Just twelve months ago, first base was as barren a position as any in the minors. Arguably, the Cubs best first base prospect was Josh Vitters, a third baseman. And then we had a couple encouraging performances in the minors, the Cubs drafted a truckload of first base talent in June, and the new GM traded for one of the best first base prospects in the game. What was once an area of weakness has been completely transformed. The Cubs now have nearly as much premier talent at first as they have at any other position on the diamond. And that’s without counting Vitters.

That does not mean there are no concerns at first. Other than Rizzo, the majority of the Cubs first basemen are either very low in the minors or are slightly old for their leagues. Neither of those factors are necessarily bad things, but it is worth keeping in mind. If Rizzo does not work out, it could be a few years before the next long-term candidate is ready to go. It is also slightly concerning that the Cubs have a few prospects who look more like designated hitters than first basemen. Unless the rules change, that could force the Cubs into some tough decisions in a few years. In the meantime, let’s take a look at the cream of the crop.

Top Five

1 – Anthony Rizzo. Age: 22. Major League ETA: 2012
If all goes well, the Cubs have a very good defensive first baseman with plenty of left handed power. At the age of 21, Rizzo destroyed the Pacific Coast League, posting an OPS of 1.056 with 26 HR and 101 RBI in just 93 games. Even in the offense-inflating PCL those are very impressive numbers. He struggled in a brief trip to the majors, but that does not worry me at all. At just 22, he could spend another full season or two in Iowa, if necessary, and still be young for the league. Iowa is where he will begin 2012, but I think he will finish the season in Chicago. I think he will be called up no later than August.

2 – Dan Vogelbach. Age: 19. Major League ETA: 2015
I have less confidence in my ETA for Vogelbach than for any other player. Ultimately, his progress through the farm system will be dictated by his bat, not his glove. Some reports, including Baseball America, refer to him as a relatively polished hitter with a chance to hit for average as well as for massive power. If that is the case, he could move through the farm system very quickly. On the other hand, if his conditioning proves to be an issue over the course of his minor league career, it could slow him down a year or two. Whether he makes it to the majors in late 2013 or late 2016, he will begin the 2012 season by blasting 500+ foot bombs to all fields in downtown Peoria.

3 – Justin Bour. Age: 23. Major League ETA: 2014
Bour was slightly old for the Florida State League in 2011, but his 23 HR and .813 OPS are worth respecting nonetheless. At 6’4″ and 250lbs, it no surprise that Bour can slug. He doesn’t strike out too much, can draw a few walks, and even had three steals for Daytona last season. If he can keep hitting as he climbs up the farm system, he could have a nice future as a platoon first baseman and left handed DH in the majors. He will start 2012 in Double A Tennessee, but if all goes well there he could be bumped to Iowa once Rizzo is promoted.

4 – Richard Jones. Age: 24. Major League ETA: 2015
At the age of 23, Jones was a little older than is typical for Low-A, but it’s hard to ignore his .538 SLG (league average in 2011 was .370). I am not comfortable with his strikeout rate, but given that 2011 marked his first full season as a professional, I am not alarmed either. Like the three sluggers above him, Jones swings from the left side and has no trouble launching long balls. He will start 2012 in Daytona, but if Bour is promoted during the season I think the Cubs will give Jones a shot at Double A. If he is going to progress beyond that, he just needs to keep hitting.

5 – Paul Hoilman. Age: 23. Major League ETA:2015
And finally, we find a right handed hitter. Hoilman was taken in the 19th round of the 2011 draft and promptly began launching balls for Short-Season A Boise. He finished with 17 HR over 71 games and a line of .252/.383/.512. His 35% strikeout rate is the stuff of nightmares, but his 16% walk rate is very impressive for a guy just starting to play professionally. We need more data before we can say anything for certain, but so far he looks like a high-strikeout, high OBP player (similar to Brett Jackson). Even so, that strikeout rate will need come down at least ten points if he is going to enjoy any kind of long term success in the Cubs’ farm system. He’ll open 2012 in Peoria.

Others To Watch

Rock Shoulders could have been as high as No. 3 on this list, but with just eight games in the books it is hard to project his future. Vitters and Rebel Ridling could both see time at first, as could Steve Clevenger and Blake Lalli. The Cubs drafted a trio of good hitting young catchers in 2011, and one of them could possibly be moved. We will be talking more about them next time, when we break down the Cubs’ catching prospects.

