Cubs Organizational Depth: 1B

First base is an odd position to rate because unless you are a monster at the plate, it’s not really a position where you want your prospects to start out.  It’s often for that guy who can really hit but who can’t quite cut it defensively at 3B, catcher, or the OF.

But not always.  The Cubs do have a great hitter who is a 1B only prospect from day one — and yes, he is a potential monster at the plate.  We’re talking, of course, about Kane County 1B Dan Vogelbach.

This is the type of player we are covering today rather than speculate on which prospects don’t have the defensive chops to stick at their current position.  Because of that, this won’t go as in-depth as catcher because very few “natural” 1B qualify as prospects because the offensive bar is so much higher.

Current MLB starter:

Anthony Rizzo, 23 (24 tomorrow)

.240/.333/.451, .341 wOBA, 113 RC+

Rizzo hasn’t had the kind of big year many of us hoped but it hasn’t been a lost season for him either.  In fact, in some ways he’s just as good a player as he was last season.  Where Rizzo has improved is his plate discipline and his power.  His defense is still well-above average, perhaps Gold Glove caliber.  So while you don’t have a guy who is wowing you with the numbers, you do have a player who is settling nicely into the kind of player the Cubs prefer — Great approach, great defense, and power.  His walk rate this season is a very solid 11.2%, up about 4% from last season.  His ISO% ( a statistics that isolates the power numbers from slugging percentage) is at .211, up from .178 last season.  Those are not small increases.  Those are huge improvements.  Rizzo’s improving ability to take the ball the other way has substantially increased his doubles power while retaining his 25-30 HR power (he projects to hit 27) and keeping his strikeout rate pretty low for a power guy (18.7%).  The one thing that’s a blemish on Rizzo’s season is his rather pedestrian .240 average, but even that can be accounted for by a very low BABIP this season (.264).  When you put it all together, Rizzo has been as productive as he was last season.  The wOBA is at .341, pretty close to the .349 mark he was at last year, while his RC+ is 113 compared to 116 last season.  But given how Rizzo has improved in terms of plate discipline and hitting the ball the other way with authority, I’ll take it because that BABIP luck will turn around — and when it does you’ll once again be talking about Rizzo as a potential all-star 1B.

Top Prospects:

Dan Vogelbach, 20, Kane County (A)

.282/.359/.449, 16 HRs; .366 wOBA, 124 RC+

Speaking of learning to go the other way, the powerful but once pull-happy Dan Vogelbach has learned to do exactly that.  In some ways, the two best hitting 1B in the Cubs organization have been on similar paths.  Vogelbach has not only learned to take the ball the other way, but he can do so with authority, hitting a number of doubles toward left-center to go with a few HRs that way.  Another thing I like about Vogelbach is that he still has great plate discipline (11.2% walk rate) but he has learned to foul off borderline pitches he can’t drive.  Whereas last year he’d take some of those pitches or take a big swing (which resulted in a few more walks and even more strikeouts), this year he’s fouling them off in hopes of getting the pitcher to make a mistake on the next offering.  All those changes in his approach have brought Vogelbach’s K rate down to 14.8%, extremely low for a power hitter.  The power is down this year but it’s hard to say Vogelbach hasn’t made serious progress as a hitter.  It’s not the empty numbers we saw from once Cubs top 1B prospect Brian Dopirak, who feasted on inferior pitching.  Vogelbach is using a more polished approach which should sustain — and even improve — production at the higher levels.  If Vogelbach has an achilles heel, it’s that he’s not near the defender that Rizzo is — but he works hard at it and if he can just make the plays he’s supposed to make, his bat will carry him to the big leagues.

Other Prospects of Note:

Rock Shoulders, 21, Kane County (A)

.258/.358/.472, 17 HRs, .376 wOBA, 131 RC+

While he doesn’t get the same prospect love as his slugging teammate, in some respects Shoulders has actually put up better numbers this year.  He has tailed off after a ridiculous April but Shoulders is still hitting the ball well.  His numbers have just regressed to ones that are more appropriate for his skill set.  Shoulders has similar power to Vogelbach and perhaps an even better batting eye.  What he lacks is Vogelbach’s ability to make consistent contact.  He also doesn’t take pitches the other way nearly as well at this point.   Shoulders is a different type of hitter than Vogelbach. He’s more of what’s known as a “3 outcome” guy that became popularized with past saber-favorites such as Adam Dunn and Jack Cust.  In other words, in any given AB, the chances are pretty good that Shoulders will either walk, strikeout, or hit a HR.  There’s a place for that type of player in this league, though it’s probably a better fit in the AL, especially considering that Shoulders isn’t a great defender at any position.  I’d consider him a prospect, but one that has a tremendous burden on his power bat and plate discipline to be a successful MLB player.

