2016 Outlook: Rizzo has been drawing comparisons to Paul Goldschmidt because of the 17 steals, but whereas that has long been a part of Goldy's game, there was no precedent for Rizzo's speed burst. Coming into 2015, Rizzo was just 16-for-28 (57 percent) on the basepaths. The rest of his profile is positively alluring. He held most of his 2014 gains versus LHP to maintain a solid batting average while finishing six runs shy of a 30-100-100 season. His 17 percent strikeout rate and 12 percent walk rate over the last two seasons match that of Miguel Cabrera and suggest some batting average upside, but nearly two-thirds of his groundball contact is pulled weakly for easy outs. StatCast tells us that Cabrera has a top-five Exit Velocity while Rizzo lingers below average. While there may not be substantial growth ahead, the floor is very sturdy.
2016 Outlook: Bryant's rookie season was a virtuoso performance, complete with parts of at least seven games in each outfield position and even a game over at first base. This is less relevant for fantasy purposes since he came up just shy of the 20-game plateau in the outfield, but it shows a measure of acumen for the game that shouldn't go unnoticed. Lost in the fervor over his amazing power potential is the fact that Bryant posted the fifth-best BABIP in baseball (.378) en route to just a .275 average. Unless he improves the strikeout rate (31 percent, tied for the highest in MLB), his batting average is at risk. He was tied with Chris Davis, a profile you should look at when trying to assess Bryant. Davis has averaged .256, 40 homers, 103 RBI, and 83 runs over the last four seasons with some incredible highs, but also the 2014 meltdown. There is a lot to love with Bryant, but he's not at all risk-free.
2016 Outlook: Last year, Heyward spent most of the season batting either third, fourth or fifth for the Cardinals, but he should be locked into either first or second in the Cubs' order all season, so his counting stats could look a little different. There may not be a better middle-of-the-order power trio in all of baseball than Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber, so Heyward should be a run-scoring machine, despite scoring 90-plus runs just once in his six-year career. The Cubs were a top-10 team in stolen-base attempts last year, while the Cardinals were in the bottom 10, so that, along with batting higher in the order, could lead to more steals for Heyward. The Cardinals tweaked Heyward's approach last year, leading to a career-high 57.2% GB% and a career-low 23.5% FB%, without sacrificing any hard contact. This should make that .293 average more sustainable than it appears at first glance. The 20-plus homer power he displayed in 2012 could come back, but even if it doesn't, Heyward will be a three-category force in 2016.
2016 Outlook: After opening his 2015 campaign at Double-A, Schwarber played his way into a prominent place in the Cubs' lineup during the second half, including the team's postseason run in October. He forced the issue for regular playing time by adjusting quickly to big league pitching, showing impressive power (.241 ISO, 16 homers in 273 plate appearances) and the ability to draw walks at a good clip (13.2 BB%), albeit with the propensity to strike out (28.2 K%) at a steady rate. Thanks to a thumb injury suffered by Miguel Montero in July, the Cubs put Schwarber behind the plate for 21 games last season, giving him enough time at the position to qualify as a catcher in most leagues for 2016. As catchers go, only Buster Posey can match Schwarber's ability with the bat. Defensively, it remains to be seen if Schwarber's strong arm and high marks for work ethic will lead him to become a passable defender in left field, and there is a bit of uncertainty as to how the outfield situation will shake out with Jason Heyward and Dexter Fowler both now in Chicago, but Schwarber still projects to open the season with a regular role and a valuable run-producing spot in one of the league's best lineups.
2016 Outlook: The 34-year-old super utility player may have finally found a lineup where his production will seem truly utilitarian. He will no longer be asked to carry an offense; rather, he will simply have to get on base so the thumpers behind him can drive him in. Zobrist is on a run of four straight seasons with double-digit homers, 75-plus runs and a batting average of .270 or better. That kind of production is hard to find, especially from someone who qualifies at second base. Hitting either first or second in the Cubs' lineup will allow him to easily clear 75 runs again, and he will also get the benefit of playing in the best hitter's park of his career. The only potential drawback is that Javier Baez may earn some starts at the keystone, but Zobrist's ability to play the outfield may keep him in the lineup even on those days. Of bigger concern may be losing his plum spot in the lineup to Addison Russell should the young shortstop get back on track at the dish this season.
