A seemingly mundane transaction could end up benefiting the Chicago Cubs in more ways than one.
Last summer, amidst a revolving door of transactions, the Chicago Cubs swung a deal with the Houston Astros. The club sent veteran catcher Martin Maldonado, whom the team had previously acquired from the Kansas City Royals in exchange for relief pitcher Mike Montgomery, to Houston in exchange for utility infielder Tony Kemp.
Kemp did not produce much in terms of value for the Cubs. He appeared in 44 games, slashing .183/.258/.305, and became more of a warm body than anything. Following last season Chicago came to terms on a deal to send Kemp to the Oakland Athletics. Coming back to Chicago was a former top 30 prospect in Oakland’s system, first baseman Alfonso Rivas.
Rivas played his college ball at the University of Arizona, where he did a little bit of everything. He was a career .326 hitter in three seasons as a Wildcat and tried his hand at pitching. However, Rivas’s home remained at first base, and after Oakland selected the left-handed hitter in the fourth round in 2018, he immediately found his place.
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His professional career interestingly enough began at Class-A Short Season. Rivas appeared in 61 games, slashing .285/.397/.383 with a 137 wRC+ and displayed an impressive level of patience. In 257 plate appearances, Rivas struck out 44 times while forcing 36 free passes.
In 2019, he earned a promotion to Class-A Advanced Stockton and did not slow down. Across a full season, Rivas slashed .283/.383/.408, eight home runs, 55 RBI, and a 123 wRC+. His walk rate remained stable, and despite a slight increase in strikeouts, he still showed poise at the dish.
From Stockton to Triple-A Las Vegas, Rivas somehow found more success, and in the small sample size of 34 plate appearances, the 23-year-old slashed a whopping .406/.441/.625 with a home run and posted a shocking 161 wRC+. He improved on his strikeout rate and hit in each game, recording four multi-hit games. In 122 games overall, Rivas hit .292 with an above-average .810 OPS.
In what was seen as a mundane deal with Oakland, the Cubs had bolstered their already undervalued farm system when the Athletics agreed to the trade. As previously alluded, Rivas is just 23 years old and already has a strong track record of production. What’s more is that current team captain and beloved Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent in a couple of years, when he is 32 years old.
The emergence of the coronavirus and the tragic cancellation of Minor League Baseball this season is an unfortunate barrier for Rivas and his development, yet when Rizzo does reach UFA status, it will put Rivas at still just 25 years old.
Continuing to track his development accurately will be critical to his success moving forward, and as much as we all love Rizzo, Rivas could very well be the future for the Cubs at first base. Imagine, if you will, looking back five years from now after Rivas has become a cornerstone on the Northside, how a once humdrum trade helped to bring Chicago a superstar. The possibility is a fun one to ponder.