Dustin Geiger, 21, Daytona (A+)

.283/.366/.441, 11 HRs, 370 wOBA, .130 RC+

Geiger was drafted as a 3B and the Cubs liked his hands and arm from that position, but as so happens with young players, he filled out physically and lost some of the quickness and range that you like at that position.  His good hands should eventually make him an asset at 1B but switching to the position has put a greater burden on his bat.  Geiger used to sell out a lot for power and would go on HR binges at Peoria last season that would be followed by even longer HR droughts.  This year he has become a much better hitter, although hit has cost him in the HR department for now.  Geiger has increased his walk rate by nearly 4% — he’s just a shade under 10% this season — and he has cut down his strikeouts by 6%, down to 17.6%.  What Geiger has also done is become a much better situational hitter, adjusting his approach in RBI situations to one where he looks to make contact and drive runners home.  It has resulted in a career high 71 RBI.  While I don’t think RBI is a stat that tells you a ton about a hitter, I think that stat gets downplayed a bit too much by some.  Much of it depends on situation/environment, but it’s not entirely luck, some hitters just have a knack for adapting to the situation and getting the runner home.  Geiger seems to have that ability.  I wonder too if he might take the same path as the next hitter on this list, Justin Bour, who also became a great situational hitter in 2012 and then turned on the power this year and became a more productive hitter overall.  The difference is Geiger is 4 years younger than Bour, so his timetable is much more suitable for prospect status.

Justin Bour, 25, Tennessee (AA)

.230/.320/.482, 15 HRs, .353 wOBA, 121 RC+

Bour missed half the season with an injury and has put up those HR numbers in just 59 games this season.  His ISO has increased from a pedestrian (for a 1B) .172, to a much more position appropriate .252.   He has done this while simultaneously producing a small uptick in walks and even a slight improvement in his already good strikeout rate.  All of that is the good news.  The bad news is that Bour is hitting just .230, though much of that is the result of an unsustainably low BABIP of .218.   That average should rise in the near future.  Of greater long term concern is Bour’s age and a big body that he’ll need to keep working on to stay in good shape.  Like Vogelbach and Shoulders, his defense is adequate at best, so it’s going to have to be his bat that takes him to the majors.  Unlike those two, however, time is not on his side.




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  • John, do you consider trading guys like Bour or Geiger to an AL club , with the idea they could end up as DHS? I personally favor keeping Vogelboom, the kids offensive upside looks phemonemal, and I don't believe you trade that kind of power potential unless Im overwhelmed.

  • In reply to mutant beast:

    Non-elite 1B prospects don't have a lot of trade value. I think you just let them play and see how far they can get and if they're producing at AA or AAA at a high level, maybe you can include them in a package deal.

  • John, what would you describe Geiger's ceiling to be?

  • In reply to NathanE:

    What I'd like to see Geiger do is work hard on his defense and turn it into a plus. I think he can. If so, it lessens the burden somewhat on his bat and maybe he can be a .270, 20 HR guy with a good approach and good D. That type of player has a chance to contribute even at the MLB level at 1B.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    The fun part about guys like Geiger: he has essentially no chance of being a starter for the Cubs (Rizzo, Vogelbach, and Bryant ahead of him), but if he becomes that guy, he could be traded for a Cashner-lite return. (I did mean to type lite there.)

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    If he becomes that guy he can platoon with Rizzo. And he might be able to handle a little LF as well. He isn't a great athlete but he has a chance to be fringe acceptable in LF.

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    In reply to mjvz:

    I would think if Rizzo needs a platoon partner, Vogelbach or Bryant could take the job outright to increase roster flexibility.

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    I know this mental exercise accomplishes little, because A) Vogelbach is in low-A ball, B) injuries and/or lack of development can happen to anyone over a period of time, C) too many good players is never a bad thing to have, and D) trades do happen...but I'd like to do it anyway.

    John, let's say Vogelbach progresses the way you, myself, and many foresee. Let's say in 2015, he's in AAA and knocking at the big leagues. However, let's also say Anthony Rizzo is still our first baseman, and he's somewhere on the spectrum between above average and All Star. And let's remove the trade scenario to make this more difficult.

    What would you do? Would you try Vogelbach in LF? Move Rizzo to LF? Pray for the DH to be implemented in the NL?

    In a theoretical world, two power hitting left handed bats (e.g., Rizzo and Vogelbach) would look awfully nice in a lineup full of right handed bats (e.g., Baez, Bryant, Almora, Castro, Lake, et al.)

