With Anthony Rizzo firmly implanted at first base since 2012, the Cubs really haven’t had a need to go out and develop a replacement. But Rizzo will be 32 years old and beginning the back third of his career when his contract expires at the end of the 2021 season. Even if the Cubs end up signing him to an extension, they need to have some options waiting in the wings.
Most of the prospects they’ve used at first in the minors were catchers taking a day off from behind the plate or outfielders trying to get a few extra at-bats. In fact, the Cubs paid so little attention to the role at the start of Theo Epstein’s leadership that they drafted just one first baseman from 2012-17, and that was in the first year of that sample. Anyone remember Jacob Rodgers?
However, the organization’s approach to the position has changed greatly over the last three years. Last winter, the Cubs traded Tony Kemp to the Athletics in exchange for Alfonso Rivas, who was coming off of an outstanding Arizona Fall League campaign and a season in which he rose from Single- to Triple-A. Rivas has excellent bat-to-ball skills and showed the ability to flex to the outfield during a standout turn in fall instructs. The only issue is his power, which may not translate beyond doubles.
The Cubs selected Tyler Durna in the 2018 draft and he displayed outstanding defense and bat-to-ball skills the following year at South Bend. He hit .286 in the first half and was ripping at a .372 clip in June when was promoted to Myrtle Beach, after which minor injuries nagged him for the rest of the year. Durna will likely be at Double-A Tennessee when baseball resumes.
Undrafted free agent Matt Mervis joined the organization this past summer and finally got a chance to show his pop during instructs. Mervis is built to hit home runs at 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds and will be one of the Cubs’ top power prospects to watch in 2021. While he has yet to play in a game that really mattered, he should begin 2021 at high-A South Bend.
Duke keeps on rolling!
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Nelson Maldonado, who the Cubs drafted out of Florida in 2019, would actually be a perfect candidate for the DH role that’s likely to become permanent in the NL either this year or next. He quickly tore through Eugene and was a key player in South Bend’s championship run a year ago. Not only did Maldonado crank out a couple of homers in the postseason, but he also drove in 10 runs in seven postseason games.
Once a weakness in the system, first base improved the most in terms of depth over the past year. The additions of Rivas and Mervis are a good start, but don’t be shocked if VP of Scouting Dan Kantrovitz continues adding to the position in the 2021 MLB Draft.
Other positional breakdowns