Tuesday, April 21, 2015

A Look at the Chicago Cubs Prospect Race to Left Field

The Chicago Cubs played a terrific game against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Monday night, winning the opening game of the series 5-2 and moving to 7-5 on the season. The team was led by rookie Kris Bryant (I guess we'll be saying this a lot this year), who had three hits and three RBIs, along with another walk.

Cubs fans got great news after the game, when it was reported that infield prospect Addison Russell would be called up from Iowa to join the team on Tuesday. With Tommy La Stella injured and Javier Baez suffering through a tough spring training (and now absent due to a death in the family), the team has a need at 2B. Therefore, Russell's future begins now.

Like all Cubs fans, I can't wait to see Russell in the lineup, playing in the infield with Bryant, Castro, and Rizzo. But now, we'll naturally look ahead to the NEXT prospect. Who will be up next?

If the current roster remains healthy, the next open spot for a prospect is likely left field. Chris Coghlan looked great early in the season, but he has definitely hit a rough stretch. As a result, Chris Denorfia, who recently returned from the DL, will get his chances to play in left field as well. But assuming none of the team's current options are able to bring some consistency, it's possible that another prospect could get his chance in 2015.

So just for fun, let's call this the "2015 Race to LF" and name the top five prospects who could have the opportunity to join the Cubs and help in the outfield.

1. Kyle Schwarber - He's first on this list because many of us believe he could be the "next" Kris Bryant. But even if he is, we know he's at least a year away. Bryant likely moved through the Cubs system as quickly as anyone will be allowed to under Epstein and Hoyer. By that logic, we shouldn't see Schwarber until at least 13 days into the 2016 season. Then again, maybe he'll have a great year, and the team will decide he could be the final piece for a playoff run now.

2. Javier Baez - Looking around Twitter and reading blogs, it seems many fans have written Baez off. I'm not even close to being ready to do that, considering he really hasn't had a full shot at the top level. Yes, he struggled in Chicago to close out last season, and his spring was pretty bad. And now he hasn't played a game for Iowa yet. But when he returns, what if he is moved to LF? What if he is inspired? What if he puts it all together? They say these shortstops should technically be able to play anywhere. I wouldn't count this out as a possibility and would love to see Baez playing well and hitting 6th or 7th for the Cubs this year.

3. Albert Almora - If Almora stays healthy and progresses as expected, he should at least be promoted to AAA Iowa at some point this season. He hasn't shown the power we'd like to see in LF, and he obviously is suited better to play CF, but he has made an appearance in LF already this year. If he begins to really play well at any point in 2015, he could land in Chicago.

4. Bijan Rademacher - Almora's teammate at AA Tennessee, Rademacher has only played RF this year. However, he did play 58 games in LF for Daytona last season, and he currently holds a .405 OBP with five RBIS in his first 10 games of 2015.

5. Billy McKinney - McKinney is at Myrtle Beach right now, and there is no way he will make the jump to Chicago this year. Also, like Almora, he's mainly a center fielder. But I think McKinney's future is bright, and he will either play a huge role in Chicago or will be moved for pitching or another need. His acquisition in the Samardzija/Russell trade was highly overshadowed by the other names involved, but his career OBP is .367, including an early .441 mark for this season. McKinney's career minor league walk-to-strikeout ratio of .639 is reminiscent of Jorge Soler's impressive .621 and far better than Bryant's .481, Russell's .454, and Almora's .322. A very long shot, but at this point, you never know who will be next.

Don't forget: Junior Lake and Matt Szczur. One or both of these would likely get a chance at LF before any of these listed prospects.

No comments: