Kris Bryant and the Cubs' crop of young talent resembles current and former big leaguers.
Whenever prospects get hyped up enough without reaching their ceiling or realizing their potential yet, people will want to compare them to current or former major league players. While it’s not an exact science, having someone who is in the middle of or has completed their MLB career as a comparison can sometimes give fans a better idea of the type of player that prospect may become.
Before getting into the current and former players the Chicago Cubs’ plethora of hitting talent resembles, it’s important to remember that just because they are similar to a player doesn’t mean their careers will turn out the same way. So much of baseball is mental, and that certainly can make or break a career.
These comparisons are simply based on skill set and the play style of the players involved. With that said, here’s a look at some of the Cubs’ top hitting prospects and some players they may resemble when they get called up.
Mike Olt strikes out more than J.J. Hardy, but he has a similar swing and similar upside.
MLB Comparison: J.J. Hardy
Cubs third base prospect Mike Olt shares several strengths and weaknesses with Baltimore Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy. First of all, they both bat right-handed and are around the same size (Olt: 6’2”, 210 lbs; Hardy: 6’1”, 190 lbs). That doesn’t matter for everything, but in this case, it does because it impacts their hitting approach.
Both players have a short, compact swing at the plate, allowing them to get around on inside pitches. That’s part of the reason both players have so much raw power. However, that’s also a reason both players won’t ever hit for a very high average; the short, compact swing compromises them on pitches on the outside corner and causes them to either swing and miss or roll over the ball and ground out.
Production-wise, Olt is capable of putting up similar numbers to Hardy, but he’s going to have to put the bat on the ball more often. He struck out 132 times last season in just 373 at-bats in 2013. Even though Olt hit just .202 combined between Double-A and Triple-A while battling blurry vision a season ago, his on-base percentage was .303. If he can make more consistent contact, he can be a solid contributor.
Vogelbach has the same size and ability to produce runs as Prince Fielder.
MLB Comparison: Prince Fielder
No, this comparison isn’t only being made because of the massive size of both of these players (Dan Vogelbach: 6’0”, 250 lbs; Prince Fielder: 5’11”, 275 lbs). They are both left-handed power hitters who are also great run producers. So while yes, they are both huge human beings, their professional approach at the plate is what makes them so similar.
Vogelbach doesn’t possess quite the same power that Fielder does, but the way he approaches every at-bat like he has nothing to waste makes him a power hitter who can also hit for a high average.
In each of the last three seasons, Fielder has hit at least .279, which is very solid for a player who hits the ball out of the ballpark as often as he does. Similarly, Vogelbach’s worst batting average over three years of minor league baseball is .284, and he’s just 21 years old.
Given that each can only play first base because of his size, neither player is particularly versatile. However, Fielder plays in the American League where he can also be the designated hitter. For that same reason, don’t be surprised if Vogelbach is playing for an American League team rather than the Cubs when his time comes.
Even though he's not as balanced from both sides of the plate, several aspects of Alcantara's game resemble Furcal's.
MLB Comparison: Rafael Furcal
Like three-time All-Star Rafael Furcal, Arismendy Alcantara can switch hit. However, Furcal was a little more balanced from both sides of the plate. Alcantara by comparison, is dominantly a left-handed hitter. A season ago in Double-A, he hit .280 from the left side of the plate and .246 right-handed.
Both players are quick middle infielders, and both present a decent deal of power for their positions. Even though Furcal isn’t thought of as a home run threat, especially now, he hit an average of 14 home runs between 2003 and 2006.
Alcantara is capable of modest power numbers like that, as he hit 15 long balls of his own last season playing for the Tennessee Smokies. Obviously, there’s no guarantee that will translate to the next level, but both players play similar styles.
In addition to modest power, both possess not-so-modest speed. Furcal averaged nearly 33 stolen bases per season between 2000 and 2007. Last season in Tennessee, Alcantara swiped 31 bases.
Overall, the similarities between the two players actually could translate to a similarity in production. While they both play the same style and have put up similar numbers, albeit one in the majors and one in the minors, Alcantara could end up having a similar major league career as well.
Soler has the size and bat speed to be as powerful as his countryman Yasiel Puig.
MLB Comparison: Yasiel Puig
This one is almost too easy. For one thing, Jorge Soler and Puig are both Cubans who decided to make the jump to MLB around the same time. They both are also freak athletes who like to play and express themselves in similar ways.
Both players have raw power, and Puig is just showing it off at a higher level at this point. Due to various injuries, Soler has yet to develop into the player the Cubs hope he will eventually become. The ferocity that each player swings the bat with helps with that power, but the fact that Puig is 6’3”, 245 pounds and Soler is 6’4”, 215 pounds helps.
