With several spots up for grabs and a lot of young players on the cusp of the majors, first base is one of the spots with no competition going into Spring Training. However, a lot does ride on the player who will man it all year so let’s take a look at what we can expect this spring.
After a rough first full season, Anthony Rizzo had a lot of critics going into last year. Those critics were silenced as Rizzo broke out and posted a line of .286/.386/.527 with 28 doubles, 32 home runs, 78 RBI, five stolen bases and a .913 OPS. His numbers might have been greater had he not suffered a back injury that put him on the shelf for over two weeks near the end of the season. In addition to his eye popping numbers, he raised his average against lefties from .189/.282/.342 to .300/.421/.507, a line that was better than his numbers against righties.
With signings of veteran free agents, no Cubs player has been more adamant about the chances of the club competing for the NL Central crown than Rizzo and he’s going to have to continue his upward trend if he wants to back up his claims. If this team has any hopes of competing, a season similar to last year with 35 home runs and 100 RBI at a minimum as the team’s no. 3 hitter is going to be necessary and he’s going to have stay healthy for the entire year.
If the back injury reoccurs, the club will likely lean on the likes of Mike Olt, who at the moment is in competition for the starting third base job. Olt played 12 games at first in Rizzo’s absence and batted .267/.395/.400 with three RBI in 30 at bats.
Reports have suggested that once Bryant comes up and settles in at third that Olt could man a utility role where he seems time in the infield and outfield corners. That’s of course assuming he can cut down on his strikeouts and make more consistent contact. If Olt struggles again, the team has no other options available on the 40-man roster.
Non-roster invitee Chris Valaika spent 15 games at first base in relief of Rizzo last year and batted .245/.315/.388 with two home runs and five RBI in 49 at bats. Valaika actually spent the most games at first at Iowa last year and will figure to do more of the same until prospect Dustin Geiger proves to be ready.
Dustin Geiger didn’t fare well at Tennessee last year after hitting .223/.305/.376 with 12 home runs and 47 RBI. Scouts say Geiger is a right-handed power bat in the making, however as a 24th round draft pick in 2010, time may be running out on him if he can’t show more power.
Anthony Rizzo was a stabilizing force on a lineup that struggled to hit last year. He’s going to have to do more of the same with a lineup that is expected to see names like Arismendy Alcantara, Javier Baez, Jorge Soler and Kris Bryant early on. None of those players have shown enough yet to be trusted and if the Cubs intend to compete for a spot in the playoffs, Rizzo is going to have to put his money where his mouth is and become one of the best hitters in the National League.