  • BFiddy

    Rizzo! Can’t wait…

  • terencem

    I don’t mean to be a Debbie Downer but #3-5 seem like org filler to me and the chances of them making the majors are extremely low.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

      Fairly accurate, I’d say.  Any one of them could emerge as a backup first baseman / DH (particularly Bour, if he can keep hitting), but none of the three are on anywhere near the same tier as Rizzo or Vogelbach.

      I’m really not sure about Shoulders yet.  I suspect he’ll fall somewhere between Vogelbach and Bour, but I have very little to base that on.

  • Rynorooter

    I’d give a shout out to Dustin Geiger in the “Others to Watch” section. I’m not sure there is a scout anywhere that thinks he will stick at 3B. Same goes for Candelerio, unfortunately.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

      Both will be included in the 3B/SS article.  So will Gretzky, since Baseball America now lists him as a third baseman.

      I’m hopeful both Geiger and Candelario can stay third baseman, but time will tell.

  • Seth

    Two words: Rock. Shoulders! I gotta see this kid now.

  • Chris

    What, no love for Gretzky Jr.??? :)

    • Chris

      ah – just saw your comment re Gretzky’s omission from this list

  • Kyle

    Quality > quantity with prospects. Rizzo and Vogelbach are plenty to make this an organizational strength.

    It’s the nature of prospectdom: a major organizational weakness can shift into a strength in nine months.

  • DocWimsey

    Rock Shoulders? That sounds like the name of a mystery paramour in a bad western romance novel…..

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

      Best name in the Cubs farm system.  It might just be the best name in all the minors.

      • Rynorooter

        There are some pretty terrific ones in this year’s draft. Skye Bolt and Stryker Trahan are the two I remember most.

      • Brady

        I mainly like Szczur because how can you not like a name that is 6 letters long, has 2 z’s and gets mispronounced by almost every broadcaster I have heard.

        • Doug

          Hail Szczur!!

    • djriz

      is there such a thing as a good western romance novel?

  • Don

    Just got back from Spring Training. Many of the young Cub players looked good. Rizzo is the real deal. He has a great glove and showed power to left. He will be pushing LaHair. Javier Baez showed a real quick bat and was jacking homers in batting practice. The future looks very bright Cub fans. Castro, Baez, Rizzo, and Lake/Vitters will be a great infeld in the future . Add in B. Jackson, W. Castillo, and Matt S. and you have the 2014 World Series Champs! Can’t wait!!!

    • Seth

      All of those players are good and all, but you didn’t mention ANY pitchers. Pitching and defense wins championships. Cubs need at least one more very good young pitcher in their farm system.

      • DocWimsey

        Pitching, yes. But if “defense” (by which you really mean “fielding”) wins championships, then how did the Cardinals win last year? Indeed, how did about half of the WS champions of the last decade and a half win?

        The Cubs have been bad the last couple of years because of bad pitching and bad OBP. The fielding didn’t help: but a team of Ozzie Smith’s and Tris Speaker’s couldn’t have made up the difference.

        • Seth

          Well I was just going by the old saying. Apparently it needs updated.

          • Brady

            It should be a decent defense mixed with a stellar offense wins championships. At least in baseball. If you cant hit the ball you cant get runs and even if your pitcher goes a complete game and gives up 2 hits and 1 run, you can still lose. Other sports can be a bit more defense dependant, like football. Solid defense can shut give your offense more chances to score and keep the score low enough that even a struggling offense can still get enough points. Baseball, everyone gets the same amount of outs to work with and it doesnt matter if you went 1-2-3 last inning, this inning you could throw away the lead. Hell 1 bad pitch can be the difference between 0 and 4 runs

            • http://www.casualcubsfan.com hansman1982

              Agree, if pitching is half of winning championships then why in the hell did Atlanta only get 1 WS in their 500-year stretch of division titles with the best rotation in baseball? Why didn’t the Phillies make it out of the NLDS last year? Maybe someday I will get a chance to rank the last 20 WS winners in terms of seasonal ranking in the three categories.

              • Brady

                Rough math I’d say like 1/3rd pitching and defense and 2/3rds offense. Your pitching and d cant be horrendous but if you have a 2:1 ratio of talent at the plate as you do on the mound, you should do fairly well in most games. I’d have to run the actual numbers but that is my gut feeling on the matter.

                • DocWimsey

                  Fielding is nowhere near equal to pitching. It’s more like 3:1 or even 4:1 pitching:fielding in terms of run prevention. That’s why below-average fielding teams often wind up in the playoffs (and sometimes winning it all, as in 2011, 2009, 2007, 2004, etc.), whereas below-average pitching teams only very rarely do (um…. the 1984 Padres are the last example that comes to mind!).

