Analyzing Chicago Cubs Hitters For 2020

Tim Jackson examines a stocked Cubs lineup to see how they'll stack up for fantasy baseball in 2020.

The core hitters on the Cubs helped the team register as the 11th-best offense in the major leagues last year, with a wRC+ of 102. The others were lackluster and didn’t provide much complement to the stars. Small-ish injuries to the likes of Javier Báez and Anthony Rizzo kept them from further padding their counting stats but their track records don’t yet indicate that we should be concerned with their health in the preseason. They’re still elite or close to it.

The club appears to have assumed a period of transition with trade rumors circling Kris Bryant and others. Such a move would likely bring back lesser talent at the behest of cutting what team officials have deemed to be exorbitant roster costs. That kind of move could also bring down the productivity of others who stick around, making it a situation worth monitoring through the winter. For now, they remain a stocked offense.

 

Roster Changes

 

Hitter Previews

 

Catchers

 

Willson Contreras (C | Batting 5th)

2019: 57 R, 24 HR, 64 RBI, 3 SB, .272/.355/.533 | C #7

2020 ADP: 135.5 (C #4)

 

Willson Contreras seems to be a solid lock to be drafted after some combination of JT Realmuto, Gary Sánchez, and Yasmani Grandal. He’s sitting in the heart of an order that’s locked and ready to go, and is set up to get a lion’s share of the playing time. If you’re in on drafting any catcher as opposed to whoever falls to you, all of that is relevant. So is the fact that he hits it in the air 2.5 ticks harder than league average. That’s helped him to a wRC+ of at least 122 in 3 of the last 4 years, making those counting stats reliable.

Contreras and the three years of club control that come with him make him a candidate to be traded. Recent history tells us that most clubs view catcher as a fungible position but Contreras will bring the same skillset wherever he ends up. Whether he’s in a more or less productive lineup could mean you approach him differently. If you take him, he’ll be a set-it-and-forget-it option, if an unexciting one. Just make sure you don’t get lulled into it in the middle rounds as I did in the PL staff mock.

 

Strengths: R, RBI, OBP, SLG

Weaknesses: SB

 

Best-Case Scenario

 

The team keeps him and the likes of Kris Bryant, making him a steady, upper-tier option for you behind the plate.

 

Worst-Case Scenario

 

The HR/FB rate sinks back down to earth in a less productive lineup and you could’ve waited much longer to grab an alternative who produces similarly.

2020 Projection: 50 R, 16 HR, 55 RBI, 1 SB, .257/.342/.457

 

Infielders

 

Anthony Rizzo (1B | Batting 1st)

2019: 89 R, 27 HR, 94 RBI, 5 SB, .293/.405/.520 | 1B #11

2020 ADP: 99.0 (1B #4)

 

Anthony Rizzo‘s 2019 saw him tally 180+ total runs and RBI for the 4th time in the last 5 years. He did it in his fewest games since 2014, finishing as 1b #11 per ESPN’s player rater. He’s projected for a similar performance with slightly more power by Steamer for 2020. He’ll likely stick at the top of the lineup for the Cubs but still deal with the occasional back stiffness that could keep him out of a handful of games once or twice a year.

Rizzo will play most of the coming season at age 30. His exit velocity on balls in the air has also gone down each of the last two years and sat just below average last year. We know at this point that aging curves are more like aging drop-offs—guys tend to break into the major leagues at their peak and go downhill from there — so maybe these are notes we can keep in the backs of our heads in drafts this year. That said, first base runs about 10 deep, and his upside is in the top half of that. His production is nearly automatic at this point.

 

Strengths: R, RBI, AVG, OBP, SLG

Weaknesses: None

 

Best-Case Scenario

 

He stays healthy and barrels up the ball with more regularity at the top of a lineup which sees him stock up on counting stats, making him a worthwhile add after you’ve set the rest of your core.

 

Worst-Case Scenario

 

Tiny injuries add up a little more, the skills look a little less fierce, and he falls a little short of paying off on the investment you made.

