It seems like at every position on the diamond that the Chicago Cubs have multiple players that manager Joe Maddon can use. Some positions are even three to four deep with potential options. First base is the only position that manager Joe Maddon can write the same name with confidence no matter the match-up. Let’s take a look at what can be expected at first base for the coming season.
As the Cubs turned into a winning team and a force to be reckoned with in the National League, one of the main players leading the charge was Anthony Rizzo. The two-time All Star finished the season batting .278/.387/.512 with 38 doubles, three triples, 31 home runs, 101 RBI and 17 stolen bases. He finished fourth in NL MVP voting and was fifth in OBP, seventh in slugging, fourth in OPS, ninth in runs, fifth in doubles, sixth in home runs and third in RBI.
With the addition of players like Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist, who are more patient and better contact hitters than their predecessors, the RBI opportunities should climb for Rizzo. The key to making the leap though will be consistency. Rizzo was on his way to a monster offensive year in the first half as he batted .298/.413/.542 with 24 doubles, 16 home runs and 48 RBI. The second half he had a noticeable drop-off in his batting line hitting .255/.355/.478 with 14 doubles, 15 home runs and 53 RBI. If he can find a happy medium between the two numbers, it could be another breakout offensive year for the big bopper first baseman.
In addition to his strong offensive numbers, Rizzo continued as a solid defensive player with a 3.4 UZR/150 rating for above average at the position. However, last year he was an 8.4 rating and the year before a 9.2 rating. The dip may have been due to two rookies in the infield, Starlin Castro learning a new position and Rizzo having to assist in their adjustments.
At 160 games played last year, there’s no doubt to the importance of him being on the field. However, with a Major League leading 30 hit by pitches and a noticeable dip in numbers in the second half, a more reliable backup and occasional rest for Rizzo could be beneficial to keep him fresh. Chris Coghlan played in parts of five games at first last year, while Kris Bryant and Javier Baez managed just one game apiece. Obviously, any of the three could man first on a temporary basis if needed, but there would be a significant drop-off in defense due to their lack of experience at the position.
With Rizzo firmly entrenched at first, the long term prospects of Dan Vogelbach and Jacob Rogers are murky at best. With both not having extended experience at Double-A Tennessee, it’s likely that if Rizzo went down with injury that the front office might not deem them ready for a promotion if needed.
Vogelbach played in just 81 games last year split between Double-A and Rookie ball thanks to a couple of injuries. He batted .272/.415/.434 with 18 doubles, a triple, seven home runs and 39 RBI. Vogelbach is an imposing figure at 6-foot and 250 pounds, so it’s a little puzzling why the power numbers haven’t shown up yet. His size has also made it tough for him to hustle out extra base hits and make tough plays on defense. This year is likely an important one for his standing within the organization, especially with Rogers ascending to his level last year.
Jacob Rogers only got a brief taste of Double-AA Tennessee after spending most of his year at High-A Myrtle Beach. The 40th round draft pick doesn’t have quite the hitting pedigree of Vogelbach, but he is a far better defensive first baseman. In 129 games at the two levels, he batted .249/.352/.388 with 23 doubles, 13 home runs and 82 RBI. Nothing special to say the least, but his defensive prowess should keep him in the organization for now.
A lot has changed for the Cubs at the first base position since the team acquired Anthony Rizzo four years ago. The team is now a legitimate contender and Rizzo is quickly becoming one of the premier players in baseball. With no real contingency plan, if the team were to lose him for an extended period due to injury, their playoff hopes would certainly diminish. It’s something major to consider and it will be curious to see this spring if the front office recognizes it.
2016 Cubs Spring Training Previews
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