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

Young Blue Jays say they aren’t intimidated by top seed Rays

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) When the Tampa Bay Rays and Toronto Blue Jays opened the pandemic-delayed season a little over two months ago, there was little to indicate the AL East rivals might meet again to begin the playoffs.

While the Rays launched the truncated 60-game schedule with expectations of making a strong bid for their first division title in a decade, the Blue Jays generally were viewed as an immensely talented young team still years away from postseason contention.

Tampa Bay didn’t disappoint, shrugging off a slow start to go a league-best 40-20 and claim the No. 1 seed in the AL playoffs that begin Tuesday.

Lefty Blake Snell, who’ll start Game 1 of the best-of-three wild-card series against Toronto at Tropicana Field, also isn’t surprised that the eighth-seeded Blue Jays earned a spot, too.

The Rays won six of 10 games between the teams during the regular season, but were outscored 48-44 and outhomered 17-11.

And while Toronto (32-28) lacks the playoff experience Tampa Bay gained last season when the Rays beat Oakland in the AL wild-card game before falling to Houston in the divisional round, the Blue Jays are building with exciting young players such as Cavan Biggio, Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

“They’ve got a lot of young guys who can ball over there,” Snell said. “It’s going to be fun to compete and see how we do.”

Rays defensive whiz Kevin Kiermaier said Tampa Bay, in the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the second time franchise history, will not take the Blue Jays lightly.

“We know we’re playing a real good team,” Kiermaier said. “It’s not going to be easy, regardless of what a team is seeded.”

The Blue Jays, who’ll start right-hander Matt Shoemaker, aren’t conceding anything.

Bichette said he and his teammates respect how good Tampa Bay is, but are not intimidated by facing the No. 1 seed.

“I would say that we didn’t care who we played. I would say that we didn’t mind playing Tampa, that’s for sure. We’re familiar with them. We’ve played them well,” Bichette said.

“I think we’re confident in our ability against them. Our talent matches up well,” Bichette added. “We think if we play well we’ve got a good chance.”

NO FANS

The stands at Tropicana Field will be empty, leaving players to wonder what the atmosphere will be like for the playoffs.

Tampa Bay routinely rank at or near the bottom of the majors in attendance, but usually pack the stands in the domed stadium during the postseason.

“It will be different,” Bichette said. “Normally when you think of your first postseason you think 40,000, you think about not being able to think it’s so loud, stuff like that.”

The Blue Jays open the playoffs near where they hold spring training in Dunedin, Florida. It’s been a winding road for Toronto, which played its home games in Buffalo, New York, at the site of its Triple-A affiliate after the Canadian government barred the Blue Jays from hosting games at their own stadium because of coronavirus concerns.

CONFIDENT RAYS

Tampa Bay’s five-game loss to Houston in last year’s divisional round was a source of motivation during the regular season.

“It definitely lit a fire under everybody. It really showed us we belong. … We gave them a tough series,” second baseman Brandon Lowe said.

“We won the wild-card game. We belong in the postseason. I think that did a lot for us to understand that we should be in the postseason and we can go a lot farther. We know what to expect this time around. I think everyone in our clubhouse expects to be playing until the end of October,” he said.

CLOSE FRIENDS

Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash has the Rays in the playoffs for the second time. His close friend and former Rays third base and bench coach Charlie Montoyo is in his second year as manager of the Blue Jays, who last made the playoffs in 2016.

“Pretty special,” Cash said of his relationship with Montoyo.

“I really learned a lot from him being around him. The way he carried himself. His hand print is throughout this organization,” Cash added. “A pretty big impact and a positive one. … When they clinched I talked to him, we face-timed at 1:30 in the morning. I’m so happy for him.”