2017 Fantasy Baseball Draft Prep: Cubs outlook looks at the playing time for Kyle Schwarber, Javier Baez – CBSSports.com

Your 2016 World Champions bring back almost all of the same pieces in 2017. That should be terrifying for the rest of the league and maybe Fantasy owners too.

Generally when you make a run the way the
Chicago Cubs
just did, you do it on the back of several career years. In other words, you don’t necessarily expect everyone to repeat what they did the year before. While that’s true for some of the Cubs (I’m looking at you Kyle Hendricks), it’s also possible that their best hitters still haven’t had their best season.

There’s a great argument to be made that
Kris Bryant
has a 50-home run season in him at some point in his career.
Anthony Rizzo
is probably going to have a year where he posts a .400 OBP and scores 100 runs.
Addison Russell
is only 23 years old and just hit 20 home runs for the first time in his career. All that and we haven’t even mentioned the return of
Kyle Schwarber
, or the development of
Willson Contreras
Javier Baez
. Could this offense actually be better in 2017? I’d wager yes.

If that’s the case, the starting pitching doesn’t even have to be great for the Cubs to walk through the NL Central. That’s good because most of the regression in the pitching staff looks like it will be of the negative variety.
Wade Davis
should solidify the bullpen, but you could make an argument for almost everyone in the rotation being worse than they were in 2016.

Alt SP

Barring injury, who will get 600 PA in this lineup?

The Cubs possess more quality Fantasy options than most MLB teams and more upside than all of them. One detriment of all those players (and their insistence to play
Jon Jay
for his defense) is that playing time is a real question mark for more than half of their lineup. Bryant, Rizzo and Russell should all reach 600 PA if they stay healthy but I would take the under on everyone else.

Ben Zobrist
reached the mark in 2016 and
Jason Heyward
came close. With Zobrist turning 36 in May, I would give Heyward a better chance than Zobrist in 2017. That being said, I don’t think either will be far off the mark. While I expect Heyward’s performance to rebound (could it really be worse?), the most likely scenario sees at least a small dip in production from Zobrist. That could turn into a major decline if he hits the wall, which is always possible at this stage of his career.

A decline from Zobrist or continued struggles from Heyward are probably the only hopes for regular playing time for Javier Baez. Baez should still play enough to be NL-only relevant, but I wouldn’t expect much more than the 450 PA he saw in 2016 and it could be less. Willson Contreras also faces an uphill battle to 600, but with his catcher eligibility that isn’t really an issue. Which leads us to …

How soon (if at all) can we expect Kyle Schwarber to regain catcher eligibility?

Kyle Schwarber has an .831 OPS in his first 278 PA. He slugged .613 in two minor league seasons. He’s a huge Fantasy asset whether he catches or not. But if he reaches his offensive potential and obtains catcher eligibility? He may be worthy of a first round pick.

To be clear, Schwarber wants to catch. What the Cubs want is less clear, but the year after a major knee injury it’s difficult to imagine Schwarber as anything more than a backup at the position. But the Cubs already have a starter (Contreras) and a backup (
Miguel Montero
). That make it’s more likely that Schwarber spends a majority of his time in the outfield.

Barring an injury, I would be really surprised if Schwarber gains eligibility in April. May seems unlikely, but I would at least give him a 10 percent chance. June is probably the most likely month when you combine injury likelihood, pinch-hitting opportunities and the general strategy of National League baseball. With that in mind, I would draft Schwarber based on his offensive potential as an outfielder and consider catcher-eligibility an unexpected bonus.

There is at least a 50/50 chance that Schwarber does not obtain catcher eligibility all season without a major injury.

How many Cubs’ starters are No. 1 or No. 2 Fantasy pitchers?

The 2016 Chicago Cubs had no starting pitcher with an ERA over 3.83 and saw four different pitchers win at least 15 games. That makes sense in that the Cubs were elite defensively and won 103 games. While
Jon Lester
Jake Arrieta
are definitively top 20 Fantasy pitchers, last season’s circumstances do make it more difficult to project the others for 2017. I wouldn’t expect the inflated win totals to necessarily change, but the elite defense (and corresponding BABIP against) will likely regress.

Kyle Hendricks
that’s also going to mean a drop in last year’s 81.5 percent strand rate and a serious correction in ERA. Hendricks is not an innings eater and doesn’t move the needle in Ks. In other words, he must have elite ratios to be an elite Fantasy pitcher. With those ratios dropping into the simply “good” range, Hendricks will probably fall into the No. 3 starter category. It’s also worth noting that his low inning totals make him less likely to pile up huge win totals.

John Lackey
struggled with injuries in 2016, which isn’t all that odd for a 37-year-old pitcher. Now 38, he’ll need his uncharacteristic K rate (8.6 K/9) and absurdly low BABIP against (.255) from 2016 to hold in order for him to remain anywhere close to top 30. Lackey has had 13 consecutive seasons with at least 10 wins, and I would expect that to continue. I’m just not sure I would expect much more.