  • In reply to Chris Trengove:

    I like Vogelbach as a hitter a lot, but I also like Rizzo's all-around skills. So I'm praying for the DH. Neither can play LF

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Amen to the DH. And if Vogelbach keeps improving his D he'll be able to give Rizzo the odd day off from the field here and there. Enjoyed the article!

  • In reply to StatHead:

    Thanks. A lot of stat stuff right up your alley!

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    If Vogelbach progresses, that question will be asked over and over: Can he or Rizzo play LF?

    Scouts have almost universally said "No" to both of them playing anything but 1B.

  • In reply to Zonk:

    Yes...I actually don't know any who have said either can move.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Those that think Vogelbach couldn't play left field are not old enough to remember Sauer.

    Or Kiner.

    Or Braun

    Or for that matter, Raphael Soriano a couple of years ago.

  • In reply to Chris Trengove:

    My 12 year-old self would accomplish this in MVP '95 by simply playing the 250 pound man who throws with his left hand at 2nd base. Dale? Are you listening?

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    In reply to Ratmoss:

    Nice. Vogelbach at 2B. I'm seeing the possibilities...

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    In reply to Ratmoss:

    Actually, he throws with his right...not that that makes 2nd a real possibility.

  • In reply to Chris Trengove:

    Just thinking of the potential lineup we could have in 2-3 years is enough get you pumped despite the miserable season!!

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    err, not 2015. Make that more of a 2016 estimate

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    Can't wait for 3B and shortstop.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Those are going to be monster articles. I'll probably have to shorten it up on some of the lesser prospects, especially at SS.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I would think 3B would be way longer than SS. 3B has Olt, Lake, Javy, Villanueva, Bryant, Candelerio, Malave and you could even throw Vitters, Bruno, Amaya into the discussion. SS you got Javy, Hernandez, Penalver and Sanchez and I'm straining to find anyone else..

  • In reply to mjvz:

    Lake is not a 3rd basemen. Look at his stats, he couldn't handle 3rd even in the minors. He is our left fielder until further notice.

  • I'm kind of hoping Brad Nelson actually gets a shot with the big team (if only for a day). This way I can buy a jersey with Nelson on the back and not have it completely be a vanity jersey.

  • I love VogelBOMB! and Rizzo both.... but I despise the DH. I hope that never makes it's way to the NL.

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    In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    I hear ya. I prefer the no DH type of game myself. But I have a feeling we may eventually see it in all of baseball.

    Could we see the DH along with the entire reorganization of the divisions so that we look more like the NFL? We are already seeing more AL vs NL games each year. Why do we still have 2 leagues? A reorg could set up more possibilities for playoffs and regional rivalries.

    Change is coming, imo.

  • In reply to bocabobby:

    I think it is to. It adds more offense to the game. The steroid era has proven that Fans wants offense. I just really appreciate the nuances and strategy of the game without the DH more.

  • In reply to bocabobby:

    I think an interesting concept would be to let the home field team decide on whether to DH or not. Perhaps they need to designate one day before or something of that nature. Then it could become a home field advantage, with the home team getting to choose based a comparison of its DH with the opponents (and particular pitching matchups) and who has a better hitting pitcher.

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    In reply to springs:

    Interesting idea.

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    In reply to springs:

    Nice twist.... I kinda like it

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    Totally agree with you there, HoosierDaddy! I think I'd rather see Rizzo turn into a perennial GG/SS candidate while Vogelbach develops into an elite 22 year old hitter who every other team wants so he can get flipped for a finishing piece! Must begrudgingly tip the cap to the old regime for two really nice picks at the top of their final draft.

  • Rizzo's line drive percentage is way down this year which certainly is effecting his BABIP. Is that a change in swing/philosophy from last year or how pitchers are attacking him?

  • In reply to Ike03:

    Maybe just a factor of not squaring up as consistently and maybe hitting a few too many in the air, some statistical noise probably as well. I think he'll be fine.

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    RE: Vogelbach, we don't always need to find room for every good hitter. For good teams, prospects are currency; currency you can use to buy veteran players to help in the near-term.

    Just as you can never have enough currency, you can never have too many prospects at any position

    Ultimately, Texas is so good both in the majors and on the farm that Olt, Edwards, Villanueva, Hendricks, Grimm were all organizational surplus. Let's hope we are in that position one day.

  • In reply to Zonk:

    Very true and that's something we feel very strongly about here.

