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5 Big Questions: 2011 Chicago Cubs

We here at Baseball Professor think about our readers first and ourselves second—albeit a close second. That’s why we decided to reach out to other bloggers (who follow their respective teams more closely than we do) to give you a deeper look into the important issues every fantasy owner has to come to grips with this season. Our second installment is with the Chicago Cubs and comes courtesy of Joe Aiello from View from the Bleachers.

For a complete trip around the Majors, check out the other 2011 team previews in this series.

1) In the minors, Starlin Castro averaged nearly 26 stolen bases per 500 at-bats, but he stole just 10 bases for the Cubs in 463 at-bats last season. Why the lack of steals and can we expect him to run more this year?

If you’ve paid close attention to the Cubs, you’ll notice that they never seem to have a guy that racks up a lot of steals. It’s rare to see them with someone among the league leaders in that category. Juan Pierre in 2006 was one of the last times I can remember a Cubs stealing a lot of bases. I don’t see that changing much with Castro. He’s still a very young player that will probably still be lower in the lineup to keep the pressure off him. That doesn’t typically lend itself to steals. I’d set the over/under at 15 for Starlin in 2011.

2) Carlos Zambrano is coming off one of the craziest up-and-down seasons of any pitcher in recent memory. After posting a 5.66 ERA over 55.2 innings from April through June, Zambrano was sent to anger management and returned to the team in August, finishing the year 8-0 with a 1.60 ERA over 73.1 innings. What do you project from Zambrano in 2011?

I’ve kept no secrets when it comes to my genuine dislike of Zambrano. I hate his attitude on the mound and I hate his childish ways. I’m sick of saying things like “He’s got all the talent in the world and this is the year he puts it all together to win the Cy Young.” He’s a low end #2 starter at best. More than likely he’ll be the third best guy on this staff behind Ryan Dempster and Matt Garza. I’d like to believe that the second half of 2010 was the real Zambrano, but I’ve been burned too many times before. You know the saying: “Fool me seven times, shame on you. Fool me eight, shame on me.”

3) The Cubs’ outfield is pretty crowded with Alfonso Soriano, Kosuke Fukudome, Marlon Byrd and Tyler Colvin all fighting for at-bats. How do you see the at-bats getting distributed between these four hitters?

Byrd and Soriano both have their spots locked up unless some sort of injury occurs. The question then comes down to Fukudome and Colvin. On paper, Fukudome was the better outfielder, but most fans would rather have Colvin in there due to potential. I’m a Colvin guy, but I think his bat has holes that need to be filled before he can really be considered a better option than Fukudome. Combine that with Fukudome’s career OPS+ of 157 in the month of April and it’s hard to justify Colvin getting the job on opening day. In the end, I think he’ll overtake Fukudome, but it may not be until mid-May or later. Proceed at your own risk with those two.

4) Aramis Ramirez missed a little over a month with a bad shoulder last year and while he still managed to hit 25 home runs, he only batted .241—his lowest batting average since 2002. Can we expect him to return to his normal self and hit close to 30 home runs with a .300 batting average?

.300 is a pretty lofty goal at this point. I’d shoot closer to .290. It’s not a big difference, but if you’re playing in a Roto league, there are a lot more guys hitting .290 than .300. That would make him less valuable. I believe, despite the fact that Ramirez denies it, that a big reason for his struggle last year was not his shoulder, but his hand. Things weren’t right for him with that hand all year and I truly believe that affected his play in the beginning of the year. Lack of confidence at the plate set in and the end result was a very disappointing year for Rammy. I still believe he can be the best player in this lineup. Now he needs to prove it.

5) Outfielder Brett Jackson is widely recognized as the Cubs’ best prospect, but his path to the Majors is currently blocked by Soriano, Byrd, Fukudome and Colvin. Are there any other prospects in the organization that could see playing time this season and make an immediate impact?

Jackson will probably not make an impact with the big club this year. I look to 2012 to be the year he gets in there. That said, I’m a big Jay Jackson fan. I think he’s got the stuff to slot into either the rotation or the bullpen if needed. He’s ready for the Majors at this time. It’s just a matter of when the other 15 starters in front of him get hurt.

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About the author: George graduated with a degree in Journalism, but instead of walking at his graduation, he walked down the aisle at his wedding. He’s been playing fantasy baseball for over a decade and his interest and knowledge in the sport is as big and growing as his eyebrows are bushy…and growing. (@BaseballProf)

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