These players are similar not only in stature, but also in demeanor. It was well-noted last season that some of Puig’s antics rubbed opposing players the wrong way. Some argued he was just having fun, and others argued he was arrogant.
There was an incident at the beginning of last season in which Soler, wielding a bat, charged at an opposing team’s dugout following a brawl. While he was stopped by teammates, it revealed that he has a bit of a hot head, and a five-game suspension followed.
He doesn’t necessarily have the same superstar potential as Puig, but once Soler reaches the majors, his power will enable him to have a similar impact.
Cubs outfielder Albert Almora has a very similar play style to fellow center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury.
MLB Comparison: Jacoby Ellsbury
Perhaps it was how much he resembled his former cornerstone center fielder that made Theo Epstein select outfielder Albert Almora as his first player as Cubs president. Both are players that play an outstanding center field and both get on base a ton.
It’s just the Cubs’ hope that Almora’s injury history doesn’t start to look similar to Ellsbury’s. The outfielder who figures to be the Cubs’ future leadoff man played in just 61 games a season ago due to injury. Unfortunately, that’s similar to Ellsbury, who has missed at least half of a season twice in his major league career.
When on the field, though, Almora resembles Ellsbury. Both players generally hit for a very high average, as Almora hit .321 and .329 in his two minor league seasons. Ellsbury’s career batting average is a little below that at .297.
Ellsbury had one breakout year power-wise when he hit 32 home runs in 2011, but other than that season, the most home runs he’s hit in a single year is nine. Similarly, Almora hasn’t displayed much power in his short time in the minor leagues, as he’s hit just five homers across two seasons.
One area that Almora will need to improve to better emulate Ellsbury is base stealing. The now-New York Yankees outfielder has stolen 39 or more bases four times in his major league career, while Almora has stolen a total of nine in his two seasons in the minor leagues. As he grows as a player, Almora figures to steal more bases, but he almost certainly won’t be doing it as prolifically as Ellsbury has.
Kris Bryant, believe it or not, has the tools to eventually put up otherworldly numbers the way Pujols did.
MLB Comparison: Albert Pujols
Before anyone goes out and buys season tickets for 2015 and beyond, let’s get one thing straight. This isn’t suggesting that Kris Bryant will have as great of a career as the legendary St. Louis Cardinals and Los Angeles Angels first baseman. He does, however, possess some of the same special gifts when it comes to hitting a baseball a long way.
Both sluggers are great all-around hitters. They can hit the ball over the fence, or they can hit gap shots to drive in runs. That’s part of the reason Bryant slots so well into the No. 3 spot in the order, somewhere that Pujols made a home.
Beyond their statistical projections and comparisons, these two players generate power in a very similar way. Both are tall and muscular, and both generate a sickening amount of torque when they’re coming through the zone and making contact with a pitched ball. That’s why even when either player doesn’t completely square up a pitch, there’s still a good chance that it will end up in the gap somewhere.
Even though Bryant is more athletic than a modern-day Pujols, the aging first baseman and designated hitter came into the league athletic and versatile. He actually began his career in the outfield before moving to third base and eventually first base, where he found his niche.
Again, this isn’t to say that Bryant will put up Pujols-esque numbers necessarily, but he does have a rare set of skills that makes him one of a handful of players capable of making a similar impact. As he moves his way through the minor leagues, it will become more apparent if Bryant only resembles Pujols in his swing and approach or in his otherworldly production as well.
Javier Baez has the same elite bat speed that Gary Sheffield once had, and he is capable of producing at a similar level.
MLB Comparison: Gary Sheffield
The chief reason for this comparison is elite bat speed. Sheffield, the retired outfielder, had one of the quickest bats that the major leagues have ever seen. The fact that he was even able to get his hands through the zone after his elaborate pre-swing routine is impressive in itself. Even more impressive is that he was an extremely productive player for more than a decade.
Due to his elite bat speed, Javier Baez has the chance to be every bit as productive as Sheffield. The latter’s career average splits were .292/.393/.514. Last season between High-A and Double-A, Baez’s splits were .282/.341/.578.
So while he clearly isn’t as selective a hitter as Sheffield, he can also drive the ball to the gaps more effectively. Again, comparing minor league and major league stats isn’t indicative of how a major league career will eventually end up, but it does give a good indication of the type of player someone may turn out to be.
Only time will tell, but with all of the hype surrounding the youngster Baez, performing at an elite level for over a decade like Sheffield would suffice for Cubs Nation, especially since he would be doing it in The Friendly Confines of Wrigley Field.