                  In all sports, defense is very slightly more important than offense, in that a point (whatever it is called) prevented does more to increase your chances of winning than does a point scored. That is, if you can hold the opposition to 2 runs instead of 3, then your chances of winning improve by more than scoring 4 runs instead of 3. The biggest components of run-prevention in baseball are preventing HR, preventing walks, and preventing doubles+triples. The first two are all pitching, and the last one is mostly pitching.

                  Still, you expect a team that scores as many runs as it allows to be a 0.500 team, and that is (allowing for sampling error) almost always the case. So, it’s as close to 50:50 as you can expect most coins to be.

                  • Brady

                    My ratio was Offense to Defense (I lumped pitching and fielding together though I agree pitching is much greater influence), not Pitching to Fielding.

                    • DocWimsey

                      Whoops, sorry, I misread! However, the offense:defense ratio is always about 49.999:50.001 (you get the idea!) in sports. Had Ben Franklin lived to be a baseball fan, then I’m sure he would have said that a Run Saved is a Run Earned.

                      (He then would have repeated it in 3 other languages just to make sure that you knew he was smarter than you, tossed in a witty but unrelated anecdote, and then had a fling with your wife or girlfriend while you puzzled it out; what a guy!)

                    • Brady

                      It just seems like (after looking at most recent years of champions) a good offense tend to play a bigger role in baseball in particular. Over a 163 game season maybe it evens out so the pitchers do well but the playoffs especially seem to be a lot of offensive power and teams with really solid pitching just dont seem to make it.

  • ferrets_bueller

    Dan Vogelbach is going to be an absolute beast. Book it. Unless his weight becomes a problem again (which i seriously doubt, given his makeup), he is Prince Fielder. Or, rather, as close to him as you’re going to get. The kid’s swing is a thing of beauty- short, quick, extremely powerful. There aren’t many players in the history of baseball who provide as much power with as quick and compact of a swing as a guy like Fielder. Vogelbach can potentially join that group. Unlike a guy like Rizzo, or a guy like, say, Giancarlo Stanton, Vogelbach’s abilty to hit for average is not compromised by the length of his swing, in order to generate power. There is a reason why Fielder can hit for a good average, despite not being a great runner, and Ryan Howard cannot. Same thing with Ks. Short, compact swing.

    • Cheryl

      I agree. He is the future. I hope the powers that be do not think of trading him. He could be what Babe Ruth was to the Yankees. He seems like a kid who has focus. He wants to succeed. I see him in the Majors within two years.That’s probably the fastest rise possible. Unless there’s something unforeseen, he’ll surpass LaHair and Rizzo.

  • Mike S

    So what are the Cubs going to do in the year 2015 when they have 5 first basemen on their roster?

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

      Either Rizzo or Vogelbach will be traded.  Bour, if he keeps hitting, will probably wind up in the AL as a platoon/DH guy, and in Japan otherwise. Either Jones or Hoilman will be stashed in Iowa as injury insurance (unless the Cubs have a better candidate for that job by then) and the other one will probably be in a different organization.

      On this group, only Rizzo and Vogelbach (and maybe Shoulders) are likely to have major league careers of any significant length.

      • DocWimsey

        If I understand the ramifications of the ‘Stros going to the AL correctly, then the Cubs and other NL teams might need DH’s more than they used to do. (I wouldn’t be surprised if this finally eliminates the difference between the leagues: and I’m betting that it will be in favor of everybody using a DH.)

        That being said, I’ll worry about what to do with Vogelbach once we see what he does with a full season. I still remember Earl Cunningham…..

        • Rynorooter

          Really no comparision between Cunningham and Vogelbach, though. Vogelbach already has good plate discipline. Cunningham was beyond raw at the plate. I guess they both have/had great power, but that’s where the comparison stops.

          I’m very bullish on Vogelbach’s bat. I honestly think the only way he doesn’t make the bigs is via injury or weight-related issues.

        • brittney

          Just throwing my opinion in on the DH bit.

          I am not in favor of the DH! I love the NL rules. It really makes a manager think how this change will effect then entire game and not just that moment. I love how the NL has to have a deeper strategy. The AL does not have to do as much thinking when it comes down to it. I think the DH should totally be eliminated. That means every PLAYer would have to play and not just hit. And I also think when the 2013 season starts the roster should have a few spots added if the DH isn’t eliminated totally or enacted in both leagues. Since generally the NL carries 12 or 13 pitchers on their roster and the AL doesn’t carry as many because they have a DH to bat for the pitchers.

