Fantasy Breakdown: Chicago Cubs for 2021

A preview of the Chicago Cubs lineup, rotation, and bullpen for 2021.

As we prepare for the season ahead, the Pitcher List staff will be creating profiles for every fantasy-relevant player for 2021. Players will be broken up by team and role through starting pitchers, bullpen, lineup, and prospects. You can access every article as it comes out in our Player Profiles 2021 hub here.

 

At A Glance

 

The Chicago Cubs signaled that they were transitioning towards a rebuild at the end of their abbreviated 2020 campaign, and nothing that has happened this off-season has suggested a change of heart. The recent off-loading of ace and Cy Young candidate Yu Darvish for a package centered around a group of teenagers, coupled with a lack of movement to fill increasingly noteworthy holes means that this Cubs team is a shell of the 2016 champions and the group that has been a perennial divisional contender over the last six seasons. They will benefit from the fact that the NL Central isn’t likely to be a hyper-competitive division in 2021, but will struggle to muster up much of a playoff charge.

From a fantasy standpoint, there are still some obvious targets up and down the Cubs lineup, and some intriguing bounce-back and late-round flier potentials. With the club electing not to move any of their premier hitting assets (at least at time of press), the Cubs still boast a formidable batting order – at least, in name and pedigree. The club figures to bring back a significant chunk of a middling bullpen, but its current rotation projects to be one of the worst in the league in 2021. It is possible that they fill out that rotation with an upside free agent – but it is equally likely that what you currently see is that you will get with the Cubs. As such, their lineup is hardly chock full of the hot commodities it once featured.

 

Hitters

 

Projected Lineup

 

Infielders

 

Javier Baez (SS)

2020: 27 R, 8 HR, 24 RBI, 3 SB, .203/.238/.360 | SS # 23

2021 ADP: 71.6 (SS #11)

Javier Baez had a 2020 to forget, and with free agency a year away, 2021 is a big prove-it year for the 28-year old. Once considered one of the top performers at his position, there are many in the industry who are down on Baez’s fantasy outlook in 2021. An increased K-rate and weaker power numbers are something to note, but it’s also worth mentioning that he had some bad luck in terms of BABIP and HR/FB%. If that comes back up to expected career outputs, it’s not unreasonable to expect a return to .250, 30 home run territory. With his current ADP, this is a player to be targeting if he drops further into the middle rounds.

Shortstop is a crowded position around where Baez is ranked, but early returns are seeing him as a fringe starter in a 12-team league. That seems to be buying extremely-low; when comparing him to a Marcus Semien, Carlos Correa, or Dansby Swanson, it’s hard not to prefer the upside that Baez represents. You may not get the ratio numbers you’d prefer, and he may no longer run like he once did, but this is still a top-8 shortstop in the league on talent-alone.

 

Kris Bryant (3B, OF)

2020: 20 R, 4 HR, 11 RBI, 0 SB, .206/.293/.351 | 3B #20

2021 ADP: 136.6 (3B #16)

Once a perennial MVP candidate, Kris Bryant has seen his stock fall off of a cliff in the years since the club’s title run. While a promising 2019 provided some hope for a bounce-back, the shortened 2020 campaign – which was exacerbated by a variety of injuries to the hand and wrist – was a painful step-back. With free agency only a few years away, Bryant is another player to eye as a potential middle-round bounce-back candidate. This could all be complicated further by a trade, the possibility of which has been floated for much of the off-season. Moving to a contender could see a bump in Bryant’s viability, based on the supporting cast alone. 

Still, it’s tough to imagine him returning a sub-150 value, based on pedigree and ability. Considering that he’s being drafted below the likes of Alec Bohm, Gio Urshela, and Jeff McNeil, Bryant is going to be tempting as a CI option when you get to the middle rounds. He’s another potential steal.

