It’s time for our Depth Chart Discussions to begin. In an effort to suss out every team, we’ve divided them into four parts (infield, outfield, bullpen, and rotation) and will begin breaking them down for you over the next few weeks. You can find them gathered here.
The Chicago Cubs outfield doesn’t have a single player in the top 30 fantasy outfielders here at Rotographs, but that’s certainly not to say they don’t have anything to offer to fantasy owners. In fact, one of my favorite fantasy prospects will be the everyday right fielder, and there’s a couple other options for NL-only leagues on the north side.
Let’s start with Jorge Soler, who sits at No. 34 in our fantasy outfield rankings. The 23-year-old Cuban missed chunks of time in both 2013 and 2014, and as a result, only logged 636 minor-league plate appearances before his call-up in late August. Ordinarily, when a prospect misses that much time, one would expect some bumps in the road.
Not so for Soler, who crushed his way through the minors to the tune of a .305/.384/.548 slash line. He didn’t just maintain his production levels as he reached the high minors — he kept putting up better and better numbers. Last year, between Double-A and Triple-A, Soler hit .331/.422/.709. That’s a 1.131 OPS. His bat produced 22 singles, compared to 36 extra-base hits.
I did a pretty extensive write-up on Soler about ten days before he got called up last year. In that piece, I expressed my confusion regarding his plummeting prospect status in the media, and identified him as a blow-up-the-FAAB candidate for fantasy purposes. I expected big things, and that’s exactly what I got. Soler hit a robust .292/.330/.573 in 24 games with the Cubs, again producing more extra-base hits (14) than singles (12).
As our experts have it, Soler is a third outfielder in standard 12-team leagues. If that’s where he’s being valued in my drafts and auctions this year, I’m going to end up owning him in every league. There are legitimate concerns with Soler — including injuries — but I think his massive upside is well worth the risk.
While he has had nagging injuries each of the last two years, it hasn’t been anything that leads me to label him as injury-prone. (Last year, for instance, he missed time due to a hamstring strain that didn’t recover terribly quickly.) His .339 BABIP from last year’s major-league cup of coffee may seem unsustainable…but then you realize he had a .333 BABIP in the minors, and maybe last year’s small sample isn’t as flukey as it seems.
Steamer has Soler pegged for a .295 BABIP and a 7.2% walk rate. I’d take the over on both of those numbers in a heartbeat. You know what? I’ll take the over on that projected .262/.318/.470 slash too. Steamer’s 24-homer projection sounds reasonable, but it would be far from a surprise if Soler launched 30+ bombs in a healthy season.
In any given season, every analyst is considerably higher or lower on a few guys than the consensus opinion. It’s part of what makes fantasy analysis so fun. I’ve been way higher on Soler than most people for quite some time now, and I’m all-in on him for 2015.
If I can really get him for the borderline top-36 OF price that our experts project, I’ll be ecstatic. If I have to pay top-24 OF price for him, I’ll probably do it. You don’t win fantasy leagues playing it safe, and the upside here is through the roof. Jorge Soler is a beast, and my 2015 expectations for him are as follows: Eat, sleep, conquer, repeat.
There are other players in the Cubs outfield, of course, but none of them have much mixed-league value. Dexter Fowler came in at No. 65 in our rankings. His mix of low double-digit homers and steals, combined with a 12.5% career walk rate, make him a solid option for those of you in OBP leagues. However, in standard formats, he just doesn’t really do anything well enough to be fantasy relevant outside of NL-only leagues.
Arismendy Alcantara doesn’t have a clearly defined role on the team, though he should still see plenty of playing time as a super-utility guy. Especially considering the recent speculation that he’ll be employed in a Ben Zobrist-type role, he’s worth discussing. I love the 23-year-old’s power/speed combination, but due to his inability to make contact in the majors last year (.205 AVG, 31.0% K-rate), he’ll have to show me some serious improvement in that department before I consider rostering him.
Chris Coghlan will usually start against righties in left field, and he’s coming off a .283/.352/.452 season. However, the injury-prone 29-year-old hadn’t produced anywhere near that level since his rookie year in 2009. His ceiling is probably pretty close to an average Dexter Fowler season, and he’ll ride the pine against lefties. There could be some NL-only value here, but nothing to get excited about.
Chris Denorfia joined the Cubs to share the left field job with Coghlan. Ryan Sweeney is still hanging around too. I don’t see either of them getting enough playing time to be fantasy-relevant. Taking a look at the minors, the organization’s best outfield prospects — Albert Almora and Billy McKinney — are both probably at least a year away from the majors.
Scott Strandberg started writing for Rotographs in 2013. He works in small business consultation, and he also writes A&E columns for The Norman Transcript newspaper. Scott lives in Seattle, WA.