Top Cubs Prospects: The First Baseman

Top Cubs Prospects: The First Baseman

Last offseason, the Cubs  acquired one of the top 1B prospects in the game in Anthony Rizzo.  After an ill-timed call-up with San Diego last season, the Cubs decided to keep Rizzo in AAA to make some adjustments.  It's safe to say now he adjusted pretty well and now looks to be the Cubs starting 1B for the foreseeable future.

First base is a tricky position when making a prospect list, in no small part because you don't often draft 1Bs very high in the draft.  Many MLB 1Bs played somewhere else as amateurs, especially high schoolers -- and even as professionals.  The Cubs, in particular, have made a habit of drafting late round, productive 1Bs as organizational placeholders.  Usually teams eventually move a top offensive prospect when their defense doesn't cut it at other positions.   It's similar to how few pitchers are relievers from the get go.  Most of the better prospects are tried as starters first.

The Cubs have a glaring exception to that rule in Dan Vogelbach.  He was drafted as a 1B and will remain at that position as long as he stays in the NL.  The Cubs took a gamble with Vogelbach, rating him higher than many other teams in the 2011 draft.  The weight was a concern, of course, but it's not just that.  If you're going to draft a 1B early and give him a huge signing bonus, then he better be able to mash.  Thankfully, Vogelbach can mash.

As such, he's an easy pick for the #1 on this list but then it gets a little foggy.  I can envision a few players right now moving to 1B, but that's obviously a last resort for the Cubs, not just because they already have Rizzo in the majors and Vogelbach in the minors, but because there is simply less value there.  The pressure on the bat increases.  You don't just want your 1B to hit, you want him to at least as well as the norm for that position for him to be an asset -- and that's a pretty high bar offensively given the big bats at the MLB level.

*One note with regard to the position change candidates.  I'll give guys like Stephen Bruno and Jeimer Candelario a more complete write-up when I cover their current positions.

1. Dan Vogelbach, 19, 6'0, 250 lbs, L/L

  • Likely 2013 club: Kane County (A)
  • ETA: 2016

Vogelbach can flat out hit.  He batted .322/.410/.641 between two levels, including 17 HRs in just 61 games.  He has a compact, uncomplicated swing, great balance, and tremendous bat speed.  Factor in his raw strength and what you have is a guy who many scouts rate as having "80", or top of the scale, power.  He's not just a HR hitter, though.  His swing is shorter than you would expect, and he has excellent pitch recognition with the discipline to lay off bad pitches .  That combination of traits should also allow him to hit for average and draw some walks (13.7% walk rate at Boise), so we're talking about a player who will contribute both OBP and slugging at the plate.  As for his demeanor, he has an infectious enthusiasm and is popular with his teammates, but don't get the wrong impression that he's just a class clown.  The kid is a serious competitor.  He was all business once the game started.

That's the good news.

The bad news is that his entire value is limited to his bat.   He's not the athlete that Prince Fielder is.  He doesn't run well and his defense is below average at this point.  One scout called his range, "one step and dive".  I don't know if I'd go that far, but it's close and I did see Vogelbach struggle with his footwork on the one tough chance he had in instructs.  If Vogelbach can just get himself to be adequate defensively, however, his offense will more than make up for those deficiencies.  With Rizzo entrenched at 1B, it's going to take the NL adopting the DH for Vogelbach to play in Chicago.  But that's not something we should be worried about now.  Vogelbach doesn't turn 20 until December and has yet to play full season ball.  There is plenty of time to see things shake out.  For now, we should just enjoy watching him crush the baseball.

2. Rock Shoulders, 21, 6'2", 225 lbs., L/R

  • Likely 2013 club: Kane County (A)
  • ETA: 2016

Shoulders (.250./.342/.447) makes for an interesting comparison/contrast with Vogelbach. When it comes to hitting tape measure HRs, Shoulders isn't too far behind his Boise teammate.  In fact, he may have hit the longest HR I saw this year at that level.  Shoulders has great strength and is athletic enough to have moved to the OF when Vogelbach arrived.  1B, however, is his best position on defense and probably where he'll play if he makes the big leagues - even though his best chance of playing on the Cubs will be in the OF.  Shoulders has good discipline at the plate, drawing a walk in nearly 12% of his plate appearances.  He's also a good kid who's outgoing and popular with his teammates.

