Welcome to the annual series that provides both a review of your favorite teams’ 2016 season, as well as an early look toward 2017. It also serves as a helpful guide for keeper and dynasty leagues.
The Graduate: Willson Contreras (C): The change in Contreras’ fortunes changed dramatically during the 2015 season when he went from being a fringe-average hitter in his first five years to producing at elite levels for a catcher. That newfound success carried over into 2016 at the triple-A level and led to his promotion… and a key role on the World Series champions. The Yankees’ Gary Sanchez received a lot of attention for his season but Contreras had the second-best season by a catcher (minimum 150 at-bats) when looking at weighted runs created (126 wRC+). The only real cause for concern moving into 2017 would be his strikeout rate — which jumped 10% from triple-A to the majors (13.3 to 23.7%). The 24-year-old has additional fantasy value in some leagues due to his versatility; he appeared in 24 games in the outfield and even three at first base.
The Riser: Eloy Jimenez (OF): The Cubs doled a lot of cash on the international free agent market in 2013 to land the likes of Gleyber Torres and Jimenez. The former ended up in New York during the Aroldis Chapman deal but Jimenez remained and enjoyed a breakout season in his first year of full-season ball. He hit for both average (.329) and power (.204 ISO). He went deep just 14 times but the 20-year-old — who stands 6-4 — slugged 40 doubles and those are often indicators of future power potential. Jimenez’s biggest need is to be more patient at the plate after walking just 5.4% of the time in 2016. He’ll look to mirror his success while getting on base a little more consistently in 2017 as he moves up to high-A ball.
The Tumbler: Carson Sands (LHP): The Cubs ponied up more than $1 million to sign Sands away from a commitment to Florida State University in 2014. Upon turning pro, though, he lost 4-5 mph on his heater and his control has failed to improve as hoped. He walked 42 batters in 74.2 innings at the low-A ball level in 2016, which led to an ERA of 5.91. He had a strong start to the year but hit the disabled list in July and was not the same pitcher when he returned. He pitched to a 9.91 ERA in the second half of the season. The left-hander has a big, strong body so even if his stuff doesn’t find its previous form he could develop into a back-of-the-rotation innings-eater. A strong spring could push him up to high-A ball.
The ’16 Draft Pick: Bailey Clark (RHP): The Cubs had no first or second round pick in the 2016 draft and waited until the fifth round to find perhaps their best player selected. Clark has suffered through inconsistent velocity but when he’s at his best he can hit the upper 90s. His command and control both need work — as witnessed by his college numbers — but he didn’t walk a batter after turning pro (just 11.2 innings). He began his pro career as a starter but he’s probably more of a reliever long term due to the lack of a reliable third pitch and the aforementioned command/control issues. Look for the hard-thrower to open 2017 in low-A ball as a starter. He could move quickly if he continues to show improved control and/or moves permanently to the bullpen.
The Lottery Ticket: D.J. Wilson (OF): The Cubs have gambled on a number of toolsy/athletic high school outfielders in the draft in recent years with mixed results. Wilson, 20, was a fourth round pick in 2015 and had a promising season in ’16 by displaying blazing speed, which allowed him to swipe 21 bases in 64 games. Just 5-8, he has some pop in his bat, as witnessed by 15 of his 63 hits going for doubles. Like many young, left-handed hitters, Wilson struggled against southpaws last year and hit just .175 against them. He could be an impact defender in center field. Look for him to move up to full-season ball in 2017.
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