2016 Outlook: Of all the Cubs' rookies, Russell garnered the least attention. Part of that was by design as the club grew more reliant on his defense at shortstop than counting on offensive production. In fact, Russell hit out of the nine-hole, a favorite Joe Maddon ploy. Unfortunately, the attempt to get a second leadoff man didn't come to fruition as Russell's contact rate fell precipitously, fueling a rather anemic .307 on-base percentage. With nearly a full season under his belt, look for the 22-year-old infielder to cut down on the strikeouts, though not enough to work his way much higher in the order. The element of Russell's game that did not manifest during his rookie campaign was speed. As his confidence grows, so will the running opportunities. Still, so long as Russell is buried in the order, his production, despite sneaky power, will be tempered.
2016 Outlook: Last year, Soler reminded us about the perils of success in an abbreviated sample, as his five homers in 89 at-bats in late 2014 resulted in grand expectations. The problem was that Soler needed an extremely high home run-per-fly ball rate (HR/FB) as his fly-ball percent was very low. The low fly-ball rate remained while the HR/FB fell to a point just above league average. Additionally, Soler's contract rate plummeted. To be fair, a pair of ill-timed disabled list stints interrupted his campaign, hindering the youngster's ability to find his groove. The key to 2016 will be reducing strikeouts while regaining power, as his hard contact rate is well above average. However, unless he puts more balls in the air, his home run potential is tempered. Further, Dexter Fowler's return to the Cubs dings Soler's outlook for playing time at least a bit and could prove a precursor to a trade.
2016 Outlook: Fowler remained a domino yet to fall until late February, as his options in free agency were somewhat limited by the draft pick compensation attached to him via the Cubs' qualifying offer. Fowler is coming off a very strong season, one in which he posted a career high in home runs and runs scored while reaching 20 steals for the first time since 2009. His on-base skills remain strong entering his age-30 season, and he pushed his contact rate back above 80 percent last year, but his 2016 fantasy outlook is a bit hazy after he spurned the Orioles in favor of a return to Chicago. Kyle Schwarber, Jason Heyward, and Jorge Soler are all currently in line for regular roles, but manager Joe Maddon provided some reassurance by saying that Fowler will continue to lead off when in the lineup.
2016 Outlook: With Starlin Castro now out of the way, a path has been opened for Baez to join the talent-laden roster of the Cubs, and his positional flexibility will likely come in handy on team that has other defensive question marks with Kris Bryant, Ben Zobrist, and Kyle Schwarber. Baez qualifies all over the infield and brings uncommon pop to the board, offering a Joc Pederson-like trade-off of home runs for batting average but at half the price and three times the positional value. Baez has been notoriously slow to get the bat going when introduced to new levels on the minor-league ladder, with a tendency to take off once he has made the necessary adjustments, so it is par for the course that he would take time to figure out how to hit at the highest level. The Cubs were cautious with Baez in 2015 to avoid his developing bad habits against major-league pitchers, keeping him on the farm until rosters expanded in September, and the statistical implications are that the ploy worked to his developmental advantage.
2016 Outlook: The change of scenery from Arizona to Chicago didn't change much for Montero, but he turned in the second-best walk rate of his career and the per-game power production was at an all-time high in the first half with Montero smacking nine homers over the first three months. He continued to hit for notable power initially upon his return from a month-long stint on the DL due to a thumb injury, though the power vanished over the final six weeks or so of the regular season -- he had one home run after Aug. 25 -- and Montero's struggles continued into the postseason (2-for-21). Fortunately for Montero, the Cubs don't seem inclined to give Kyle Schwarber much of a role behind the plate this season, meaning Montero will have the primary job to himself to start the year. However, Willson Contreras is knocking at the door, and even with his on-base skills and power, it may be tough for Montero at almost 33 years old to earn the job back if he were to miss a good chunk of time.
2016 Outlook: Coghlan's 2015 season would have him poised to enter camp as a starter on most teams, and he would be a trendy fantasy sleeper. The Cubs are not most teams, but fortunately for Coghlan's 2016 fantasy outlook, he was dealt to Oakland in late February. It remains to be seen exactly how the playing time in the A's outfield will be divvied up, but Coghlan figures to start in left field against right-handed pitching, forcing Khris Davis to DH and Billy Butler to the bench. Chances are, the platoon-conscience A's will shield Coghlan heavily from lefties as the Cubs did a year ago. Coghlan won't turn 31 until June and offers double-double potential over a full season, but the upside is somewhat capped especially given the platoon considerations and move to cavernous O.co Coliseum.
2016 Outlook: Ross hit .176/.267/.252 with one home run and nine RBI in 182 plate appearances in 2015. He's been slowly declining offensively since 2010 and recently announced that he will be retiring after the 2016 season. His role will likely remain as Jon Lester's personal catcher unless Miguel Montero misses significant time due to injury. Even if he did receive more playing time, he's not capable of producing much offensively to be worth a look in fantasy.