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Top 5 Cubs First Base Prospects

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Matt Swain

Illinois engineering student, way too emotionally invested in the Cubs.

This is the second in a series of position by position looks at the Cubs top prospects. Previous entries can be found below:

Top 5 Catchers

Listed after each player is their age for the 2010 season and the level at which they ended last season. 

1. Rebel Ridling, 24, A Peoria

Drafted in 2008 out of Oklahoma State, Ridling boasts an impressive stature and a mustache that would make Pedro Sanchez proud. In his professional debut, he struggled to adjust to Midwest League pitching, striking out 50 times and walking just 8 on his way to a .200 batting average. He would show some serious power though, homering 10 times in about 180 plate appearances.

Following his struggles and subsequent reassignment to Peoria, Ridling made a shift in his plate approach that yielded dramatic results, specifically leveling out his swing and taking a more patient approach. His strikeout rate fell dramatically from his 2008 performance, including his college numbers, and he was able to maintain a walk rate of nearly 7%, also an improvement on his debut. His power showed a simultaneous drop, and his isolated power fell from .226 to .156 as his home runs turned to doubles. 

Ridling hits line drives to all fields with authority, showing an impressive bat that projects to continue to produce high batting averages (.310 in 2009). The main concern is that his performance was a result of a 23 year old college hitter repeating the Midwest League, and he is somewhat behind the typical progression. 

He'll need to conquer the Florida State League in Daytona this season (no small feat for a hitter), and move on to AA Tennessee before he can regain the distinction of being "age appropriate". Ridling is a decent prospect with a chance to make a splash in his mid-upper 20's, a la Micah Hoffpauir and Jake Fox, if he continues to hit.

2. Blake Lalli, 27, AA Tennessee
2. Blake Lalli, 27, AA Tennessee

Though he has caught in the past, Lalli spent 2009 playing mostly at first base for Tennessee. He is another case of a slow progressing hitter, not beginning his career until 23 and paying his dues in Peoria until his age 25 season. 2008 was a big step for Lalli, as he finally was able to emerge from the Midwest League and have a big year in Daytona, and he continued his success in 2009 with a .314/.372/.421 line.

Lalli, an undrafted free agent from Gardner-Webb, has a sweet lefty swing that produces ample line drives and has led to a .304 career average. He also shows good plate discipline and on-base skills (career .354 OBP).

Offensively, the one place he lacks is in the power department. Like Ridling, Lalli's swing is fairly level and he doesn't get much loft on the ball, leading to low HR totals. At his age, it's very unlikely the power will ever show, so what you see is what you get, 5-10 HR power, along with some hitting and on-base ability.

Is that enough to be a factor in the MLB at first base? No. But if he can continue to field 1B, 3B, and C, he has a chance to be a useful bench piece for the Cubs.

3. Ryne White, 23, A+ Visalia (Arizona Organization)

Recently obtained from the Diamondbacks in the Aaron Heilman trade along with RP Scott Maine, White is a stocky left-hander who racks up walks but has questionable power.

For a full write-up on White, check out this post I made upon his acquisition in November.

4. Justin Bour, 22, A- Boise

Bour was a 25th round selection out of George Mason, where he had a prolific college career, racking up 46 HRs and 187 RBIs in 161 games. He's a huge guy at 6 foot 4 and 250 pounds, andt has a soft body with a thick lower half.

Despite his size and college success, Bour showed very little power in his pro debut for Boise, and the little power he did show dwindled as the season progressed. After a hot start in July, an extended slump beginning in August and lasting through to the end of the season brought his overall line down to a disappointing .253/.338/.369. 

Bour was topping balls at a high rate, with 62% of his balls in play being groundballs. Combined with his poor speed, that led to a BABIP of .296, which figures to improve next season. Ultimately though, he'll need to work on getting underneath more balls and turning grounders into line-drives.

It's hard to imagine that hitting ability all just disappeared, but sometimes players' bats just don't make the leap from college to the pro ranks, especially coming from smaller conferences like the Colonial Athletic Association. Above everything else, first basemen need to produce in the batter's box, and Bour needs to kick it into gear in the next couple seasons to have any MLB hopes.

For an interview I did with Bour conducted last summer, click here.

5. Charles Thomas, 21, Rookie Mesa

Thomas' debut also came this season after being drafted in the 10th round of June's draft. At first glance, his .306/.356/.431 line seems like a flat-out success, but upon further inspection, the outlook is considerably more grim.

His .306 batting average was on the back of a .414 batting average on balls in play, as Thomas struggled to put the bat on the ball with 43 strikeouts in 177 plate appearances. His low contact rate and an inevitable correction in the BABIP don't bode well for the youngster.

At this point, the sample size is entirely too small to say anything definitive about Thomas, and he ranks 5th on the list mainly because of a weakness at first base. He was a hard throwing pitcher in college, so there remains a possibility of a position switch down the road should hitting not work out for him.

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