I've done these report cards in the past, and just as the team's been better this year, so are these grades. I remind you of this, before you dig in: these are my opinions and while based on the player's performance, they are also subjective and based partly on what the player has done based on expectations for his performance. You might disagree with some of them. That's what the comments are for!
That said, here we go.
Anthony Rizzo: A Couldn't have asked for more from the two-time All-Star first baseman. While he's in a bit of a slow patch right now, Rizzo's first half: .298/.413/.542 with 16 home runs and 48 RBI, along with a surprising (and team-leading) 12 stolen bases and league-leading 19 hit-by-pitches, has made Rizzo a potential MVP candidate. He's also become the undisputed leader of this team in the clubhouse. A fantastic acquisition by Theo & Co.
Addison Russell: Incomplete I could have given Russell a letter grade based on performance, but that's somewhat unfair to him, given that he's in the big leagues only due to injury and poor performance by Javier Baez. Grading just the performance probably rates a C+ due to mediocre offense (81 OPS+), but defensively he's outstanding and has shown some power. He's just 21 years old and I expect he'll continue to improve.
Starlin Castro: D This is a big disappointment coming off his good 2014. Castro's hitting has been poor (.247/.283/.321). That slugging percentage ranks 72nd of 74 qualified hitters in the National League, and is a bit of a surprise coming off a career-high .438 SLG last year. Castro's defense has been uneven, sometimes good, sometimes bad, and eventually the Cubs will have to decide whether to stick with Castro, deal him, or ... who knows?
Kris Bryant: A- Bryant has been much better than advertised defensively at third base and might be able to stick there. He works counts well and his 46 walks rank seventh in the N.L. despite missing the first eight games. He strikes out a bit too much, but that could be expected given his power. He's still the only player to hit one of the video boards at Wrigley with a game home run.
Chris Coghlan: B- As he did last year, he got off to a horrendous start before starting to hit right when the weather warmed up... or sort of warmed up, anyway. He's a perfectly good platoon left fielder.
Chris Denorfia: B The other half of the left-field platoon, the Cubs were hurting when he was out for a month with hamstring problems. Denorfia's .726 OPS is right on his career average and he's well-suited for his role.
Dexter Fowler: D Fowler has been a big disappointment after a good April. Since May 1 he's hitting .211/.288/.347 in 251 at-bats, and that's awful for a leadoff hitter. I don't care for the routes he takes to baseballs, but he does seem to catch everything he gets to. He had a minor ankle injury that could be slowing him down. Unless he steps it up in the second half, he'll have the worst year of his career.
Jorge Soler: Incomplete Soler missed a month with a leg injury and hasn't hit for the power we thought he might have. I still think he'll get there, and perhaps the All-Star break will recharge him. He's played excellent defense and on occasion has shown off his strong arm.
Miguel Montero: B- Offensively, he's hit for power and played reasonably good defense. At this writing the MRI results on his thumb have still not been released. If he's out for any significant length of time, the Cubs will be having trouble behind the plate.
David Ross: C Ross has played well behind the plate, but really can't hit at all. He's drawn a fair number of walks, which gives him a decent OBP (.302), but the Cubs wouldn't want him starting for any length of time.
Jonathan Herrera: B+ Has done everything asked of him as a utility infielder. Has started games at three positions, played them well in the field, provided useful pinch hits and bunted well. The "rally bucket" is a fun contribution to team morale, too.
Kyle Schwarber: A Did everything he was asked and more during his six-game trial. He'll likely be back in a month or so.
Jake Arrieta: A Has been the true team ace this year, and deserved an All-Star nod (even though he wouldn't have pitched in the game since he threw on Sunday). For whatever individual pitcher wins are worth, he has a shot at being a 20-game winner this year -- the Cubs haven't had one since Jon Lieber in 2001. Another outstanding trade acquisition.
Jason Hammel: A Smart and relatively inexpensive re-signing by Theo & Co. Has been just slightly below Arrieta in performance, has been among the league leaders in WHIP all year, and gives the Cubs a good 1-2 in the rotation even without...
Jon Lester: C- What a disappointment. It's still early enough in the deal for Lester to be worth his contract, but just when you think he's putting together solid outings, he has a couple of bad ones. Is he pressing too hard to justify the deal? Who knows? It would be great if he'd step it up in the second half.
Kyle Hendricks: B Hendricks got off to a slow start but since May 26 he's posted a 3.04 ERA and 1.069 WHIP in nine starts, pretty similar to the Hendricks we saw in his successful rookie year in 2014. If he keeps that up, the Cubs will have four really good starters.
Travis Wood: C The grade would be D- or even F as a starter, but B as a reliever. In relief Wood has posted a 2.59 ERA and 1.233 WHIP and just one home run allowed in 17 appearances covering 24⅔ innings. He could turn into a new version of Sean Marshall, who was quite a useful reliever when he was healthy.
Hector Rondon: B- Rondon blew a couple of saves and was removed from the closer role. Since then he has an 0.60 ERA and 0.533 WHIP in 17 appearances covering 15 innings. Closers do blow saves from time to time, but Joe Maddon wasn't ready to be patient with Rondon, who has thrived in a setup role. It's good to know the Cubs have someone with closing experience to take over if Jason Motte fails.
Jason Motte: B After a bad start, Motte has been excellent as a closer, posting five saves with no blown saves and a 1.38 ERA in 14 total outings covering 13 innings. As noted, the Cubs now have two pitchers with closing experience, and will have another once Rafael Soriano is activated.
Pedro Strop: B- Should probably not be put in closing situations, as he has two blown saves, including the soul-crushing one against the Cardinals last week. He's very good as a setup man, though.
James Russell: A- Another great move by Theo & Co. They traded Russell away, got a useful prospect (Victor Caratini) in return, then signed him back for nothing after the Braves let him go. Russell is having the best year of his career, partly because he finally has a manager who knows how to use him.
Justin Grimm: A- Also having the best year of his career, and primarily for the same reason as Russell. Despite the wishes of some here, I would not put him in the rotation. He's terrific in middle/setup relief.
Neil Ramirez: Incomplete Ramirez has been used sparingly since his return from the DL. He had one rough outing against the Cardinals, otherwise has been good, and hopefully the All-Star break will get him back on track.
Zac Rosscup: Incomplete Rosscup was pitching reasonably well when he got hurt a month ago. There's no timetable for his return.
Edwin Jackson: B- Surprisingly, Jackson has been good most of the time, which has been primarily mopup duty. The Cubs are just 4-19 in games in which he has appeared and he hasn't pitched in a high-leverage situation since June 14. The Cubs might have to make a decision on him soon; with Rafael Soriano about ready to return, roster spots will be needed and Jackson seems the right guy to cut. Will the Cubs be willing to eat the money?
Clayton Richard: Incomplete One good outing, one bad one. For now, he is penciled in to start next Monday against the Reds. Will it happen, or will the Cubs make a trade for a starter by then?
The following players have all been in at least one game for the 2015 Cubs: Mike Baxter, Matt Szczur, Junior Lake, Welington Castillo, Arismendy Alcantara, Mike Olt, Tommy La Stella, Tsuyoshi Wada, Dallas Beeler, Donn Roach, Phil Coke, Yoervis Medina, Brian Schlitter and Gonzalez Germen. I trust you don't need grades for these players.