Chicago Cubs outfielder Cody Bellinger has been out of action since he suffered a bone bruise in his knee last month in Houston, but there is at least a chance he could be manning a different position for the team upon his return.
Cubs manager David Ross indicated Tuesday that Bellinger could see time at first base during his rehab assignment in Iowa, and that’s exactly where he was lined up on Wednesday, going 1-for-4 with an RBI and a strikeout in a win over the Indianapolis Indians.
Bellinger knocked in a run on a sacrifice fly in the third inning of Iowa’s victory.
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In 163 plate appearances so far this season, Bellinger has a slash line of .271/.337/.493, and has seven home runs and 20 RBI’s, along with nine stolen bases.
While most of his success has come while manning center field, he could be in for a position change upon his return to Chicago. According to Cubs reporters, Ross said that Bellinger could play first base because it’s easier on his knee.
He also cited Mike Tauchman’s success this season, and argued that the Cubs haven’t gotten enough offensive production at first base.
Tauchman has been solid at the plate for the Cubs, slashing .274/.403/.323 in 78 plate appearances, but there are questions about his center field defense. He currently owns a 0.1 defensive WAR according to Baseball Reference, and he would be a downgrade from the Gold Glove-winning Bellinger in that respect.
That being said, Ross’ point about first base production is right on the nose. Matt Mervis is 3-for-24 so far this month, with one home run and four RBI’s for the Cubs, and he has not been able to shake out of a prolonged slump that has his batting average at .170. He also has 32 strikeouts in just 88 at-bats this season, with seven walks.
Trey Mancini is sporting a .234 batting average, and he is a negative WAR player both at the plate and in the field, leaving the Cubs unable to rely on him as a consistent option at first base.
Using Bellinger at first would likely serve as a short-term solution to those problems, and could enable him to build his trade value should the Cubs decide to move him prior to the deadline. The concern would be that his knee still isn’t at 100% if he’s limited to first base duty, and that could put a hamper on his value as well.
Bellinger will continue his rehab assignment in Iowa this week, and it’s unclear when he will be called up.