 

Anthony Rizzo (1B)

2020: 26 R, 11 HR, 24 RBI, 3 SB, .222/.368/.457 | 1B #9

2021 ADP: 96.48 (1B #10)

Another Cub who had a 2020 to forget, Anthony Rizzo enters his 10th season with the team as a veteran voice in a transitioning lineup. Although his numbers suggest a precipitous fall from once-lofty heights, large drop-offs in BABIP and wOBA against career numbers suggest that an upswing could well be in order. Much of this will depend on how the Cubs choose to move forward with their lineup, but if it stays intact as we are currently charting it, then there is a real possibility for a return to form in his counting stats.

Rizzo is still a good player and is still someone you can be positive about as a mid-round 1B option. He should be considered in the same tier as Paul Goldschmidt, Matt Olson, and Pete Alonso, while perhaps not representing quite as much power potential as the latter two. You know what you’re getting with a guy like Rizzo, and you can plug-and-play as a starter at a position that seems deeper than in recent years.

 

Willson Contreras (C)

2020: 37 R, 7 HR, 26 RBI, 1 SB, .243/.342/.436 | C #4

2021 ADP: 132.82 (C #4)

Working out a position that is traditionally the most sparse in terms of fantasy value, Willson Contreras is likely to be among the most noteworthy of the Cubs’ fantasy players in 2021. At 28 years old, he is firmly in his prime, and while his 2020 numbers were a drop-off (when extrapolated), they weren’t nearly as vertiginous as some of his teammates. The club’s trading away of Victor Caratini means that Contreras will see even more plate opportunities this year, so you can expect him to get into a solid groove in the middle of what is still a strong lineup.

Expect him to go in the clutch of catchers from numbers 3 to 9, with a stats profile that should trend on the upper-end of that grouping. While he isn’t likely to touch J.T. Realmuto’s level, he is more reliable across the board than Gary Sanchez or Travis d’Arnaud, and is still on the younger side of 30, unlike Yasmani Grandal or Sal Perez. Contreras will be a hot commodity in your draft and could be worth reaching for in a round-or-two ahead of his current ADP.

 

Nico Hoerner (2B, SS)

2020: 19 R, 0 HR, 13 RBI, 3SB, .222/.312/.259 | 2B NA

2021 ADP: 518.7 (2B #53)

Coming of age at a time when the Cubs are on the down-swing, Nico Hoerner represents an intriguing late-round flier, particularly if his position in the lineup is secured. There is much talk of playing him in the outfield, despite his experience as a middle-infield prospect. While he offers virtually zero power potential, the speed profile and possibility of a regular line-up position make him someone to add to a watch-list.

 

Outfielders

 

Ian Happ (OF)

2020: 27 R, 12 HR, 28 RBI, 1 SB, .258/.347/.457 | OF #41

2021 ADP: 162.1 (OF #44)

Ian Happ was probably the most exciting Cub to track in 2020, and could very well have been a late-round difference maker in your fantasy lineup. He continued his positive upward trajectory, with numbers that tracked at 30+ Home Runs and 85+ RBI across a full season. He has worked to improve his plate patience in recent years and has eliminated much of his soft contact. Despite hitting at the top of the Cubs lineup, he is not a speed option, and much of his Runs potential out of that spot is dependent on how the team’s batting order looks on opening day.

You could do a lot worse than Happ as your #4/5 OF in a standard 12-team league. He very well could return top-25 OF value in 2021, given lineup opportunity and age-expected growth. While his lack of speed doesn’t make him an ideal top-of-the-lineup option for David Ross… there are few in the order who offer anything better.

 

Jason Heyward (OF)

2020: 20 R, 6 HR, 22 RBI, 2 SB, .265/.392/.456 | OF #62

2021 ADP: 441.9 (OF #107)

While he has done well over the past two seasons to regain relevance in the Cubs batting order, Jason Heyward does not figure to be a fantasy-relevant player in 2021. He simply does not create separation in any fantasy categories, nor does he rack up significant counting stats so as to be relevant in points leagues. Steer clear of him unless absolutely desperate in deep 15-team leagues. 

