Neither player was expected to crack the Opening Day roster and today the Cubs made it official, optioning top prospects Anthony Rizzo and Brett Jackson to Triple-A.
Rizzo was acquired from the Padres for Andrew Cashner in January and is the Cubs’ long-term answer at first base, but the team made it pretty clear that they wanted him to get a little more seasoning in the minors while giving Bryan LaHair a chance to play regularly in Chicago.
Jackson simply didn’t have an obvious role in the Cubs’ outfield with Marlon Byrd, David DeJesus, and Alfonso Soriano set as the starters and Reed Johnson as the primary backup. He’s also just 23 years old and has struggled to make consistent contact in the minors, although 64 strikeouts in 48 games at Triple-A last season didn’t stop Jackson from hitting .297 with a .939 OPS.
Jackson and Rizzo are both top-100 prospects and both figure to be in Chicago at some point this year.
Hunter Pence was thought to be on his way to retirement after a lackluster 2018 season with the Giants. As he entered his mid-30’s, Pence spent a considerable amount of time on the injured list, playing in 389 out of 648 possible regular season games with the Giants from 2015-18.
Pence, however, kept his career going, inking a minor league deal with the Rangers in February. He performed very well in spring training, earning a spot on the Opening Day roster. Pence hasn’t stopped hitting.
Entering Monday night’s game against the Mariners, Pence was batting .299/.358/.619 with eight home runs and 28 RBI in 109 plate appearances, mostly as a DH. Statcast agrees that Pence has been mashing the ball. He has an average exit velocity of 93.3 MPH this season, which would obliterate his marks in each of the previous four seasons since Statcast became a thing. His career average exit velocity is 89.8 MPH. He has “barreled” the ball 10.4 percent of the time, well above his 6.2 percent average.
What Pence did to a baseball in the seventh inning of Monday’s game, then, shouldn’t come as a surprise.
That’s No. 9 on the year for Pence. Statcast measured it at 449 feet and 108.3 MPH off the bat. Not only is Pence not retired, he may be a lucrative trade chip for the Rangers leading up to the trade deadline at the end of July.