Shoulders loads a little deeper than Vogelbach and that may partly account for the difference in batting average and contact rates, but his swing is otherwise balanced with good bat speed. With respect to his batting average, I was surprised to see that he didn't have a particularly long swing when I watched him on video, though it's possible, like some ballplayers (i.e. Rizzo in '11) that he lengthens it when he's struggling to find his power. At any rate, Shoulders has legit power.  He's not, however, the overall hitter that Vogelbach is, and thus will have to continue to put up a high walk rate to maintain a respectable OBP.  This past season, he was more of what is known as a 3 outcome guy.  45% of his PAs ended up with either a walk, strikeout, or HR. Defensively, he has the work ethic and enough athleticism to become a solid defender at 1B.

3. Justin Bour, 24, 6'4", 250 lbs., L/R

  • Likely 2013 club: Iowa (AAA)
  • ETA: Late 2013

There's no way around it.  Bour is in a tough spot.  He has Anthony Rizzo ahead of him and Dan Vogelbach behind him.  At AA, Bour was a highly productive player, driving in 110 runs to tie for the lead in the Cubs organization with Rizzo, who had 110 between Iowa and Chicago, and edging out Alfonso Soriano and his 108 RBIs at the big league level.  Overall Bour hit .283/.360/.455.   Despite his great size, one area of concern for Bour is the power department.  He's solid at 17 HRs and a .172 ISO at the AA level, but not really what you want from your starting 1B.  His average may also have been inflated a bit by a .332 BABIP, a rate he is unlikely to sustain at the MLB level.

Bour is a good minor league player but a fringe prospect because he just may not hit enough when compared to MLB first baseman, including Rizzo himself.  Moreover, he's not the defender that Rizzo is and isn't athletic enough to play anwhere else.  I really admire productive players like Bour and I wish I had a more optimistic write-up, but he's a one-tool player and that tool, his bat, may not be good enough for the position he plays.  He'll need to improve his defense and hit for more power at Iowa next year to get his shot at the majors, but that shot, barring injury, probably won't be coming with the Cubs.

4. Trevor Gretzky, 20, 6'4", 190

  • Likely 2013 club: Boise (short season A)
  • ETA: 2017

The Cubs are banking on Gretzky's athleticism and bloodlines to quickly make up for the fact that he's very raw as a baseball player.  Gretzky plays both 1B and OF right now but the way I look at it, his ticket to the majors will be power.  For that to happen, he's going to have to make some adjustments, gain experience and fill out that tall, slender frame.  He's a good athlete now with decent speed for his size,  but if he winds up being, say 6'4", 220, he may not stay quick enough to be an outfielder at the MLB level. If he does retain his speed, however, he has the natural athleticism and solid arm strength to stay in the OF, but I think he winds up at 1B once he fills out.  I hope I'm wrong.

Gretzky has yet to hit for power (.026 ISO at Rookie Level AZ) but he did start coming on with the bat late in the season, finishing with a .304 batting average.  He also has surprisingly good discipline for a player of his experience (9.1% walk rate).  The reason observers think he can hit for power are his potential to fill out and gain strength plus the fact that he does show some natural lift in his swing, though it can get long at times.  Right now, the only place you'll see Gretzky's power is at batting practice, so he he has a long way to go and a lot of work to do.  Technically, he's a better prospect than Bour (or at least has a higher ceiling), but he's so far from reaching the bigs right now that I slotted him here.

5. Jacob Rogers, 23, 6'5", 195 lbs., L/R

  • Likely 2013 club: Daytona (Advanced A)
  • ETA: 2016

Rogers has some of the traits on and off the field that Theo and the front office likes.  On the field, he has good plate discipline and big power potential.  That's why they've drafted him twice, once out of high school when they ran the Red Sox and again in the 40th round of this past draft.

Rogers is an extremely patient hiter, walking in 20% of his PAs, including 27.5% in his brief time in Peoria.  His overall line last season was .326/.462/.507.  He only hit 4 HRs in 173 PAs, but one of them was off the scoreboard at O'Brien Field in Peoria, the first ever to do that, so the raw power is there. The problem is that Rogers is already 23 and will probably start the season in A ball.  He's very tall, but he's also very slender, and unlike Gretzky, he doesn't have the time and room to fill out and be much more than that.  The real test for Rogers will be when he faces players closer to his age bracket and if he is still hitting when he reaches AA, he has a chance.

Position change candidate: Jeimer Candelario, 18, 6'1", 180, S/R

Obviously there are a lot of candidates here, but Candelario is the best of them right now.  The hope is that Candy can stay at 3B, where he'd have more value.  He has the hands and the arm to stick there, but he's just 18 and he's probably not done growing yet.  He's not a great natural athlete, so he may not have enough range to stick there if he continues to grow -- and he may not be fast enough to play the OF either.  But Candelario has big time bat potential and if he reaches it, the Cubs will find a spot for him, or at least get some value in return somewhere.  Josh Vitters and newly signed Jesse Hodges are also candidates, as are a few others.

