Today, we continue along in the National League Central to discuss potential opportunities for prospects to earn starting jobs at positions currently manned by a player at risk of losing his job if his poor play continues. We’ll move on with the Cubs.
At Risk: Jason Kipnis
Replacement: Nico Hoerner
The Cubs signed veteran Jason Kipnis to a minor league contract back in February and our Roster Resource page thinks he’ll open the season as the team’s second baseman against right-handers. That’s no guarantee, of course, and even if he did, he might not hold it for long. He hasn’t posted a wOBA above .308 since 2016, though his defense has been above average over the past two seasons.
Nico Hoerner is the obvious replacement candidate as the team’s top prospect. But he has his own issues:
- He hasn’t played above Double-A
- He only walked 7.1% of the time at that level.
- He has no power — his ISO was just .116 at Double, with a 3.6% HR/FB rate
The only positive here is that he strikes out infrequently (10.5% at Double-A) and supported by a low SwStk% of 6.1%. Given all that contact, small steps forward could result in a real performance spike. He does have some speed, having swiped eight bases at Double-A in what amounted to half a season. It seems though that given his versatility and high contact approach, he’s a better real-life prospect than potential fantasy contributor, at least in the near-term.
At Risk: Albert Almora Jr.
Replacement: Ian Miller
Coming off a .271 wOBA and below average defense in center field, Albert Almora Jr. shouldn’t have a firm grip on center field at-bats. Sure, the better than average strikeout rate is good, but it comes along with a weak walk rate. The home run power spike is nice, but his ISO was identical to his 2017 level when his HR/FB rate was barely in double digits. So he wasn’t actually contributing more offensively, just turning doubles into homers.
At age 28, Ian Miller isn’t your typical prospect. But he’s only earned 17 plate appearances at the Major League level, so perhaps he’ll have more of an opportunity this season. He was already added to the team’s 60-man player pool. He’s been at Triple-A three seasons now, so you would hope he would have mastered that level. His walk rate hit a career high, while his strikeout rate has remained just above 18%. His power also spiked, as his HR/FB rate just missed double digits for the first time, while his ISO was closer to .200 than .100 for the first time. Previously his career high ISO was just .105. Last, he continues to show excellent speed, swiping 35 bases. It’s hard to know whether the power spike would translate, but he appears to have some solid all-around skills, making him worth paying attention to.
At Risk: Tyler Chatwood
Replacement: Adbert Alzolay
As a ground ball pitcher, Tyler Chatwood continues to get chances, and excellent defensive support has allowed him to typically outperform his SIERA, even though he spent most of his career in Colorado. But with poor control and a well below average strikeout rate, that ERA implosion could come at any time, just like it did in 2018, his first year with the Cubs.
It wasn’t a very enjoyable cup of coffee for Adbert Alzolay, who debuted with the Cubs last season and posted a 7.30 ERA/5.55 SIERA over 12.1 innings. The sample size is too tiny to care. What we do care about is his performance at Triple-A. There, his strikeout rate spiked over 30%, literally doubling from his 15.8% mark posted at the same level the season prior. His walk rate took a hit, but that’s fine when you’re striking out that many more hitters. His SwStk% also surged to 13.4%, after being stuck in single digits. He’s an extreme fly ball pitcher, which makes him the polar opposite of Chatwood. It would be kind of funny if Alzolay did replace Chatwood. Extreme fly ballers are risky, as the risk of a three-homers allowed affair is always on the table. But at least those fly balls should lead to a suppressed BABIP.
Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.