 

David Bote (OF, 2B, 3B)

2020: 15 R, 7 HR, 29 RBI, 2 SB, .200/.334/.416 | 2B #37

2021 ADP: 518.7 (2B #53)

David Bote hasn’t been a fantasy-relevant player at any point in his three-year career, and it’s unlikely that will change in 2021. He will likely start in the outfield and could see platoon time at second with young Nico Hoerner, as well as time spelling off Kris Bryant at 3B. He could be made more fantasy relevant in the event that Bryant or another key infielder gets dealt, as that would see his play-time locked in and his batting order position improved.

 

Watch List Considerations

 

PJ Higgins (C) – With Victor Caratini moving to San Diego, Higgins figures to be the guy at back-up catcher. He figures to spell off Contreras semi-regularly and is a decent spot-start option who could grow.

Max Schrock (INF) – A waiver pick-up from the rival Cardinals, Schrock has speed potential and could see time as a platoon starter or pinch-runner.

 

Starting Pitchers

 

Kyle Hendricks (Locked In Starter)

2020: 6-5, 81.1 IP, 64 K, 2.88 ERA, 0.99 WHIP | SP #13

2021 ADP: 90.2 (P# 34)

Repertoire: 54.5% Fastball, 28.9% Changeup

With the departure of Yu Darvish to greener pastures, Kyle Hendricks becomes the nailed-on ace for the Cubs once again. Entering his eighth season with the club, Hendricks remains what he always has been – a reliable, non-flashy source of competitive games, low ERA, and WHIP. Though he will never be the guy to put you over the top in Strikeouts, he is an excellent ratios pitcher to slot alongside some flamethrowers. Expect his W-L to suffer alongside the club’s rebuild, but his underlying metrics suggest he is every bit as effective entering the coming season as he has ever been.

Our venerable Pitcher List had him ranked 33rd in its first 2021 iteration, right around the likes of young bucks Jesus Luzardo and Chris Paddack, and wily veterans Zack Greinke and Charlie Morton. Hendricks’ role as the Cubs ace means that he will get a few more opportunities than those four, and his profile still nets out at the higher end of what a Greinke or a Morton is likely to offer. Consider him as an option in the late-20’s.

 

Zach Davies (Locked In Starter)

2020: 7-4, 69.1 IP, 63 SO, 2.73 ERA, 1.067 WHIP | SP #12

2021 ADP: 224.8 (P# 81)

Repertoire: 41.3% Changeup, 38.5% Fastball, 17.3% Cutter

One could argue that, at least from an opportunity standpoint, Zach Davies is going from the outhouse to the penthouse. While his 2020 season – in which he was the 12th ranked pitcher in ESPN 12-teams – was the best of his career, he was staring down a low-rotation spot in San Diego in 2021. A move to Chicago will see him slot in firmly as the club’s #2, and he should see 160+ innings as a result. Much like Hendricks, Davies isn’t a strikeout pitcher, and his Win-Loss will suffer from the club’s likely mediocrity – but he is also a strong ratios candidate, particularly in the late rounds.

Look for his ADP to rise with the new opportunity that his Cubs’ role will represent. The first iteration of The List had him ranked squarely at SP #100, with a fair word of warning from our own Nick Pollack:

  • I know Zach Davies had a crazy good year with that changeup, but I just don’t buy that it’ll stick through all of 2021, let alone be there again in April. I hope so, but I just don’t buy it.

As Nick states, don’t expect a replica of 2020 from Davies. His changeup will be adjusted to, and he simply doesn’t have a diverse enough arsenal to make hitters miss if that pitch isn’t nailed on in 2021. Still, with how similar the profiles (and faces) of Davies and Hendricks are, maybe the influence of the staff ace can help steer the young Davies in the right direction.

