Batter Stock Watch - 2013 Preview

Batter Stock Watch - 2013 Preview

David FerrisCSNChicago.com contributor
In our last Batter Stock Watch of the season, we'll focus on player values for the 2013 fantasy year. Consider these angles and comments as you work on keeper-league decisions, or keep them tucked in your mind for draft season next spring. 
Buy
Eric Hosmer, 1B, Royals: Sometimes a short memory is the best thing you can have at the draft table, especially when it comes to someone we all felt good about 10-12 months ago. Hosmer's plate discipline hasn't been a problem in 2012 - he spiked his walk rate up to 9.5 percent and only had a marginal bump in strikeouts - and that .259 BABIP is unlikely to return. And it's not like Hosmer hasn't been squaring up the ball - his line-drive rate didn't move from his rookie level. You'll get a discount on Hosmer next spring, and you should take full advantage of it. There's significant profit potential here. 
Freddie Freeman, 1B, Braves: Eye and finger problems held Freeman's power back in the middle of the year, but otherwise it's been a solid building season for him (walk rate up, strikeout rate down, line drives 26.2 percent of the time). If Freeman can make a little more progress against left-handed pitching (he's been static there through two seasons), he has a chance to be a star. His BBK rate is almost an even 11 for the second half, which is outstanding for anyone and especially a middle-of-the-order hitter. 
Sell
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B, Dodgers: Although he knocked a couple of homers in Sunday's victory at Cincinnati, it's a case of too little, too late in Los Angeles. Gonzalez hasn't been anything special since the shocking trade from Boston (.255.308.427), even though he insists his shoulder isn't bothering him. Maybe it's time to accept that Gonzalez, now in his 30s, is no longer a needle-mover at first base, no longer someone to target in the first 25 picks or so. Hitting in Chavez Ravine could also be a concern: his career slash in that stadium is a mediocre .227.313.382. Let's move along. 
Drew Stubbs, OF, Reds: If Hollywood decides to draw up Trouble With the Slider, Stubbs should apply for a leading role: no batter in the majors struggled with that pitch more than Stubbs this year. Alas, when you're whiffing almost 30 percent of the time overall, there aren't too many offerings that put you in a positive frame. As much as the Reds have been patient with Stubbs (and they love his defense), even they might be ready to admit it's time for a more traditional leadoff man in Cincinnati - someone who can make contact and get on base would be nice. If the Reds move on from Stubbs, they might make a play for B.J. Upton. 
Mike Aviles, Utility, Red Sox: The category juice was fun while it lasted (13 homers, 14 steals), but Aviles also brought a .283 OBP and substandard defense to the equation. The Red Sox finally realize Aviles isn't good enough to start every day, and the rest of the American League probably recognizes this as well. Look for Aviles to settle into a 300-350 at-bat role at the front of someone's bench next year. 
Hold
Austin Jackson, OF, Tigers: At first glance his .376 BABIP might seem like a crazy outlier, but consider a few things: Jackson has dynamic speed, he's posted a 23-percent line-drive rate this year, and his career BABIP is a robust .372. Maybe it's unrealistic to expect the baseline to remain in such lofty heights, but Jackson can't be gauged against the league average in this stat. We would like to see progress on the bases - Jackson only has 11 steals as we go to press - but batting in Detroit's loaded lineup has its advantages (97 runs). Jackson turns 26 next February, so there's still room for growth here. 
Chase Headley, 3B, Padres: His road stats almost look too good to be true (.924 OPS, 18 homers, 62 RBIs, even 11 steals), but it's not like Headley didn't produce in roomy Petco Park (.784 OPS, 11 homers, 41 runs, 46 RBIs). The home dates might be more fun in 2013: there's talk of the club moving in the outfield fences. Even if the dimensions don't change in Southern California, Headley looks like a safe play entering his age 28 year. The low profile of the Padres also adds to the screened price. 
Carlos Gomez, OF, Brewers: He'll never be the pinnacle of patience, but he did trim his strikeout rate by about three percent this year and he remains a plus player in the field and on the bases (35 juicy steals). And the 16 homers really shouldn't come as that big of a surprise: Gomez has been a touted prospect since the middle of the 2000s, and he carries a wide frame at 6-foot-4, 210 pounds. The batting average will never be a secure thing with Gomez, but heading into his age 27 campaign next year, we'll project 18-20 homers and 40 steals - at an affordable roto price. Gomez finally knows he's a regular in the Milwaukee lineup, one of the team's cornerstones - don't overlook that emotional consideration. No young player wants to be jerked in and out of the lineup.