 

2020 Projection: 98 R, 32 HR, 99 RBI, 6 SB, .284/.388/.522

 

David Bote (2B | Batting 8th)

2019: 47 R, 11 HR, 41 RBI, 5 SB, .252/.362/.422 | 2B #52

2020 ADP: Undrafted (Unranked)

 

David Bote is currently penciled in as Chicago’s starting second baseman but as only registering about half the season’s games. The team has Nico Hoerner in the wings and, between him and the possible versatility of Javier Báez, it’s hard to imagine Bote sticking all year as the team’s near-primary keystone option. However, should the Cubs trade one of their stars, Bote probably plugs that hole. He can take a walk but puts the ball on the ground a bunch and always has. Barring a skill development or change in approach, his positional versatility is his greatest asset, if we can call it that.

 

Strengths: R

Weaknesses: AVG, SLG

 

Best-Case Scenario

 

Bote pads his stats because of a trade that results in him seeing a ton of playing time. He’s still not super relevant for most fantasy baseball purposes.

Worst-Case Scenario

 

He struggles early and is relegated to the bench, making him fantasy irrelevant.

 

2020 Projection: 41 R, 11 HR, 42 RBI, 4 SB, .241/.323/.404

 

Kris Bryant (3B | Batting 2nd)

2019: 108 R, 31 HR, 77 RBI, 4 SB, .273/.382/.521 | 3B #13

2020 ADP: 50.5 (3B #6)

 

When all is said and done, Kris Bryant may be the player who most defines the Cubs 2019-20 offseason and 2020 season. He’s the one who finds himself at the heart of trade rumors for a team that has been crying poor since citing Jason Heyward‘s contract — which they negotiated and offered in 2015 — as an obstacle to financial wherewithal.

When Bryant is on the field and healthy we know what he’s about. He’s a premier talent at the hot corner who will contribute in most major categories. That said, he hasn’t topped 77 RBI since 2016, and that might be the lone thing keeping him from ranking higher at an embarrassingly deep position. Whether that’s because of injury or where he’s hitting in the lineup, it might be a tidbit worth stashing away. Still, it certainly shouldn’t be one that keeps you from popping around the late 4th or early 5th round to make him an integral part of your team.

 

Strengths: R, HR, OBP, SLG

Weaknesses: None

 

Best-Case Scenario

 

Bryant stays in Chicago and reaps the benefits of batting at the top of one of the league’s best offenses, making him a cozy option at third base for you.

 

Worst-Case Scenario

 

It’s hard to imagine one outside of another major injury.

 

2020 Projection: 101 R, 31 HR, 91 RBI, 4 SB, .273/.377/.508

 

Javier Báez (SS | Batting 3rd)

2019: 89 R, 29 HR, 85 RBI, 14 SB, .281/.316/.531 | SS #14

2020 ADP: 34.2  (SS #6)

 

Javier Báez found himself at the center of a heated debate last draft season. Should fantasy players buy into his complete package production from 2018 or should they temper expectations as his plate discipline prevents him from repeating such feats? Regardless of what managers chose, Báez delivered with just as much might in 2019. The only difference was, he managed just 138 games because of a hairline fracture in his left thumb, instead of 160 like the year before.

For nearly every player you have to assume health for the season, so Báez didn’t let you down outside of his playing time last year. The way he makes his plate discipline — or lack thereof — work in his favor is a marvel. He’s hit more and more grounders each of the last three years, reaching 1.59 grounders per flyball hit last year. That might be one curiosity worth monitoring as the season starts, but he provides no reason right now that should give you pause in taking him at the back end of the second round or later. He can be a five-category stud.

 

Strengths: Everything

Weaknesses: Nothing

 

Best-Case Scenario

 

There are no residual effects from his broken thumb, he corrals his plate discipline a tad, and puts more balls in the air on his way to becoming perhaps the most valuable shortstop you could draft.

 

Worst-Case Scenario

 

He gets off to a slow start, possibly because of his thumb injury from last year. The stolen bags slowly dissipate. His plate discipline and groundballs make him a relative disappointment for where you took him.

 

2020 Projection: 81 R, 32 HR, 95 RBI, 14 SB, .272/.313/.507

 

Outfielders

 

Kyle Schwarber (LF | Batting 4th)

2019: 82, 38 HR, 92 RBI, 2 SB, .250/.339/.531 | OF #37

2020 ADP: 165.8 (OF #46)

 

Kyle Schwarber was simply a different, much better player once he was moved out of the leadoff spot at the end of July. He hit .301 and had an OPS above 1.000. He hit 16 homers in 56 games, with a HR/FB rate (28.1%) that would’ve put him in the top-10 of all of baseball over a full season. He also scooped up nearly 80 runs and RBI in that time, too. Maybe it was an extended hot streak — we’re really only talking about two months here — or maybe it was a move that helped Schwarber to a more relaxed, engaged process. The evidence we have says lineup position doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of production but that data can’t speak to the comfort a player feels.

