Next season is going to be pivotal for first base in the Cubs system. Having Anthony Rizzo meant they didn’t need to worry about the position for many years, but those days are gone and it’s time to recalibrate things.
The Cubs started planning for this eventuality back in 2018, starting with drafting Tyler Durna that summer. In the time since, they have drafted Grayson Byrd, acquired Alfonso Rivas in a trade with Oakland, picked up Bryce Ball last summer in the Joc Pederson deal, and signed Matt Warkentin and Matt Mervis as undrafted free agents.
Now the system is filled with guys that actually play the position rather than just moving warm bodies over there to get some at-bats. As for whether anyone in the organization is ready to take over for Rizzo or even Frank Schwindel, well, that’s another story.
Let’s take a look at each affiliate to see how things look for 2022 and beyond.
Rivas has an outside shot at making Chicago’s Opening Day roster, but that also depends upon injuries as well as what happens the rest of the winter. He held his own in during an MLB stint, hitting .318 with a .797 in 49 plate appearances. It was a very respectable debut and his ability to get on base should not be overlooked when it comes to making the opening day roster.
We should see Nelson Maldonado get some reps at first as well after playing there occasionally and serving as a DH while posting a 134 wRC+ at Double-A. Maldonado is probably the most underrated Cubs prospect because he hasn’t played in the field a whole lot, but he gets on base at a high clip (.371 in 2021) and could see his outlook improve if the DH becomes universal.
Jared Young will likely get some reps at first as well after tearing up Tennessee with a 155 wRC+ and looking like the hitter who tore up two levels of Class A in 2018. He only played 37 games at Triple-A, but held his own with five home runs and 18 RBI. He just needs much more experience at that level before the Cubs would consider him for Chicago.
This call by the Chattanooga announcer on a home run by Nelson Maldonado is priceless pic.twitter.com/Y05X5JAP8p
— Todd ⚾️🐻🦌 (@CubsCentral08) July 10, 2021
Durna and Ball took turns playing first base and DH for South Bend over the last several weeks of the season and both should move up a level in ’22. Durna struggled at the plate all year, hitting just .232, while Ball flashed power to go with an incredible 17.8% walk rate. Ball’s issue was being susceptible to a two-strike curve, which led to him striking out 27% of the time. If the Cubs can get him to take that pitch the other way, he goes from a .220 hitter to a .270-.280 almost overnight and totally transforms his profile.
Titanic shot by Bryce Ball pic.twitter.com/8JCF9FX9UW
— Todd ⚾️🐻🦌 (@CubsCentral08) September 4, 2021
Mervis and Warkentin are slated to move up from Myrtle Beach to start the 2022 campaign, but they are really going to have to produce to get on the field every day because competition is going to be fierce at the levels behind them. Though both have really good power, neither really stood out in terms of getting on base flashing plus defense. Mervis could be the guy who steps it up this year and really sets himself apart.
Miguel Fabrizio caught a lot last year in Mesa and also hit the crap out of the baseball, batting .372 with a 166 wRC+ in rookie ball. If he can stand out at first base, he’s going to be a guy we might be talking about as the breakout player of the year in the system.
The one player everybody is talking about in private messages as a possible first baseman is none other than Owen Caissie. Currently an outfielder with a beautiful swing and big potential for power, his big frame might present challenges in the outfield as he really starts to fill out in his early 20s. Still, I think Cubs are going to stick with him in the outfield for the time being, as they should.
If he does move, however, that might change the whole outlook on the position for the future.