Whether at the plate or in the field, Alfonso Rivas of the Chicago Cubs has done nothing but impress during his short time in the big leagues. In 18 games last season, Rivas hit .318 with a .388 OBP and one home run. This year, Rivas has only 10 games under his belt, but he’s slashing .375/.483/.542 with a 1.024 OPS, one homer, and six runs batted in.
Although he didn’t have a massive night at the plate against the White Sox on Tuesday night, finishing 0-3 with a walk, his approach stuck out. In the third inning, he had arguably the most impressive plate appearance of the Cubs’ season against Michael Kopech. After quickly falling behind in the count 0-2, Rivas fouled off eight pitches, worked the count full, and drew a walk on a 14-pitch plate appearance.
All in all, Kopech was masterful, pitching four-plus innings of shutout baseball. However, due mainly to Rivas’ work at the plate, Kopech’s pitch count rose quickly and forced Sox manager Tony La Russa to take him out of the ballgame before qualifying for the win.
These are the types of plate appearances that have earned Rivas a more regular role as of late, not only in the starting lineup but also in the leadoff position. Cubs manager David Ross expressed as much during his postgame press conference.
Frank Schwindel’s Struggles
Frank Schwindel was such a fun story last year. Has the shine worn off? Given how Schwindel has looked early on in the season at the plate, there are zero reasons for Rivas not to play every day, especially when he’s the younger of the two, and the Chicago Cubs need to see how he fits the team moving forward.
Schwindel’s bat looks late. He’s making weak contact and not walking much. His in-zone contact, which was very high last year (87.1 percent), is way down below league average at 74.8 percent.
On top of that, Schwindel’s lone hit Tuesday night was one of the weakest batted balls of the game, with a 65.4 MPH exit velocity. For reference, Jake Burger’s fluke RBI single dribbler down the third-base line to give the White Sox a 1-0 lead was hit 61.7 MPH.
Additionally, Frank the Tank’s -0.4 fWAR is 12th-worst in the majors among qualified players. That number is dead last on the Cubs, even among non-qualified players. Is it too soon to write off Schwindel? Maybe so. Joey Votto has the worst fWAR in the league, a trend that is unlikely to continue throughout an entire season.
I was high on Schwindel coming into the season, and I truly believe he needs a little warm weather and relaxation to get back to being a serviceable player. Nonetheless, Rivas needs to play every day. Schwindel isn’t the most outstanding defensive first baseman. If the Cubs want to keep Schwindel in the lineup more days than not, it needs to be at DH.
How We Got Here
Coming out of Spring Training, many wondered why Alfonso Rivas was sent down to Triple-A Iowa to begin the year. Rivas hit .333 with a .444 OBP, .977 OPS, and displayed nice opposite-field power with one home run in 14 Cactus League appearances.
The Cubs felt the need for another pitcher on the roster outweighed Rivas’ potential at the time, given that it was a shortened Spring Training and pitchers’ arms weren’t stretched out yet. Also, the Cubs had limited position players with minor-league options available to choose from, so Rivas became the unwarranted roster cut.
I don’t particularly love the way the Cubs handled his situation. In my 2022 season preview and predictions article, I projected Rivas to make the roster over Michael Rucker. However, Rucker has stuck in the bullpen and has had his moments, including Tuesday night when he touched 101.8 MPH, the fastest pitch thrown in the game by any player on either team.
The Situation Moving Forward
So far this year, Alfonso Rivas has a small sample size of only 29 plate appearances, but you can’t help but notice the production. Rivas has already accrued 0.4 fWAR and currently leads the team with a 194 wRC+ and 17.2 percent walk rate. These numbers aren’t sustainable, but they are a positive sign. Comparing his fWAR to Frank Schwindel’s, he’s been almost a full win better than him.
Initial roster construction frustration aside, it makes no difference now. Rivas is here, and hopefully, he’s here to stay for a while. If you’re Chicago Cubs manager David Ross, you need to find a way to play him every day.
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