Schwarber’s current Steamer projection sees a remarkably similar 2020 in store. His current ADP puts him in 4th outfielder territory, but his numbers say he’s going to be more than that. He’s available in the 13th and worth snapping up then.

 

Strengths: R, HR, RBI, SLG

Weaknesses: SB

 

Best-Case Scenario

 

Post-leadoff spot Schwarber is the new Schwarber and he’s a relative steal given the production he creates for your team.

 

Worst-Case Scenario

 

The HR/FB rate that quietly helped him knock 38 bombs last year drops back to his career rate around 24%. He sticks at the top of the lineup and stays prone to extended hot and cold streaks.

 

2020 Projection: 83 R, 36 HR, 90 RBI, 4 SB, .253/.353/.527

 

Ian Happ (CF | Batting 7th)

2019: 25, 11 HR, 30 RBI, 2 SB, .264/.333/.564 | OF #142

2020 ADP: Undrafted  

 

Ian Happ currently stands as Chicago’s primary center fielder. His track record of struggling at a new level but eventually adjusting hasn’t quite replicated itself in the major leagues. Despite being projected for more than 120 games, he’s only projected to be above average in slugging. Though he has past pedigree he’s likely not worth anything but a flier in drafts before the season.

 

Strengths: SLG

Weaknesses: Most everything else

 

Best-Case Scenario

 

Happ garners even more playing time because of skill growth that makes him a solid bench bat or 3rd OF for your squad.

 

Worst-Case Scenario

 

He’s figured out even more by opposing pitchers, rendering him to the bench on the Cubs and the waiver wire in your league.

 

2020 Projection: 65 R, 22 HR, 67 RBI, 8 SB, .238/.332/.444

 

Jason Heyward (CF | Batting 6th)

2019: 78 R, 21 HR, 62 RBI, 8 SB, .251/.343/.429 | OF #56

2020 ADP: Undrafted 

 

Last season, Jason Heyward hit 20+ home runs for the first time since 2012. A total of 14 of his 21 bombs came before July. He started the year avoiding his worst attack angles and instead was better at waiting for pitches he could drive. By the end of the season, though, he still produced almost as many grounders as he always does and registered a wRC+ that marked him as definitively average. He’ll still tally up runs based on who’s hitting in front of him and take walks, but he’s not someone you need to consider in the preseason.

 

Strengths: R, OBP

Weaknesses: RBI

 

Best-Case Scenario

 

He taps into what helped him to such a successful first half last year and replicates it all season. His power elevates his overall value to starter status for your squad.

 

Worst-Case Scenario

 

He hits more grounders and returns to hitting it weakly in the air when he does elevate. You don’t even chase him for starts on other starters’ off days.

 

2020 Projection: 73 R, 17 HR, 70 RBI, 7 SB, .261/.342/.419

 

Playing Time Battles

 

The Cubs have had a quiet offseason. A trade of one of their stars could open up playing time for one of the lesser in-house talents mentioned above or one acquired in a given deal. Nico Hoerner is set to start the season in the minors but his strong debut may put him in the fast lane to the majors. His contact-based approach could yield more results down the road if allowed to develop a bit more in the minors. Albert AlmoraTony Kemp, and Victor Caratini will come off the bench but none offer specific skill sets right now that might aid them to regular playing time.

 

Projected Lineup

Cubs Lineup vs. LHP
Cubs Lineup v. RHP

Conclusion

 

The first 5 hitters in the Cubs lineup are as intimidating as any in all of baseball, making them worthy adds throughout the draft. They offer high ceilings and high floors. Options after that are uncertain or lackluster. The possibility of a major trade still looms, which could take some of the sheen off the other stars, from a fantasy perspective. The Cubs have a lot of balls in the air, but they’re still going to boast a handful of the top fantasy contributors.

Photo by Mark Alberti/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)

Tim Jackson

Tim Jackson is a writer and educator who loves pitching duels. Find him Going Deep for PitcherList and on Twitter @_TimJackson.

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