Breaking down the Bears' 2016 draft class on 'Draft Central'

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Breaking down the Bears' 2016 draft class on 'Draft Central'

With the 2016 NFL Draft in the books, the 2016 Bears are coming into focus.

Sunday night, CSN broke down the weekend that was — a busy one for the Bears, featuring not just the draft but also the addition of a backup quarterback and the subtraction of veterans Matt Slauson and Antrel Rolle.

So where do the Bears stand? Click on the links below to hear from Chris Boden, Jim Miller, Dave Wannstedt and Hub Arkush as they recap the draft and the rest of the Bears' offseason.

— Draft Central: Initial impressions of Bears' draft class

— Draft Central: Scouting first-round pick Leonard Floyd

— Draft Central: Bears move around in Round 2

— Draft Central: A look at the Bears' post-draft depth chart

— Draft Central: Bears release Matt Slauson, Antrel Rolle

— Draft Central: Bears add Brian Hoyer as Jay Cutler backup

Five things we learned about the Cubs in the first month of 2016

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Five things we learned about the Cubs in the first month of 2016

Addison Russell strolled out of the Cubs locker room wearing a baggy pinstriped suit with a smile plastered across his face.

He paused for a second and looked back to see Kris Bryant in his American flag suit (complete with American flag shoes) and the rest of his teammates and coaches following suit.

Russell smiled wider and continued the march toward the team bus to the airport.

This was only hours after the sophomore shortstop committed the costly error that led to the worst team in baseball (Atlanta Braves) notching a series split with the best team in the game at Wrigley Field.

Forget the loss. Move on.

Yeah, the Cubs are feeling good about themselves right now.

As they should.

The Cubs ended April with the best record in baseball (17-5), living up to the hype they created after a wild offseason and throughout a wacky spring training.

Things would have been so much difficult if the Cubs had not gotten off to a hot start in a city that watched the Bulls crash and burn and miss the playoffs while the Blackhawks were knocked out in the first round.

Imagine how the city and its sports fans would have responded if the red-hot White Sox was the only baseball team looking like a contender 1/6 of the way through the season.

As the Cubs face their toughest test of the season to date with seven straight games against two of the best teams in the league (Pirates, Nationals), let's look back at the five biggest takeaways from the campaign to date:

1. Jake Arrieta has picked up right where he left off.

Everybody wanted to know what Arrieta would do as an encore to follow up his 2015 Cy Young season in which he put up the best second half the game has ever seen.

How about 5-0 with a 1.00 ERA, a 0.78 WHIP and a no-hitter? It's crazy to think Arrieta could be better than he was last season, but he's making it true with each outing. 

At the very least, Arrieta has picked up right where he left off and might well be the best pitcher in the game (though Clayton Kershaw and Chris Sale would surely have something to say about that).

2. The pitching staff has carried the Cubs.

Even beyond Arrieta, the Cubs pitching staff as a whole has been fantastic. Only the Washington Nationals have a better team ERA entering play Monday. Cubs pitchers also have a batting average against of under .200, tops in the big leagues.

It helps when Arrieta, Jon Lester and Jason Hammel have combined to allow just 13 earned runs in 94 1/3 innings. John Lackey and Kyle Hendricks haven't been bad, either, as the rotation has recorded 18 quality starts in 23 tries.