 

Alec Mills (Likely Starter)

2020: 5-5, 62.1 IP, 46 SO, 4.48 ERA, 1.15 WHIP | SP # 61

2021 ADP: 444.3 (P #170)

Repertoire: 59.0% Fastball, 15.9% Changeup, 15.0% Curveball

Having transitioned into a starting role towards the end of 2020, Alec Mills figures to be a middle-rotation option for the Cubs in 2021. His numbers – and his stuff – are unremarkable, and it is unlikely that he will be fantasy relevant, beyond the odd streaming start. He allows a lot of hard contact and simply doesn’t strike out enough batters (6.64 K/9) to figure as a long-term solution in this shallow rotation

 

Adbert Alzolay (Fringe Starter)

2020: 1-1, 21.1 IP, 29 SO, 2.95 ERA, 1.172 WHIP | SP NA

2021 ADP: 357.2 (P #140)

Repertoire: 52.2% Fastball, 33.9% Curveball

Adbert Alzolay represents an intriguing upside-option in the Cubs rotation, particularly given the opportunity he’s likely to get. He added sinking action to his Fastball in 2020 and saw some real improvement in his big league stats. He induced a lot of ground balls in 2020 (43.2%), which isn’t traditionally part of his repertoire – but if he manages to continue on his upward trajectory, he represents a compelling option for David Ross, and a guy to keep an eye on as an early-season add

 

Watch List Considerations

 

Brailyn Marquez – Was given his first taste of the Bigs in 2020, despite never pitching above High-A. Unlikely to get another shot in 2021, but is the club’s best pitching prospect, and is worth consideration in dynasty leagues and on your watch list

Cory Abbott – The most-likely call-up in the event the club needs a starter, Abbott has shown well in the Minors, and has some good off-speed stuff

 

Relief Pitchers

 

 

Craig Kimbrel (Closer)

2020: 2 SV, 3 HLD, 15.1 IP, 28 K, 5.28 ERA, 1.43 WHIP | RP #165

2021 ADP: 218.4 (P# 78)

Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Once considered one of the most fearsome closing arms in the game, Craig Kimbrel has quite simply failed to live up to the expectation heaped on him when he signed his three-year deal prior to Spring Training 2019. Having thus far only pitched 35 Innings in a Cubs jersey, it may be unfair to fully judge his efficacy – but stats don’t tend to lie. His Z-Swing% was precipitous in 2020, and his 12.9% Swinging Strike rate is the lowest of his career. Package that with his recent injury history, and you have a ‘closer’ who you should likely stay away from on draft day.

 

Rowan Wick (Set-Up)

2020: 4 SV, 5 HLD, 17.1 IP, 20 K, 3.12 ERA, 1.38 WHIP | RP #119

2021 ADP: 577.4 (P# 223)

Rowan Wick has easily been the best arm in the Cubs bullpen over the past couple of years, and he seems the natural candidate to replace Kimbrel in the event his compatriot is hit around or injured once again. Though he doesn’t induce a tremendous amount of swinging strikes (10.7% rate in 2020), Wick is usually able to avoid hard contact thanks in large part to efficient off-speed stuff. He can be considered in Holds leagues as well, as his role in the late-innings is locked in.

 

Watch List Considerations

 

Jonathan Holder – Signed from the Yankees in the off-season. Likely to start the year in AAA, but could see a call-up as an early injury replacement. More of a Set-Up/Middle-Inning guy than a potential closer

Dan Winkler30-year-old with an efficient pitch mix, very much a Holds consideration from the get-go.

 

ADP data taken from NFBC ADP composite ADPs.

2020 Positional Rankings from Razzball’s 12-team Player Rater (ESPN).

Daniel MacDonald

Daniel is a graduate of the University of Edinburgh, Scotland (2014), and has carried his love of baseball drama and storytelling across oceans and continents. He remembers exactly where he was sitting and what he was wearing when Kerry Wood struck out 20. You can find him talking baseball and music on Twitter @danthemacs

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Account / Login