Others:

As mentioned earlier, the Cubs draft a lot of organizational types to play 1B with the expectation that top hitting prospects who struggle with defense can always move there later.  Greg Rohan's best position is 1B, though his future as a big leaguer may be as a guy who can fill in at the four corners (LF, RF, 3B, 1B).  Rebel Ridling was already a fringe prospect going into the season and a bad year could spell the end for him in the organization.  The same may be true of Paul Hoilman, who after making headlines by setting the record for the longest hitting streak at Peoria (24 games), slumped badly for the rest of the year before getting hurt.  Hoilman's swing is too long and I talked to a scout who wasn't impressed with his defense.  With Vogelbach and Shoulders coming up behind him and Rogers surpassing him on the depth chart, there's really nowhere for Hoilman to go.  If you dig deep, a player like Ricardo Marcano in the DSL, whom some have compared to Victor Martinez, looks like a candidate to move to 1B as he gets older and fills out.

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    John. Hypothetical here. Lets say Dan Vogel. turns out to be a beast on offense but mediocre on a perfect day defensively. What is the value we could get in a trade for a player like that, assuming Rizzo stays consistent and improves to become a perennial all star.

  • In reply to Demarrer:

    If he's doing it at the upper levels, then you can almost look at it like the Rizzo situation where the Padres picked up a top young arm with MLB experience in Andrew Cashner. Most thought that the Padres could have gotten more, however, because many feel Cashner's inevitable fate is as a reliever. Based on that I say an SP with upside at the upper levels.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    If he's mashing ... anything is possible.

    One thing of note is that the Rizzo trade had a lot of unique dynamics in that

    a) you had a FO (well, Hoyer ... weren't the reports that Epstein was a bit lukewarm about dealing Cashner) that had a long history with Rizzo and loved him, perhaps a lot more than most,

    b) You had Rizzo tank badly in his call-up which led to

    c) You had the Padres target a separate first base prospect.

    d) You had a Padres organization that believed in Cashner as a starter, long run (and a Padres organization that was willing to gamble on some power arms). Furthermore, the Padres had also lost Heath Bell, so I'm sure in the back of their mind, they thought Cashner's fallback could still address a need.

    ___________

    If Vogelbach keeps mashing at the upper levels, you could perhaps see him be a cog in a key deal, akin to the Yonder Alonso/Yasmani Grandal (and Co.) trade for Latos, or akin to Matt LaPorta as a key piece in the CC Sabathia deal.

  • Too bad about Bour. Love to see them give him a chance versus big league hitting before deciding about him. Though maybe he'd be an ideal player to package this offseason - he's bookended by Rizzo and Vogelbach and his value is as high as it's ever been with his 110 ribbies.

  • In reply to Carne Harris:

    If a team wants him they can probably get him for free, as I don't believe the Cubs will protect him for the Rule 5. I think he needs to have the most intense offseason he's ever had this year. He looked a little heavy and he's the kind of guy who's going to have to take care of his body. Maybe a little leaner with more muscle mass may help both his power and defense. If he gets in better shape and hits more dingers in AAA, he'll increase his value. but I don't think it will ever be a whole lot.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    That seems crazy to me with those numbers. All comes down to what a power position 1b is, I guess.

  • In reply to Carne Harris:

    It really is tough for a 1B. If you live by your bat then it has to be really, really good. The RBIs help illustrate what a productive season Bour had, but it's also opportunity based. It doesnt tell us what kind of hitter he will be at the MLB level. In other words, it's not predictive. Bour is a good minor league player who had a heck of a season, but he'll have to have a big year at Iowa in terms of slugging and OBP to raise his value.

  • In reply to Carne Harris:

    Problem is, it's hard to see Bour as a key piece in a package. It's hard to even see him as a key 2nd piece in a package.

    He's a gap-hitting, bad body first baseman. That's just a tough combination to really net a useful return with. It's hard to imagine the power developing much more - the reports out of college was basically along the lines of what he's shown so far in his career - solid approach at the plate, but won't generate plus power.

  • Report out saying Magadan took the job with Texas btw.

  • In reply to Carne Harris:

    That is a bummer.

  • Thanks John, nice analysis as always. Thanks for including Marcano. Please include more from the DSL, or maybe devote a whole piece to it some time. I wish their game were on cable, and in English for us Spanish challenged beisball fans.

