Cubs Fantasy, Risky & High Potential
Kyle Schwarber & Addison Russell
When scouting experts discuss prospects, they will refer to a players ceiling and floor with the ceiling being how good he can be and the floor bring the lowest amount of productivity a prospect should provide. With Kyle Schwarber's breakout last year in such a small sample size (278 PA's) he could be the best Cubs fantasy pick (his WRC+ of 131 is comparable to both Rizzo & Bryant) and I hate to admit, but he could also be one of the worse.
The bad news:
Schwarber's everyday position is very much in a to be determined state at this time. He should be the Cubs starting left fielder, however the Cubs bringing back Dexter Fowler to play CF and Jason Heyward to play RF leaves Jorge Soler without a spot and a natural platoon possibility in LF with Schwarber especially considering that Schwarber was awful against lefties in his small time with Cubs last year (30 WRC+, .213 BA). The Cubs do have 11 AL road games so you can count on Schwarber getting some DH time in those games. Schwarber has spent most of his baseball career as a catcher so he should catch some with the Cubs, but he may be sharing time with as many as 3 other Cubs catchers this season (see my post about Miguel Montero).
The good news:
In most fantasy leagues, he should qualify at catcher, but should get more playing time at a less demanding position (LF). This should give him a big advantage as a great hitter in a position where there are very few elite hitters (Buster Posey is far and away the best projected catcher). Schwarber was a big time power hitter with the Cubs and his minor league stats also show him to be a good hitter for average and a patient enough hitter to draw walks and maintain a high OBP. He was the #4 overall selection in the 2014 MLB draft and has dominated at every level including MLB last year. Schwarber seems to be one of Carrie Muskat's (Cubs beat reporter) favorite Cubs players because of his work ethic, Schwarber grew up in Indiana and his dad is a police officer. I'm very confidant Schwarber will continue to be a productive hitter, but the MLB is tough and he does have some things to overcome to reach his "ceiling" which could ultimately be an MVP candidate.
In 2016, I would expect him to play mostly left field, maybe 20 to 30 games at catcher (it might be useful to find out if your league would continue to keep him a qualified catcher). Schwarber's value is very high as a catcher, but his value drops a lot competing against other MLB outfielders. Value overall is the real key. If he costs nearly as much as Buster Posey, I can't recommend him. In daily fantasy leagues, stay away if the Cubs are facing a lefty, but his home road splits are solid. In 2015, he generally batted high in the lineup but with the addition of Heyward & Zobrist, he could drop to 5th or 6th in the lineup but that wouldn't concern me much, the Cubs should have solid hitters in their lineup.. Even Cubs pitcher, Jake Arrieta hit 2 home runs last year-I should know I attended both games!!!!
Addison Russell was a very highly ranked prospect who came to the Cubs in the Jeff Samardzija trade. He was only 21 years old when the Cubs brought him up to play 2B for the team in 2015. With a solid everyday lineup, Cubs manager was able to let Russell bat 9th in the batting order. This made him sort of a 2nd lead off hitter for the team since Maddon did bat him behind the pitcher who batted in the 8th spot the majority of the year. While this situation helped Russell adjust to MLB pitching, from a fantasy perspective, it gave him much fewer at bats than a lead off hitter or 2nd place may have over the course of a season. While Russell showed enough progress to merit a higher position in the order, the Cubs lineup improved a great deal bringing back Dexter Fowler at the last minute in spring training and signing great contact and on base guys like Jason Heyward & Ben Zobrist. My conclusion here is that Russell is likely to see a lot more time in the #9 spot in the order. It remains to be seen what type of hitter what type of hitter Russell will be. He struck out at a very high rate last year, especially early on. He had a 32.1% K% in May of 2015, but also hit 4 HR's with a solid WRC+ of 119. It appears as though the team does want to see Russell improve his contact rate since his youth and speed makes him a better get on base guy and score runs, rather than a middle of the order hitter that drives in runs. In July, his contact rate improved dramatically, going down to 19.1%, however the bad news is that his WRC+ regressed compared to May with just 81 (compared to 119). At just the age of 22, Russell has a lot of time to work out what type of hitter he'll be and the Cubs will live with any ups and downs at the plate because defense is Russell's biggest strength in his game. He was named ESPN's defensive player for the month of September while playing shortstop. Shortstop was his position coming up through, but the Cubs did have him play 2B in his debut with the team. In mid season of 2015, he replaced Starlin Castro as the everyday shortstop. Enjoy the time he has now qualifying as both 2B and SS in many leagues. He should be the Cubs starting shortstop for many years in the future.
Selecting Russell for fantasy is tricky because his value can change a lot depending on the type of fantasy game you play. I've heard him listed as a breakout candidate which I think is very possible, but batting ninth, the contact rate and some poor splits make me more selective with Russell. In daily leagues, I chose him a lot last year because he was valued so low. With both of his eligible positions having very few solid and dependable hitters, I like pairing Russell with another starting caliber fantasy SS or 2B and taking a risk with a 3rd option for depth. I'm very confidant, barring injury, he'll be a good to great fantasy performer in 2016.