Chicago Cubs: What is the ceiling for this core group in 2019?

(Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
(Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) /
2 of 5
Chicago Cubs
(Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images) /

Chicago Cubs could easily roll with this outfield mix

Albert Almora, Ian Happ, Kyle Schwarber, Jason Heyward, Ben Zobrist,and even Kris Bryant will probably (barring trade or injury) make appearances in the big green area behind the infield in 2019.  How could the Cubs stand pat with such a group when a hyped-up Bryce Harper is available for beaucoup bucks? Easy.  The group, with some fine-tuning and performances in line with their expected prime production, is really good and could be even better.

Almora, 24,  is a good-to-great defensive center fielder, so anything he gives you out of that spot offensively is icing on the cake.  He proved in the first half of 2018 that he can hit fastballs and he can hit them well.  He’s not going to hit for a ton of power, but if he hits the way he did the first half of 2018, he’s basically an All-Star.

The youngster is a lefty killer, so coupled with Javier Baez, you can expect to see him higher in the lineup against lefties and if he can avoid the second half collapse that plagued him this past season, he realistically could be looking at a ceiling of what he did before the All-Star Break last season: .319/.357/.438.  Even if he hits in the .280-.300 range (which he already did last year anyhow) with an OBP of .340, you’re looking at a 3-4 WAR player.

Meanwhile, Ian Happ, 24, is the biggest wild card and unknown on the Cubs, this side of Tyler Chatwood. Versatile, yet he doesn’t have a home.  Powerful, yet he strikes out a lot.  Patient, yet, doesn’t hit his pitch.

In just over a season’s worth of at-bats (751), Happ has 39 home runs and 112 RBI. That’s right- you read that correctly.  So, while you’re busy getting annoyed at him for striking out in what seemed like half his at-bats (167 of 387), just remember that he’s only 24 and hasn’t even played a whole season as a starter. Even in a year that saw him struggle, he still got on base over 35 percent of the time.

If he can mix the power he displayed his rookie season with the patience he displayed in his sophomore campaign, you could be looking at a guy who is a two-win player coming off the bench as Ben Zobrist 2.0.  And, that’s not a crazy projection as he was nearly that in 2017 in less than 400 at-bats.

Zobrist, 37, found what Ponce de Leon could not. He was nearly a 4 WAR player in 2018 in a manageable 520 plate appearances.  I don’t have to even discuss Zo’s ceiling, as we can’t expect him to be hitting that still as a player, but believing that a guy who knows the strike zone, works at bats, and comes through in the clutch is going to have a good season is a stretch for anyone who has watched him play. Saying the Cubs will get somewhere around 3 WAR from Zobrist is a realistic and confident prognostication to make.

Last, but certainly not least, right fielder Jason Heyward has been much maligned (and I’ve done plenty of my own bellyaching, although I’ll contest rightfully so in most cases) and has struggled mightily offensively for the Cubs since signing a mega-deal before the 2016 season.

He also struggled a bit defensively at the beginning of 2018 but was able to right that ship, as well as make some better contact with the ball in the first half of last season.  We don’t need Heyward to hit .300 or smack 30 home runs, but it sure would be nice to pair his Gold Glove defense with a 2015-esque .293/.359/.439 slash line.  That year saw him turn in a 5.6 WAR season-  while we’d love that for sure, we’ll settle for a guy who can get on base and hit the ball hard consistently and smack it the other way with two strikes.