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: 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: 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: 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: La Stella is a utility man without the positional flexibility ... so like a poor man's Brock Holt. And you're already pretty poor if you've got Holt. La Stella has hit a robust .320 in the minors and never lower than .290 in a single season, but it has yet to translate in a short major league sample of 435 plate appearances spread out over the last two seasons. Perhaps it is the .283 BABIP as a major leaguer, which is a far cry from his .334 mark in the minors. Or maybe he was just a more advanced hitter exploiting younger talent at virtually every stop in the minors. Yeah, probably that one. Now 27 years old, there isn't much left to dream on here.