    When you're working on pitchers, please cover any conversion candidates you can think of as well, like maybe Lake or that ambidextrous kid we drafted this year.

  • In reply to SFToby:

    Thanks Toby. Hard to rate DSL guys because I don't see them play, have very limited scouting info, and stats at that level are basically worthless. I'll mostly mention them in the" others" section, though there may be a couple who sneak into the top 5 lists.

    I'll have to think about conversions to pitching. There are a few candidates...Lake, Rademacher..right now they're longshots but we know the Cubs have done it in the past with their old regime with guys like Marmol, Wells and prospects like Burke.

  • John, is seeing Rizzo move to the outfield an outrageous suggestion for the future? I know he would have to learn the position, but it seems that it would be hard for him to be much worse than Soriano a couple of years ago, or Bryan LaHair for that matter.

  • In reply to WillW:

    I'm afraid so. Boston tried him in the OF and he just doesn't have the kind of speed and athleticism you want out there. Even if he did, he's a big bodied kid., When he turns 30 he'll get even slower. He's a 1B to stay.

    As far as LaHair, there's a reason he didn't play out there much after Rizzo got there. You need to have good defense at this level to win. Not that the Cubs did much of that. Soriano at least had the athletic ability, speed, and arm to cover up some mistakes when he was younger.

  • good work john, Off subject but do you find it funny that red sox are trying to get the blue jays manager. I hope boston gets the same treatment that they gave the cubs. What goes around comes around.

  • In reply to seankl:

    Thanks.

    Blue Jays say they want a good player, maybe even someone off the 25 man roster. So let's see what the Red Sox think when they're on the other side of the equation.

  • John, when you look at SS, 2nd, and 3rd base can your let us
    know which prospects can only play one position and which ones
    can play more than one. For example, who is really the best
    2nd and 3rd baseman.

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    I'll keep them at the positions I think they play best. Not sure if that answers your question!

  • Anyone remember Greg Luzinski and his size?....Great bat with power.....but slow footed...... the Phillies stuck him into left field.........what was the players name who played right field for the Cubs after Sosa?......he was a terrible outfielder, but had an average bat......was it Burnitz?......so if the Cubs had a very fast CF who can cheat to left center, and a fast guy who can cover in right, Vogelbach could hang around if he can pound out 40 HR's......and the Cubs won't have to pay the kid $140 million in his first 6 years.

  • In reply to CubsTalk:

    Luzinski was an inch or two taller and 30 pounds lighter...at least. He was a better athlete too. Then factor in that it was just a different era, you didn't have the athletes you do now and you could get away with playing a slower guy out there.

    Burnitz was a good athlete, he had some speed...completely different body type.

    There is no way Vogelbach can play the OF in today's game at that size. Either the NL will have to adopt the DH or the Cubs will have to trade Rizzo for him to play in Chicago.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to John Arguello:

    I think this will help out all the guys who think we can move Vogelbomb to the outfield.

    Well whose a better athlete as of right now? Adam Dunn or Vogelbach?

    I think Dunn was prob a much better athlete in his early 20's as a former football player then Vogelbach is now, but I never seen the vogelbomb play.

    I know back in his younger days Dunn played a lot of OF for the Reds and Nats. I believe he did play a couple games in the OF for the sox this yr? Maybe not?

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I agree that Rizzo and Vogelbach cannot play the OF. Do you think one of them can play 3B? An IF of
    Vogelbach - 1B
    Baez - 2B
    Castro - SS
    Rizzo - 3B
    looks good.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to CubsTalk:

    It's worth asking, but neither Rizzo or Vogelbach can play OF. It's really early to think about how to get both on the roster, since Vogelbach is a long way from being a polished prospect, but once he is, and if Rizzo continues to hit, we don't have room for both.

    That's OK, because I'm sure we'll have other needs. The better Vogelbach is, the more we would receive in return

    Trading him now is not a good idea; he won't have real value until he can prove he can hit at higher levels, like AA.

  • Cubs have many prospects coming up by 2015..2016...2017....and many more to be added in the years ahead.....maybe one or two prospects who will be drafted next year will be here sooner than ones drafted two years ago......nice problem to have....but I believe Theo will be looking for starting lineup position players to draft after drafting pitchers.

