First Base depth
With Anthony Rizzo anchoring first base in Chicago, the Cubs haven’t shown much desire to fill the minors with first base prospects. They’ve used catchers and other position players to improve their versatility on the diamond and traded their only first base prospect in Daniel Vogelbach. In AA last year, catchers Victor Caratini (30 games), Benjamin Carhart (28), David Freitas (28) and Gioskar Amaya (15) were the top four in games played at first.
No one in the organization spent more time at first base during the 2016 season than Cuban native Yasiel Balaguert, who set a franchise record with 96 RBI in Myrtle Beach while hitting .263/.316/.424 and a Cubs minor league best 19 homers. Balaguert made 124 starts at first after getting 36 starts at first in South Bend in 2015, his first year at the position. Balaguert turns 24 in January and should be the primary first baseman in Tennessee in 2017.
Tyler Alamo (57 games) and Matt Rose (42) anchored first base at South Bend in 2016. Alamo, who also caught 25 games, had his most productive season as a pro and displayed a good glove at first, taking away several hits throughout the season and saving a handful of throwing errors with his glove work. After not homering his first three seasons, Alamo swatted five homers, knocked in a career-high 50 runs and batted .243/.283/.330 in 85 games. Rose struggled to start the year in South Bend, was sent back to Eugene and hit his way back to the MWL. The Cubs 11th round pick in 2015, Rose smacked 17 homers, second in the Cubs minors, and also made 43 starts at third. The 22-year-old hit .236/.323/.426 between the two levels with 59 RBI and was named the Player of the Month in the MWL for August (.291/.362/.573, 7 HR, 22 RBI, 27 games).
Considered by Baseball America as one of the Northwest League’s Top 20 prospects, Chris Pieters split his time between first (39 starts) and left field (28) for Eugene. Signed as a pitcher in back in 2011, Pieters has made the transition to the field and hit .246/.324/.337 in 66 games with three homers, 30 RBI and 20 stolen bases. He should have a similar role in South Bend in 2017.
Signed as part of the 2015 International Class out of Mexico, Kevin Zamudio made a team-high 26 starts at first in the Arizona Rookie League. The 19-year-old showed some power in his first pro season with four homers and 14 doubles while hitting .237/.291/.421 in 45 games. Originally signed as a catcher, he also made 13 starts at third but committed six errors at the hot corner while sporting a .987 fielding percentage at first.
Don’t look for much change during the 2017 minor league season with the Cubs using a variety of players at first during the regular season. The last true first baseman they drafted and signed was Kelvin Freeman (17th round-North Carolina A&T) in 2013—and they released him before the start of the 2014 season.
Winter League Recap
Chesny Young (.405) was 1-for-4 with a run scored in Escogido’s 5-3 win over Toros in the Dominican Winter League. Young has hit in 11-for-the-12 games he’s played in........SS Carlos Penalver (.500) got the start for Aragua in the Venezuelan Winter League, going 2-for-4 in Aragua’s 8-5 win over Magallanes. Penalver is 6-for-12 in five games, three starts.