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Cubs Outfield: Depth Chart Discussions
Posted By Mike Petriello On February 26, 2013 @ 3:15 pm In Depth Chart Discussions | 9 Comments
Maybe it’s just the optimism that spring brings, but I’m starting to believe the Cubs could have some surprises in them this year. Between two young infield stars, an improving starting rotation, and a surprisingly adequate outfield, Chicago should take nice steps away from last year’s dumpster fire as Theo Epstein & Jed Hoyer continue their rebuilding project. Is that enough to get them into the playoff race? Probably not, but nor should one expect another 101-loss disaster.
Let’s dive deeper into that outfield, where despite numerous efforts to move him, Alfonso Soriano remains the incumbent in left field. (This is me praying the Yankees don’t trade for him to help replace Curtis Granderson before this post goes live.) Soriano has long been saddled by the massive contract that looked foolish from the day he signed it prior to 2007, but that has been somewhat of an unfair burden on him. Soriano has been good-to-very-good in four of the six years he’s been a Cub, and while lousy campaigns in 2009 & 2011 don’t help, he’s averaged 3.3 WAR/year with the team. If not worth the contract, he’s at least been a valuable contributor.
Soriano comes off an age-36 season that ranks among the best he’s had in years, topping 30 homers for the first time since 2007 and putting up the fifth-higest wRC+ of his career, along with surprisingly improved defense. This is the one time where fielding really does matter in fantasy, since it allows the Cubs to keep Soriano on the field more and might prevent him from being a strict DH if and when he’s moved. While it’s admittedly hard to bank on improvements from players in their late 30s, it’s reassuring that there are concrete reasons for Soriano’s productivity on both sides of the ball. On defense, Soriano attributed his increased contribution to the fact that he actually received outfield instruction from the coaching staff prior to the season — something which, shockingly, had never happened before.
On offense, having made it through mid-May without a single longball, Soriano was persuaded to switch to a lighter bat. He hit his first homer on May 15 and followed that with 31 more, along with a .551 SLG from that point on. ZiPS projects Soriano for 26 homers and 91 RBI, numbers which don’t at all seem unreasonable, and which represent good value from a guy who routinely has gone in the later rounds of drafts in recent seasons.
The other obvious starter in the Chicago outfield is DeJesus, who had a decent if unspectacular debut with the Cubs. He bounced back from a poor lone season in Oakland (96 wRC+) to get back up to a 104 wRC+, but he did it without managing to contribute double figures in either home runs or steals. I actually quite like the way Bradley Woodrum put it in FanGraphs+, saying that DeJesus is “more useful in a real outfield than a 5×5 one”. With the ability to play all over the outfield and provide some on-base skills, he’ll help the Cubs, but is waiver wire material in most leagues.
If DeJesus does have anything going for him, it’s that he’s likely to get plenty of playing time, since rookie Brett Jackson took his whiff-tastic minor-league ways to the bigs, striking out a shocking 41.5% of the time in 142 plate appearances. While that’s obviously a small sample and his first exposure to the bigs, this is going to be one time where I have to go against the relatively optimistic ZiPS forecast of 17 homers and 22 steals — scouting reports and his minor league track record both agree that contact is always going to be a huge problem for him, and I have to think that Jackson either sees more time in Triple-A or struggles badly to acclimate in Chicago. The power/speed package makes him worthwhile in dynasty leagues, but he shouldn’t be holding a roster spot in redrafts.
That takes us to right field and one of the more interesting prospective platoons in the game, lefty Nate Schierholtz and righty Scott Hairston. Schierholtz spent years in San Francisco (and briefly last season in Philadelphia) attempting to leverage his excellent defensive skills into a full-time job, but never quite made it happen. He’ll have his best shot in Chicago as the strong side of the platoon, though like DeJesus he should be more useful to the Cubs than he’d be to a fantasy team. Getting out of spacious AT&T park should help, but he’s never shown much power, speed, or plate discipline. At best, you’re maybe looking at 10-12 home runs and an average in the .260 range, which is fine but hardly that interesting. Only those in very deep leagues with the ability (and inclination) to manage the daily lineup changes should invest here.
Hairston is moderately more interesting because he at least brings power, crushing 20 longballs for the Mets last season and 95 over his career. He’s basically the definition of “one tool” in fantasy, however, since he doesn’t run much and has offered an OBP between .295-.307 in each of the last four years. Due to the power and the fact that he could see time spotting for DeJesus in center as well, Hairston might be of interest in NL-only leagues. It’s hard to recommend him highly, however.
Finally, the primary backup should be Dave Sappelt, who may win the job by default now that Tony Campana has been sent to Arizona. Sappelt has put up impressive offensive numbers in the minors and even in a brief stint with Chicago last year, but with playing time likely to be limited and little to indicate he’s more than a Quad-A type, he has little fantasy relevance.
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