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    In reply to Zonk:

    Amen, Zonk

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    Rob Zastryzny ‏@RobZastryzny_8 9m

    By the amount of Blackhawks memorabilia I'm seeing, I assume I landed in the right airport. #chicago

    Promotion to KC?

  • In reply to bocabobby:

    Must be. Nice find.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    He is heading up to Kane. Fellow pitcher Trey Lang just asked him and he said, "Yes, sir!"

  • Hey John ... Zonk brings up an interesting point. An article on 'organizational surplus' prospects *might* be interesting. Would it have an 'in-out' component as players mature and are moved along?

    I'm not sure the Cubs are there yet, as Zonk mentioned. But I do believe that day is coming!!

    Fill those October days when our guys aren't playing and the rummies by the river are.

  • In reply to MoneyBoy:

    It probably would and maybe something I'll do at some point. For now, I'm hoping some of it is implied with the depth charts since I'm including the MLB starter.

  • Don't look now, but Vogelbach's minor league numbers compare favorably to another heavyset, left-handed slugging 1B by the name of Jim Thome.

  • I'm surprised some Cubs fans want the DH. Yes, Vogelbach would be a great DH but if he is a true MLB athlete he should be able to play a position. I would hate to lose the strategic element of the game, not to mention over 100 years of National League tradition. Watching home runs all day is not as much fun as a 3-2 game full of steals, bunts, pinch hitting and managers making meaningful decisions. Although I'm only in my 30's (yes, late 30's) maybe I'm old school. And yes, I refuse to go to interleague games but that is a topic for another day. Perhaps baseball should not sell out and keep a little bit of history in America's greatest game.

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    In reply to Hairdogg:

    I agree with much of your post. But I also see players that are less fundamentally sound as players from years ago. The bunting is simply horrible these days, even for pitchers. And sabermetrics has really put a hamper on stealing bases as the stats say giving away outs is never a good thing. So that basically leaves us the double switch element in the NL.

    Adding a DH would switch the focus more towards the hitters. But this could be equaled off with a little larger strike zone for pitchers if needed. This just one example of course and folks could think of even more creative ways to make baseball more of a spectators sport for the average fan.

    Cause let's face it. Most folks on the street when asked have no clue to what situational baseball is. There two busy cracking open another beer and talking smack to know what the count is or how many outs there may be or even what inning it might be. They just wanna see players cross the plate.....

    I'm not saying this is a bad thing or a good thing. It just is what it is.

  • In reply to bocabobby:

    I know saber metrics say that stealing bases isn't worth the risk but remembering the 80's Cards and Ricky Henderson there is a great disruption when a team can run.

  • In reply to Lee Smith HOF:

    have to laugh sometimes with the sabremetrics. I watched Francona bunt with men on 1st and 2nd no outs in the first and both scored and Francona gets ripped for giving up an out. Better than double play and flyball and 0 runs. But horrors he gave up an out. Indians won the game by the way.

  • In reply to Hairdogg:

    I don't always agree with a stand someone takes but I usually admire it. I both agree and admire your distain (would that be the right word?) for both the DH and interleague play. Additionally, I would be against team/league reorganization. I would prefer contraction before expansion and I don't like an orange baseballs:-)

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    Rizzo's not starting tonight.

  • Anything alarming as to why?

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    In reply to MoneyBoy:

    Sveum's just going with an all right-handed hitting lineup against Hamels.

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    It's been a long time since he's had a day off, IIRC

  • In reply to Zonk:


  • I would be very reluctant to trade Vogelbach before he's dominating AAA pitching with no National League DL rule likely on the horizon. Vogey was born to DH, and the two leagues will have the same rules eventually, whether it's sooner or later. The Players' Assocation and the AL owners wouldn't stand for dropping the DL, so the NL will have it some day.

  • Really wish the NL would just institute a designated hitter. Its so stupid with the amount of interleague play, that there are two sets of rules in baseball.

  • I'm not surprised to see Zas promoted to KC, it's more like how come there aren't another 2 or 3 guys going with him. Boise pitching has been ridiculous this year.

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    Tonight's Featuring 4 players that have been waived by other organizations within the last 12 months, plus Barney, Castro, and Lake. Why is Travis Wood batting 9th?

  • Rizzo used to lean backwards to stretch his back before he got into the batters box, but he stopped it the last couple of weeks.

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    Well, one of those shortstop prospects may not be a shortstop prospect for long:

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Ha! Remember what i was saying yesterday?

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    In reply to Mike Moody:

    Could we already see a battle at 3B going on?

    Baez vs Olt

  • I think it's worth mentioning that Vogelbach is rated the #3 1B prospect in baseball by

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