Today, as part of my ongoing series highlighting fantasy baseball “sleepers”, I stop by Mesa, Arizona, the Spring Training home of the Chicago Cubs.
Fans of the Cubbies are used to torture. After all, the team hasn’t won a World Series in 105 years, the longest such drought in Major League Baseball. A new year brings some hope to the Northsiders, though, as the team has stockpiled young talent, some of whom could make their debuts later this season.
I’m sure many of you will be expecting me to choose a guy like Javier Baez to represent the Cubs, but I’ll be going in another direction. Shockingly, my fantasy baseball sleeper pick in Chicago will be middle reliever Pedro Strop, who has an opportunity to be the Cubs closer in 2014.
Pedro Strop, RP (current ADP: #418):
Did you know Cubs’ set-up man Pedro Strop wasn’t always a pitcher? It’s true. Just like position players-turned-pitchers Carlos Marmol and Kenley Jansen, Strop was signed by the Colorado Rockies in 2002 to play shortstop. He never really materialized as a hitter though, and after batting a weak .208 in Class-A ball, Strop decided to turn his attention to pitching.
Now with the Cubs, the 28-year-old Dominican has a chance to make waves in Chicago — and in fantasy baseball.
Strop had an excellent 2012 season with the Baltimore Orioles — his first full season in the majors. After coming over as part of the trade that sent Mike Gonzalez to the Texas Rangers, Strop posted a 2.44 ERA with 58 strikeouts and a 5-2 record. In 66.1 innings pitched, he racked up 24 holds, which was good for eighth in the American League.
Last year, things started to fall apart for him in Baltimore, and he was sent packing.
On July 2, Strop (along with Jake Arrieta) was sent to Chicago, and in return the Orioles received starting pitcher Scott Feldman with the hopes that he could bolster their rotation for a playoff run.
The trade worked out well for the Cubs, as Feldman faltered down the stretch (5-6, 4.27 ERA) and the Orioles failed to make the playoffs. Feldman is now with the Houston Astros, while Strop has a chance to make a real difference in the Cubs’ bullpen.
In the off-season, the team signed Jose Veras to a one-year, $4 million deal, and new Cubs’ manager Rick Renteria has stated he will be the closer to open the season. That doesn’t mean Strop won’t eventually supplant him, though.
Veras is 33 years old, and his age and one-year contract make him expendable. Until last season’s shift to a closer role, he had been a full-time set-up man for his entire eight-year career. In fact, before he saved 21 games for the Astros and Detroit Tigers in 2013, Veras had just five saves in 327 prior appearances.
Strop is younger and better suited to close games for the Cubs. He throws hard (95.9 mph fastball), can mix in a slider and a changeup, and has a ton of exuberance on the mound (as seen in the video below) — just the type of intensity the Cubs need:
Fantasy owners looking to hit the jackpot in saves shouldn’t look any further than Pedro Strop when it comes to late-round bargains.
When gauging his 2014 outlook, owners should look at his 2013 numbers while with Chicago, rather than his time in Baltimore. In 22.1 innings with the Orioles, Strop was awful. He finished his truncated season in Baltimore with a 7.25 ERA, 1.70 WHIP, 1.60 K/BB ratio, and allowed 38.9 percent of his baserunners to score.
After leaving Maryland for Illinois, though, the right-hander turned his season around, posting a sparkling 2.83 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, 3.82 K/BB ratio, and left 73 percent of runners stranded on base over 35 innings.
The Cubs will not be competing much this year, and Pedro Strop should eventually secure the closer role. If he pitches like he did after coming over to Chicago last season, his ADP of 418 and auction cost of $0 makes the Cubs’ eighth-inning guy a complete steal at the end of NL-only or deep-league drafts that count holds as a stat category.
2014 Projections: 6-4, 22 SV, 2.99 ERA, 82 K, 1.22 WHIP
» Missed any of my earlier picks? Please click here for links to all the sleepers I’ve have covered from each team so far.