The other day, Brett considered some ESPN Power Rankings from Buster Olney to ask who we all saw as the Cubs’ No. 1 starter heading into the season. If you’d like, you can get right back into that discussion here.
Since then, Olney has dropped a couple more rankings – first base and catcher – only this time, two Cubs cracked the top ten. In fact, Anthony Rizzo and Willson Contreras each cracked the top 5, ranking fourth best at their respective positions heading into next season (groovy).
Among catchers, Willson Contreras ranks fourth overall, behind Buster Posey (still the king), Gary Sanchez, and J.T. Realmuto. Despite how awesome I believe Contreras is, this ranking seems fair because those three are all awesome, too. Consider the bats:
’17 Posey: 128 wRC+
’17 Sanchez: 130 wRC+
’17 Realmuto: 105 wRC+
’17 Contreras: 121 wRC+
Clearly, Posey and Sanchez can hit – at least – as well as Contreras can, and Realmuto has been pretty darn consistent behind the plate, as well. And given that each of Sanchez and Realmuto are both about the same age as Contreras, well, it’s not really worth getting too argue-y about Contreras being fourth. But if you’re looking for a little more excitement, consider that Olney believe Contreras become the best all-around catcher in baseball within a year or two, if he’s able to sharpen up a few subtle skills in his defense.
And moreover, it’s quite clear that this group of four catchers is in a tier of their own above and separated from the rest of the field. It was arguably more impressive/encouraging/awesome that he was included in this “tier” than just thinking about his relative ranking.
In any case, after posting his second consecutive 120 wRC+ (or better) season, Contreras figures to be a dominant presence and frequent cleanup hitter in the middle of the Cubs’ order. And if, knock on wood, that crazy 100 PA stretch just after the All-Star break (.311/.380/.700, 10 HRs, 173 wRC+) is even remotely within reach, he could soon be an MVP candidate.
Moving over to the first basemen, the Cubs have another top five finisher in Anthony Rizzo.
Rizzo ranks fourth behind Joey Votto, Freddie Freeman, and Paul Goldschmidt, for yet another fair, but still crazy awesome ranking. Given how truly unique Joey Votto is at the plate, he, like Posey, is a no-brainer for the top spot. Rizzo has been on the field a lot more than Freeman and is arguably a better defender than Goldschmidt, but the former probably has a higher (and more often reached) offensive ceiling, while the latter adds value with superb baserunning. I could make an argument to move Rizzo up, but it’s clear that, like Contreras, these guys are in a league of their own (of course, the guy right behind this group – Cody Bellinger – has some serious vertical momentum heading into this season).
Olney loves that Rizzo has followed Votto’s lead at the plate, and considers him one of the two best defensive first baseman in baseball (think about how amazing the Cubs infield defense is with Addison Russell and Javy Baez both in there going forward). All things considered, it’s hard not to love what Rizzo gives the Cubs, and be happy with his league-wide ranking.
Where do you stand? Fair to see these two wind up ranked fourth?
For the full lists, make sure you head over to ESPN and check it out for yourself.