kyle Schwarber could be a highly-coveted bat at the deadline. This may not be the year, but the Cubs are on the rise, and they’ll be on the rise for the next several years.

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