Javier Baez

The Cubs’ collection of position prospects is ridiculous


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

Maybe Alcides Escobar shouldn’t bat leadoff

Alcides Escobar
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Alcides Escobar finished with a .292 OBP this year. He came in at .246 in 117 at-bats in August and .257 in 109 at-bats between September and October, so he wasn’t exactly flying high entering the postseason. Still, that didn’t stop Ned Yost from putting him into the leadoff spot for Thursday’s Game 1 against the Astros.

Yost finally did reconsider hitting Escobar first in September. It took Alex Gordon‘s return to health, plus the previous addition of Ben Zobrist to the lineup, in order to make that happen. However, it didn’t stick. Escobar hit ninth in each of his starts from Sept. 7-26, batting .236 with a .276 OBP during that span. With five games left to go, he was suddenly returned to the leadoff spot. The Royals went on to win all five games. Yost saw it as a sign, even though Escobar went 5-for-22 with no walks in those games.

Escobar went 0-for-4 in Thursday’s loss to the Astros. He did not swing at the first pitch of the game, which probably explains the defeat.

It’s been difficult to argue with Yost since last year’s World Series run and this year’s incredible run out of the game. The blind spot with Escobar, though, gets rather infuriating. One can defend hitting him leadoff against the Astros’ lefties. His career OBP against southpaws is .319 (.316 this year). Against righties, he’s the most obvious No. 9 hitter alive, with a career .258/.290/.342 line (.252/.284/.314 this year). He’s not a pace-setter. He’s not a spark plug. He’s a liability.

Astros top Royals in Game 1 of ALDS

Houston Astros' Jose Altuve, left, celebrates with teammate Luis Valbuena after scoring a run during the first inning in Game 1 of baseball's American League Division Series against the Kansas City Royals, Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015, in Kansas City. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

After shutting out the Yankees in the AL Wild Card game on Tuesday, the Astros beat the Royals 5-2 in Game 1 of the ALDS on Thursday at Kauffman Stadium. Road teams are now 4-0 to begin the 2015 postseason.

The Astros grabbed an early 3-0 lead against Yordano Ventura through two innings. Chris Young took over for the Royals after a 47-minute rain delay and was very effective for the most part, allowing just a solo homer to George Springer over four innings while striking out seven batters. Colby Rasmus, who homered in the Wild Card game, took Ryan Madson deep in the eighth inning to give the Astros’ bullpen some extra breathing room.

Collin McHugh stayed in after the rain delay and ended up tossing six innings while allowing just four hits and one walk. Kendrys Morales did all the damage against him with a pair of solo homers. He’s the first Royals player to hit two home runs in a postseason game since George Brett in the 1985 ALCS.

The Royals’ offense showed some signs of life in the bottom of the eighth inning with back-to-back two-out hits against Will Harris, but Oliver Perez got Eric Hosmer to foul out to end the threat. Luke Gregerson tossed a scoreless ninth inning to finish off the victory.

Consistent with their identity during the regular season, the Astros won despite striking out 14 times. The same goes for the Royals, as they struck out just four times. Despite putting the ball into play more often, the Kansas City lineup wasn’t able to muster anything aside from the home runs by Morales.

Game 2 of the ALDS will begin Friday at 3:45 p.m. ET. Scott Kazmir will pitch for the Astros and Johnny Cueto will get the ball for the Royals.

George Springer homers to extend Astros’ lead over Royals

Houston Astros' George Springer (4) celebrates with teammates after scoring a run in the first inning in Game 1 of baseball's American League Division Series against the Kansas City Royals, Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015, in Kansas City. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
AP Photo/Charlie Riedel
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After Kendrys Morales brought the Royals within one run in the bottom of the fourth inning with his second solo home run of the game, George Springer took Chris Young deep in the top of the fifth to extend the Astros’ lead to 4-2 in Game 1 of the ALDS.

According to Statcast, the ball traveled an estimated 422 feet and left Springer’s bat at 109 mph. Royals fans are happy it was just a solo home run. It could have been worse, as Jose Altuve singled to lead off the fifth inning before being thrown out trying to steal second base during Springer’s at-bat.

The Royals will try to answer as we move to the bottom of the fifth inning at Kauffman Stadium.