Javier Baez

The Cubs’ collection of position prospects is ridiculous

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In 2011 first-round pick Javier Baez and 2013 first-round pick Kris Bryant, the Cubs already possessed two of the game’s top 10 prospects. Now they’ve added a third, acquiring Addison Russell from the A’s in Friday’s Jeff Samardzija-Jason Hammel deal. The possibilities for their lineup of the future seem endless. Let’s run through them:

Catcher: Here’s the Cubs’ lone spot without a top prospect. Kyle Schwarber was announced as a catcher when he was selected with the fourth overall pick in the 2014 draft, but he’s already seeing time in the outfield, too. In fact, he’s made seven starts each at catcher and left field since beginning his pro career last month. Most everyone expects him to end up in left, and if that’s the case, then there’s no one in the system who figures to overtake incumbent Welington Castillo at any point.

First base: And this is the one given. Anthony Rizzo has followed up a disappointing 2013 by hitting .276/.387/.493 with 17 homers in 83 games this season. He’s just 24, and he’s locked up through 2019, with club options through 2021. He’s not going anywhere.

Second base:  The Cubs have a natural second base prospect in Arismendy Alcantara, who has hit .311/.351/.547 with 10 homers and 20 steals in Triple-A this year. He’s also seen some time in center field this year, so that’d be another option for him if Baez ends up getting move to second. Alcantara seems like a better fit at the position, though. Of all of the Cubs position prospects, he’s in the best position to contribute this year.

Third base: Bryant was considered a candidate to move to the outfield after being picked second overall in the 2013 draft, but he’s yet to start anywhere other than third. Perhaps the best hitter in the minors, he’s batted .352/.449/.707 with 28 homers in 307 at-bats between Double- and Triple-A this year. His bat is likely ready now, though it’s uncertain if the Cubs have any intention of making room for him in the short term.

Shortstop: Between the Starlin Castro renaissance and Russell’s addition, it seems clear that Baez isn’t going to be a shortstop for the long haul. Russell is the more fluid defended anyway, and many believed Baez would need to move to a less demanding position mid-career anyway. Russell figures to continue to be brought along at short, but it’s hard to say what his future looks like now. Castro is under control through 2019, with a club option for 2020. Maybe he’ll get cashed in for a young starter or a catcher at some point, but it doesn’t figure to happen this season.

Left field: Schwarber has been a terror since debuting, hitting .446/.532/.923 with eight homers in 65 at-bats in the low minors. This should be his position, unless one of the more advanced prospects gets moved here and beats him to the majors.

Center field: The hope is that 2012 first-rounder Albert Almora will be the long-term answer in center. He’s had a very disappointing 2014 so far, hitting .266/.292/.357 with three homers in 297 at-bats in the Florida State League. However, he’s just 20 and he’s coming off a .329/.376/.466 season in the Midwest League. Baseball America has placed him as the game’s 33rd and 36th best prospect in his two years since being drafted. If not Almore than Billy McKinney, the other prospect the Cubs picked up from the A’s, could be the man here. The 19-year-old McKinney, a 2013 first-rounder, was hitting .241/.330/.400 as one of the youngest players in the California League.

Right field: Baez might make the most sense in right if Alcantara pans out and Bryant stays at third. Possessing perhaps the best raw power in the minors, he’s overcome a dreadful start to hit .240/.307/.430 as a 21-year-old in Triple-A this year. The other possibility here is Cuban defector Jorge Soler. He’s battled injury problems since signing a nine-year, $30 million contract two summers ago, but he still has a lot of power potential himself. When healthy, he’s hit .298/.368/.487 with 14 homers in 386 at-bats during his minor league career.

So, what do you think?

SS Russell
2B Alcantara
3B Bryant
1B Rizzo
RF Baez
LF Schwarber
CF Almora
C Castillo

Phil Bickford suspended 50 games for drug of abuse

SAN DIEGO, CA - JULY 10:  Phil Bickford of the U.S. Team pitches during the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game at PETCO Park on July 10, 2016 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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Brewers’ right-hander Phil Bickford received a 50-game suspension after testing positive for a drug of abuse, per the Los Angeles Times’ Bill Shaikin. This is the second time Bickford has been suspended for recreational drug use, as he was previously penalized in 2015 after testing positive for marijuana prior to the amateur draft.

Bickford was selected by the Giants in the first round of the 2015 draft and was later dealt to the Brewers for lefty reliever Will Smith at the 2016 trade deadline. He finished his 2016 campaign in High-A Brevard County, pitching to a 3.67 ERA, 10.0 K/9 rate and 5.0 BB/9 over 27 innings.

Two other suspensions were handed down on Friday, one to Toronto minor league right-hander Pedro Loficial for a positive test for metabolites of Stanozolol and one to Miami minor league outfielder Casey Soltis for a second positive test for drugs of abuse. Loficial will serve a 72-game suspension, while Soltis will serve 50 games. All three suspensions are due to start at the beginning of the 2017 season for each respective minor league team.

Brewers’ GM David Stearns issued a statement after the Commissioner’s Office announced Bickford’s suspension (via Vince Lara-Cinisomo of Baseball America):

We are very disappointed to learn of Phil’s suspension, but we fully support the Minor League Baseball Drug Prevention and Testing Program and its enforcement by the Commissioner’s Office. Phil understands he made a mistake, and we fully anticipate that he will learn from this experience.

Diamondbacks sign Fernando Rodney to a one-year, $2.75 million deal

PITTSBURGH, PA - AUGUST 21:  Fernando Rodney #56 of the Miami Marlins pitches during the game against the Pittsburgh Pirates on August 21, 2016 at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images) *** Local Caption ***
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Confirming a report from Tuesday, the Diamondbacks officially signed right-hander Fernando Rodney to a one-year, $2.75 million contract on Friday. The 39-year-old stands to receive up to $4 million in incentives, per Jack MacGruder of FanRag Sports, with $250,000 kicking in when the veteran reaches 40, 50 and 60 appearances and $500,000 if he reaches 70.

Rodney came three games shy of the 70-appearance mark in 2016 during back-to-back stints with the Padres and Marlins. He put up a cumulative 3.44 ERA on the year, which effectively disguised the extreme split during his performances in San Diego and Miami. The Diamondbacks aren’t anywhere close to contending in 2017, but Rodney should stabilize the back end of their bullpen while providing Arizona GM Mike Hazen with a potential trade chip during next year’s deadline.

Hazen issued a statement following the signing:

With Fernando, we’re getting an established Major League closer and a veteran presence in the bullpen. It is helpful to have someone with his experience on the back end to slow the game down and get the final three outs.