  • In reply to CubsTalk:

    I think you're right. He'll still keep drafting good position players, maybe even in the first round. You have to keep that pipeline going. You can't have too much talent, you can either trade them or it allows you to trade current MLB'ers for areas you need.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    John is the FO pushing Vogelbach to lose weight? It would seem to be in his best interest to lose say 30 pounds now which would likely help him defensively. Better fitness and footwork would make a big difference in how scouts project him. Also as we all know father time makes it difficult to lose the weight after 30 so if he doesn't get on board now he will likely be pushing 280-300 by his prime years.

  • In reply to JeremyR:

    I'm sure they're thinking along those lines., He's lost a lot of weight already. He was at 280 at one point and he's down to 250. I'm not sure he'll ever be small enough to be an efficient outfielder, but I do think it will help him at 1B. I guess the catch is you don't want to risk losing any of that power.

  • In reply to CubsTalk:

    If a pitcher is drafted 1st, then drafted hitters if talent is equal.

  • You know, he doesn't merit that much attention overall, but Rebel Ridling was probably my biggest individual disappointment this year. Not that I expected him to become a star ... but I just didn't expect him to collapse at a level that he did well at last year (granted, his 2011 in AA was really a good start and end to the season, and average/mediocre in b/w). Just odd, and I don't expect to see him in the organization next year.

    Greg Rohan has sort of replaced him in the hierachy as the semi-versatile corner guy, and I could see him get some opportunities to be a Scott Spiezio/Eric Hinske type option for a couple years. Not sure Rohan's bat is good enough to consistently stay in the bigs, but he should get looks (not sure where you are planning to dump Rohan in your lists ... guessing 3rd, hence why he is off in the others section here).

    I'm guessing you are keeping Geiger at 3rd for now, but for me, I'd probably slide him ahead of Rogers and Gretzky if I considered him at 1st (and he probably ends up doing what Rohan did, playing the 4 corners). The expectations aren't high, but he also doesn't turn 21 for another month.

    As a side comment, Peoria was littered with a lot of mediocre guys this year. That said, it wouldn't surprise me if some of them (namely, Chen, DeVoss, Geiger) had some semi-breakouts next year. Not expecting huge seasons, mind you, just could see them hit enough to get some attention next year, once they leave the MWL.

  • In reply to toonsterwu:

    Was never a big fan of Ridling, personally. I know some people liked him a lot last year. I always thought of him as a fringe prospect but no way did I think he would regress the way he did this year. That was surprising.

    I dont know if Rohan makes any list actually simply because of his age and the fact that he spent over half the season in A ball as a 26 year old. The track record of success for those kinds of players isn't promising at all.

    He also needs to be protected on the roster from the Rule 5, but I think the Cubs will leave him exposed. It wouldn't surprise me to see a team looking for a 3B to take him.

    Good call on Geiger. He was another guy I should have mentioned as a possible position change candidate to 1st. He's gotten a bit thick and he's not as quick at 3B as when the Cubs drafted him.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    To be clear, it's not that I honestly expected Ridling to become anything of significant value (although, I have to be honest and note that in a bold predictions thread on another side, before the season, I said that I thought he might get a chance to get called up at midseason). It's that I thought he had a chance to become a corner backup who had pop off the bench (granted, that isn't THAT valuable). He played a decent OF, which most didn't realize, and he played a solid 1st. I honestly have no idea what happened this year - it's not like his down months last year were that awful that one could predict such a bad season.

    It's not that I have high expectations for Rohan either. As noted, I think there's a decent chance of getting some looks as a corner backup. It's that I think there's too much unknown about Rogers and Gretzky right now, and I'm not all that sure their ceiling is that high. Thus, the fact that Rohan is in the upper levels might get a tiny bump from year. In all honesty, only Vogelbach really deserves attention, and Shoulders at 2nd is an easy one. After that, dime a dozen guys unless someone breaks out. I expect Rohan to be left unprotected and to be back in the organization. I don't think any team will stash him away - corner guys with pop at the AAA level can be found.

    Geiger was never expected to stay at 3rd. IIRC, even the pre-draft reports that year said he had to move down the line. But ... considering how you are keeping Candelario at 3rd for now, and considering Geiger is likely to get some PT at 3rd next year and played 3rd this year a fair amount, having him on the 3rd base list does make some sense.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    In the games that I saw in Tenn in 2011, Ridling struck me as looking very young, and very soft. He didn't look like an athlete who was heavy....he just looked like a pudgy college kid. Seeing him next to Brett Jackson, the difference was almost comical. Of course, he did hit a walk off HR in one of the games.

  • Is there a limit on the number of rule 5 players that can get drafted off one team?

  • In reply to SFToby:

    Yes. Not sure what it is...2, 3? I'd have to look it up but won't be able to do that until later.

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