From 2013-17, a long five-year drought, the Cubs did not draft a first baseman. Instead, the opted to load up on other infielders and simply move anybody that needed playing time, typically catchers and third baseman, over to first. There was some wisdom to that strategy since Anthony Rizzo was blocking the position, but things have started to shift of late.
In case the Cubs do not extend Rizzo beyond his current deal, however, they do have a few options percolating who could be ready by then. Even if they do work something out to keep Kevin’s dad in Chicago, it’s never a bad idea to have someone waiting in the wings.
Most likely to succeed
The Cubs picked Tyler Durna in the 15th round out of UC San Diego in 2018. He was dominant in the first half of 2019 for South Bend and just destroyed the Midwest League in June, hitting .372 with a .465 OBP over 25 games. Durna’s only weakness is that he hasn’t hit for a lot of power, tagging just four dingers last year. He can hit for average, move the ball all over the ballpark, and he’s not afraid to give himself up for the betterment of the team.
I’d like to see him at open at Double-A Tennessee, but he played only 24 games with Myrtle Beach and might go back there for a little bit. If he has a great spring training and shows a little pop, however, he’s not going to benefit from playing in the Carolina League.
Most likely to help in 2020
Vimael Machin and PJ Higgins are products of the above strategy, infielders whose main positions when they were drafted were shortstop and second base.. Both spent a lot of time playing all over, so first base wasn’t their sole focus. If he’s not lost to the Rule 5 Draft, Higgins gets the nod here just because he can catch as well as play second and third base. This is the second part of the series and Higgins has been the winner of this category twice.
Looking down the road
It’ll be interesting to see what the Cubs do with Jake Slaughter, whose approach improved enough last year at Eugene to make him part of South Bend’s championship squad. He has size (6’3″ and 220 lbs.) to hit for power but he really hasn’t tapped into his frame just yet, so I really want to see what Justin Stone’s new hitting infrastructure can do for him.
Along those same lines, Jared Young did not have a good season at Tennessee. He got off to a great start, then faded quickly as he struggled to hit for either average or power. He would flash occasionally, but was not the dominant hitter he was in 2018 at South Bend and Myrtle Beach. If the revamped development staff can get Young to tap back into the power he showed in 2018, when he hit 16 homers, he could have a bright future.
Considering how much depth the Cubs have at catcher, they may look to move some guys off that position and over to first base. Ethan Hearn and Ronnier Quintero are two young left-handed hitting catchers who are going to be developing for quite a while, as in the middle of the next decade before they can get to Chicago, so there’s time to see what happens with them.
Who is the wild card?
I really like Luke Reynolds as a hitter, but this past season wasn’t great for him. The 2018 draft pick had a good summer Eugene, putting up a .383 OBP, but really struggled at Myrtle Beach to begin 2019. He went down to South Bend and began to put things together in the second half of July, earning his way back to Myrtle Beach and hitting .300 with a .382 OBP in August. He will need to put things together quickly because he’ll be 25 years old in March, but he could start at Double-A if he has a good spring.
Reynolds, Durna, and Young all look to be competing for spots at similar levels in 2020, so spring training is going to be really interesting for those of you who get into the various position battles and minor-league assignments. While there still aren’t any clear-cut first basement who can come close to replacing Rizzo in Chicago, changes to the Cubs’ drafting and development philosophies have the position looking stronger than it has in years.