In this first post of my fantasy baseball series, I will take a look at the only two Cubs hitters that should be owned in nearly every fantasy baseball league format: Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo.
This article will look at last year’s performances for each player and help you determine where to draft each player. In terms of where to draft each player, I have tried to compare the players to other players at the same position, as well as each other. Each league values various statistics differently, it would be a mistake for me to advise someone to draft Rizzo before Castro in a league that highly values steals. Comparing Rizzo to other first base-eligible players like Joey Votto, Chris Davis, Miguel Cabrera, Eric Hosmer, Chris Carter, etc. should be the most valuable approach for fellow fantasy-owners. One quick disclaimer: in my opinion, it is easier to find good pitching in late rounds or in free agency than it is to find good hitting. I have also found that home runs and runs batted in are hard categories to fill, while steals, runs, and batting average are typically easier. This is different depending on your format and your personal approach. I have had the most success in fantasy baseball by working hard to fill my hitting spots with the best hitters that I can get, and filling in my pitching as the season rolls along. One final point is that I think you should take the best possible player available in your snake drafts, especially in early rounds… once you get into later rounds, you need to fill out positions. In other words, don’t take Starlin over an outfielder you like better (Jason Heyward is currently going a few spots behind Castro in common ESPN leagues), just to fill shortstop early in your draft.
As I have previously discussed, Rizzo and Castro had sub-par years last year. In that previous article, I also explained why I think each will bounce back. To avoid redundancy, if you want to see my opinion I’ve included a link to the article. Castro finished the 2013 season as ESPN’s 22nd ranked shortstop, while Rizzo was not much better off as the 19th first baseman. As of writing this post (3.3.14), most fantasy owners on ESPN agree with my assessment that Rizzo and Castro should both bounce back: thus far, fantasy owners have been drafting Castro as the 7th overall shortstop (78th overall pick), and Rizzo as the 12th first baseman (114th overall).
Here are some observations: Rizzo and Castro offer very different qualities as fantasy players. Rizzo will almost certainly hit more home runs and drive in more runs, Castro will likely have a higher batting average and should steal some bases. Castro plays a more scarce position, but Rizzo plays a very important position that lacks depth below Rizzo’s current draft position.
My point? The gap between Rizzo and the next best first basemen or utility options is probably much larger than the gap between Castro and the next best options at shortstop. In my own leagues, I think Rizzo is more valuable than Castro. Players like Mark Teixeira, Mike Napoli, and even Corey Hart could all be viable options at first base if healthy (I am not including Matt Adams, who is currently being drafted lower than Rizzo… one could make a pretty easy argument for drafting the Cardinals first baseman higher than Rizzo), but all three are aging and have dealt with significant knee, wrist, or back injuries in the past two years. Jose Abreu is another intriguing player, but he is an unknown quantity in his first season in the MLB. In my opinion, Rizzo is on the bottom end of must-own fantasy baseball first basemen (behind guys like Chris Davis, Joey Votto, Adrian Gonzalez, Prince Fielder, etc.). He is risky because he had a bad year in 2013, but the potential for a breakout is there and he could certainly jump into the top ten players at one of the critical positions in fantasy baseball.
Castro is a safer bet than Rizzo. He has played 4 years, and one could make the argument that last year’s struggles can be chalked up to a change in approach and distractions. As opposed to Rizzo, Castro has had major league success. While this is true, Castro’s ceiling is much lower than Rizzo’s in 2014. We have heard for several years that Castro could put on weight and grow into a 20-25 home run/ year player, but the bottom line is that this has not happened yet. Castro should steal some bases and his batting average will probably rebound, but you should not count on him for anything more than 15 or so home runs and 50-60 RBI. Compared with other shortstops, ESPN owners are probably in the right ballpark, putting Castro behind the likes of Hanley Ramirez, Troy Tulowitzki, Ian Desmond, Jose Reyes, Elvis Andrus, and Jean Segura. Castro could jump Andrus and Segura if he has a solid comeback season, but I don’t think he will ever really challenge Hanley or Tulo and Desmond appears to have entered the discussion for top-tier shortstops.
Personally, I would not stretch to take Castro with players like Everth Cabrera, Asdrubal Cabrera, Jed Lowrie, Jimmy Rollins, and Zack Cozart all being drafted in later rounds. These players are likely to provide value that is comparable to Castro while players like Justin Morneau, Justin Smoak, Adam Dunn, or Adam Lind will probably not (or at least hopefully not for Cubs fans) produce comparable value to Rizzo.
Bottom line: both players are must-own in essentially all formats. Castro is a top ten shortstop, and could possibly even jump into the top 5 with a bounce back year. Rizzo is certainly a top 15 first baseman, and he is hoping to jump into the top ten this year. Current average draft positions surprise me, as I think Rizzo is more valuable than Castro in the upcoming season.
The next article in this series will look at the only Cubs pitcher than is likely to be owned unanimously in fantasy leagues: Jeff Samardzija.