By Todd Johnson
The Cubs are notorious for not selecting first basemen in the draft in the Theo Era. What the Cubs tend to do is move players to that position. They come from outfielders, catchers, and even the other corner. Despite that trend, the Cubs currently have four good prospects playing at first base in the minors.
With Rizzo blocking everyone’s path to the majors through 2021, the following prospects all play a secondary position that enhances their value.
1. Yasiel Balaguert hit .263 with 19 HRs with 96 RBIs in 2016 for Myrtle Beach. I think he is going to do much better in 2017 and AA Tennessee. In addition to hitting in a more hitter friendly park, he has improved and is starting to hit the curve. I don’t think there’s a fastball that he’s met that he hasn’t liked. Although he can play the outfield, the big right-hander could make an excellent designated hitter in the future, just not for the Cubs.
2. Matt Rose – I thought he was the most inspirational player in the system last year. He began the year at South Bend playing third base. He hit the ball hard often but it never seemed to find a way into a hit. He was reassigned to Eugene in June after hitting less than .200. He worked hard on improving his game and was one of the leaders on the team that sprinted to a first half title. He came back to South Bend in late July and hit seven home runs in August. In addition, his .291 batting average in August showed he had an improved eye at the plate with 11 walks in the month for a .352 OBP. I hope he picks up where he left off in Myrtle Beach and I hope he sees a lot more action at third base. Maybe, you never know, he could even play a little left field. I should ask Jason McLeod that question at the convention.
3. Gustavo Polanco – Polanco is an interesting case. He’s only had one year of ball at Mesa in the states and yet he has shown the capacity to hit for average. He’s pretty much maxed out physically, but that strength has not translated into power yet. He will be at Eugene this summer and I will get a pretty good look at what he can and cannot do.
4. Chris Pieters – I loved watching him play for Eugene last year. He played a little bit of outfield but mainly first base. A converted pitcher, Pieters was only in his second year as a position player and he easily showed a deft touch with the glove around the first base bag. I think he was almost as good as Rizzo when it came to his defensive abilities. On offense, Pieters got off to a great start hitting .356 in June before struggling down the stretch. I think it will be interesting to see how he does at the plate in 2017 and to see whether or not he continues playing more in the outfield like he did in the second half, or if he puts his hat on at first base.
Out of all the position breakdowns, first base will have the fewest amount of prospects profiled in this series. Don’t sweat it. With Rizzo entrenched, and the ability of Baez and Bryant to back him up and spell him for days off, the Cubs have nothing but time to develop an eventual successor. While these prospects do play first, they are not tied there. I can see Rose in left, Polanco catching (which has done as a Cub) and Pieters and Balaguert in the outfield. First base in the Cubs system is not a death sentence but rather a place to get some at-bats.