  • brittney

    Vogelbach will be a beast in the majors. And rizzo will be manning 1st base for years to come. Is there a chance vogelbach could be converted to a 3rd baseman? And when we start playing a lot more interleague games he could man 1st while rizzo DH’s at times. I think vogelbach could transition to a 3rd baseman pretty easily. But that’s my opinion!

    Does anybody else think he could convert to a 3rd baseman? So that way we have something like the tigers do. Having killer power at the corners like they have prince/miggy.

    Rizzo, vogelbach, lake, baez, jackson/vitters, castro, szczur, w. castillo…..this future line-up makes me excited about the future. 2015 will probably be a killer year for the cubs!

    • drew

      It would be similar to the tigers…except more like Prince at 3b and Miggy at 1st!

      • brittney

        Drew, good point. But just think if they both developed similar power you’d see in the neighborhood of 50-60 HRs and 205-230 RBIs just between the two of them. It could even be possible with the above mentioned line-up we could lead the majors with HRs, RBIs, runs scored. Ahhhhh what a dream I am caught up in. Lol

        • djriz

          Brittney, you have the right spirit, but when you project prospects, you can be much more optimistic….you see, I see Rizzo and Vogelbach hitting 50-60 homeruns…EACH….and that group of prospects you mentioned earlier….WOW….I’m thinking about 400-450 homers a year from that lineup…maybe averaging about 12.5 runs per game…plus 7 gold gloves….

          • brittney

            See I set the bar a little lower so that way if they don’t produce like that are hopes don’t have far to fall and if they exceed the numbers I mentioned then we will be some crazy (crazy in a good way) happy cub fans!

  • Don

    Great comments everyone. But the bottom line is it comes down to scoring more than your opponent. A couple years ago the Cub starters lead the league in quality starts, but still did not win the division. The problem was they lost too many close and one run games. They had no clutch hitting. Look at what Texas and St. Louis did last year with great hitting. Pitching and defense are very important, but without good clutch hitting and high OBP you will lose 1-0 and 2-1.

    • DocWimsey

      Winning close games doesn’t really correspond with clutch hitting. In fact, it doesn’t really correspond to anything. Basically, all teams are 0.500 +/- sampling error in 1-run games. What separates the good teams from the average ones is that they don’t play many 1-run games. We’ve had multiple WS winners over the last decade that were sub-0.500 in 1-run games. For example, the ’04 Sox were 16-18 in 1 run games. What should stand out is not the 2-games under 0.500, but that there were only 34 1-run games. The other 128 were 2+ run decisions, and the Sox won 82 of them.

      The same is true for really bad teams. The ’03 Tigers were 43-119: but they were over 0.500 in 1-run games! Of course, they were so bad that they had problems keeping teams to within 1 run: they played in only 37 1-run games! That meant that only 24 of their victories were by 2+ runs, whereas 101 of their loses were by 2+ runs.

      But this is why performance in 1-run games in one season never predicts success the next season: it’s basically a coin flip. The goal is to avoid them: but not like the ’03 Tigers did!

  • cubsin

    I expect that the NL will have adopted the DH rule by the time Vogelbach is ready for prime time. NL teams are at a major disadvantage in signing free agent sluggers, since AL teams can offer more years, thus more money. More interleague games will also increase NL teams’ interest in having a full-time DL.

  • cubsin

    Leading the league in quality starts doesn’t mean much, since a starter who always goes six innings and gives up three runs has an ERA of 4.50. If you have a weak bullpen, a weak offense or both, quality starts won’t consistently win games.

    • DocWimsey

      That is the other issue. Again, it’s about outscoring the opposition: and if your offense is bad and/or your bullpen is bad, then you can still pile up quality starts and be a 0.500 team. The ’09 Cubs were not a few “clutch hits” away from being the ’08 Cubs: they were something like 200 total bases + walks away from the ’08 Cubs. It was the quality starts that let them be a 0.500 team when the rest of the team was sub-0.500.

  • CRO

    Keith Law answered a question regarding Vogelbach during his chat today, about how his spring is going and said nothing short of his swing is looking horrible and that he is lost at the dish.

    • Smitty

      Law said that after watching just two at bats. Take what he says with a grain of salt…good or bad.

    • Kyle

      Law tweeted that mid-game after watching Vogelbach strike out twice.

      Of course, Vogelbach doubled in the next at-bat after the tweet.

      Law is rather overenamored with his own scouting ability and likes to make sweeping judgments that he refuses to budge on after briefly glancing at a prospect.

  • Idaho Razorback

    Rock Shoulders and Rebil Ridling sound like two gay pornstars. As for Dan Vogelbach, he is a poor mans Bob Hamlin which is Billy Joe Robidoux.