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

Bryce Harper is really just a tiny bit better Adam Lind when you think about it

Associated Press
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Tom Boswell of the Washington Post writes about an important matter facing the Washington Nationals over the next year: what to do about Bryce Harper, who is entering his walk year and will be a free agent a little over 12 months from now.

That’s a fine and important question. The Nats do need to decide whether to offer Harper a long term deal, when to offer it and, above all else, how big that deal should be. Should it be $300 million? $400 million? Should it be conventional or unconventional, with opt-outs and such? It’s not every day that a generational talent comes along and it’s even more rare that the generational talent hits free agency at the age of 26, so the decisions facing the Nationals are not easy ones.

Boswell acknowledges that bit of trickiness, but he also, strangely, spends a whole lot of time trying to portray Harper as an ordinary talent. He starts with health, comparing him poorly with Stephen Strasburg, who is ranked 30th in games started over the past five years. In contrast . . .

In those same five years, Harper ranks 90th in games played, just 126 a season, and now he says he should have skipped quite a few more games in 2016 when he had a balky shoulder. That’s almost six weeks out per season.

Nowhere in the column is it mentioned that the several weeks he missed in 2017 was the result of a freak injury in wet conditions and that, despite that, Harper worked his tail off to come back and be ready for the postseason. Not that Boswell doesn’t mention the postseason of course . . .

Harper, for the fourth time, failed to lead his team out of the first round and has career playoff batting average and OPS marks of .215 and .801. By the high standards of right fielders, he’s Mr. Average in October.

I suppose it’s not Boswell’s job to refrain from insulting a player on the team he covers, but he certainly seems hellbent on insulting not only Harper, but our own intelligence via comparisons like this:

In the past five years, in those 126 games, Harper averaged 26 homers, 72 RBI and a .288 average. Over the last nine years, Adam Lind averaged 128 games, 20 homers, 70 RBI and hit .273. That’s selective stat mining. Harper is much better, in part because he walks so much. But Harper and Lind in the same sentence?

“A person can eat delicious chocolate cake or lead paint chips. The chocolate cake is much better, but chocolate cake and lead paint in the same sentence?” I guess Boswell gets points for acknowledging that it was a misleading comparison, but if he thinks it is, why make it in the first place? If you want to eliminate this one as an outlier, cool, because he makes a lot of other comparisons like that in the piece.

This is not necessarily new for Boswell. Here’s something he wrote about Harper in 2014:

Harper has not driven in 60 runs in either of his two seasons. He has only five RBI this year. He’s never had more than 157 runs-plus-RBI. Ryan Zimmerman has had between 163 and 216 six times. Adam LaRoche, no big star, has had 175 or more three times. Fourth outfielder Nate McLouth once had 207. Can we get a grip? Counting their three top starting pitchers, Harper may be the Nats’ seventh-best player. If forced to choose whether Harper or Anthony Rendon would have the better career, I’d think twice. Harper is in a self-conscious, fierce scowl-off with baseball. Rendon dances with it and grins. Baseball loves relaxed.

That was written 16 games into his age-22 season.

I’m not sure what Boswell’s beef with Harper is. I’m not sure why he’s contorting himself to portray him as an ordinary player when he is fairly extraordinary and, most certainly, a special case when it comes to his impending free agency. In his career he already has 26.1 career bWAR, 150 homers, an MVP Award under his belt and, if it wasn’t for that freak injury in August, would have a strong case for a second one. Guy has a career line of .285/.386/.515 and he turned 26 four days ago. He’s younger than Aaron Judge.

My view of things is that players should ignore the media for the most part, but they don’t always do that. Sometimes the hostility or criticism of the local press — especially from the most respected portions of the local press who have the ability to shape fan sentiment — gets to them.

Which is to say that, if this kind of noise keeps up, I wouldn’t be shocked if Harper puts up a line of .340/.480/.650 in 2018 and then walked the hell out of D.C. for New York or Chicago or L.A. or something. Would anyone blame him?