The back end of the bullpen has been clicking, too, as Hector Rondon allowed his first run of the season Sunday, while Adam Warren still hasn't given up an earned run in eight innings and Pedro Strop is locked in (2.89 ERA, 0.64 WHIP, 13 Ks in 9 1/3 innings).

The Cubs pitching staff has also gotten it done at the plate, driving in eight runs on 10 hits.

"This month was the pitcher," Bryant said. "They were unbelievable and they hit pretty good, too, so they kinda picked themselves up at times. ... The pitchers have carried us the whole month."

3. This team is much improved defensively.

Theo Epstein's front office identified the weaknesses of last year's team that ran into the brick wall that was the New York Mets in the National League Championship Series and one of the main issues was defense — particularly outfield defense.

Gold Glover Jason Heyward's defense has been as good as advertised, with the big free agent acquisition gunning down baserunners and diving all over the outfield.

Dexter Fowler has earned positive grades defensively, too, as the Cubs forced him to play a little deeper in center field.

Bryant has looked solid in left field and at third base, and Ben Zobrist's steady glove at second has been a welcome addition in an infield that already boasts elite defenders in Russell and Anthony Rizzo.

"Defensively, we've caught the ball," Joe Maddon said. "We've played catch well. Everybody's talking about the offense, but primarily, it's been pitching and the defense that's set this whole thing up."

4. This team doesn't wilt in the face of adversity.

The Cubs had remarkably good luck on the injury front in 2015, but it took until only the second inning of the third game in 2016 for the first major blow.

Kyle Schwarber is lost for the season, yet the Cubs had just one letdown game after that news before righting the ship and marching forward without "Fast Hulk" in the lineup.

If somebody predicted the Cubs would be 17-5 in the first month of the season without Schwarber even collecting a hit, they would've been laughed off the internet.

Maddon and his coaching staff have seen just about everything there is to see in this game, and they have a stable of veterans like David Ross, Lester, Lackey and Zobrist who know what it takes to rise above adversity and keep everybody pulling on the same rope.

5. The Cubs haven't reached their peak.

Everybody is talking about a Cubs offense that ended the weekend with the second-most runs scored in baseball.

But the reality is, this lineup really hasn't hit its groove yet, scoring most of their runs with timely hitting and an insanely patient approach that keeps the conga line moving on the basepaths.

Yet Zobrist, Rizzo, Russell, Heyward, Miguel Montero and Jorge Soler are all hitting .250 or below, and Schwarber notched just four at-bats before tragedy struck.

Imagine what this offense will do when everything gets clicking and the weather starts to warm up.

"A lot of us are just getting going," Bryant said. "It'll be fun to see when things are clicking when the pitching's going good and the hitting's going good."

That feeling is mutual around the clubhouse.

"We have some work to do in general," Heyward said. "We're not hitting on all cylinders right now. We're not clicking consistently."

So does that mean the Cubs are expecting months where they finish with a better record than April's 17-5?

"I'd love to just keep doing that every month," Maddon said. "I'd be happy with that. We've played pretty well this entire month. It's hard to knock our guys right now.

"Offensively, defensively, pitching — the baserunning's been really good. To be able to sustain all those components would be great. I think you're gonna see guys actually hit better. A lot of our offense has been just based on some really good at-bats, some timely hitting.

"But just to purely go out there and just literally knock the cover off the ball, we haven't done that yet. So I think there's an offensive push that we're capable of.

"You just look at the numbers in general, and there are guys that are capable of more, numerically speaking. You probably will see more come from the offense."

Preview: Cubs, Pirates do battle Monday night on CSN

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Preview: Cubs, Pirates do battle Monday night on CSN

The Cubs take on the Pirates on Monday night, and you can catch all the action on Comcast SportsNet. Coverage begins with Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies live from Pittsburgh for first pitch at 6 p.m. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on Cubs Postgame Live.

Today's starting pitching matchup: Jason Hammel (3-0, 0.75 ERA) vs. Gerrit Cole (2-2, 2.78 ERA)

Click here for a game preview to make sure you're ready for the action.

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