With Bellinger’s future uncertain, Busch poised to take over first base for Cubs

With Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts saying he's still waiting for free-agent Cody Bellinger to “engage” in negotiations for a new contract, there is an opportunity for playing time at first base in spring training.

Bellinger played 59 games at the position last season, his first and possibly last with the Cubs.

He can also play center field, but Pete Crow-Armstrong has a bright future at that spot and Bellinger would likely spend more time at first base if he does return.

If not...

Patrick Wisdom and Matt Mervis are two familiar names who can play first, but newcomer Michael Busch could emerge as the starter if talks with Bellinger continue going nowhere.

Busch was acquired from the Dodgers in a Jan. 11 trade that sent promising pitching prospect Jackson Ferris to Los Angeles. He made his major-league debut last year and hit .167/.247/.292 with 2 homers and 7 RBI in 27 games with the Dodgers.

Busch spent most of 2023 with Class AAA Oklahoma City and slashed .323/.431/.618 with 27 home runs and 90 RBI over 98 games.

While he's played most of his professional career at second and third base, the 26-year-old Busch was a first baseman during his collegiate days at North Carolina.

“I played a lot of first in college,” he said. “I played a little around the infield, even getting to the outfield in the minor leagues. Just the reps, the reps of getting out there and hammering out 50 ground balls, you feel a little more comfortable each day.”

Busch might not have Gold Glove potential at first base, but he does have some thunder in his left-handed bat the Cubs are anxious to exploit.

Over four minor-league seasons in the Dodgers' system, Busch hit .283/.390/.529 with 79 home runs and 267 RBI in 357 games.

“He is a player that has essentially conquered the minor leagues,” Cubs manager Craig Counsell said. “He's going to get an opportunity. Of course, he's going to have to perform, but he's going to get an opportunity.”

If Bellinger does not return and Busch flops in spring training, Wisdom would likely get the nod at first base.

A natural third baseman, Wisdom played 14 games at first last season. He committed 2 errors in 77 innings, so more defensive work is needed.

Mervis put up monster numbers at Class AAA Iowa in 2022 and he got his shot with the Cubs last year. It did not go well.

In 27 games, he hit .167/.242/.289 with 3 homers and 11 RBI while striking out 32 times in 99 plate appearances. Demoted in mid-June, Mervis warmed back up while spending the rest of the season at Iowa.

The Cubs are giving him another look in spring training and Mervis should benefit from last year's experience.

Dominic Smith is another option at first base after reportedly agreeing to a minor-league deal with the Cubs on Monday.

Smith was a highly touted prospect after being drafted by the Mets with the No. 11 overall pick in the 2013 draft.

Chicago Cubs' Michael Busch runs fielding drills during a baseball spring training workout, Saturday, Feb. 17, 2024, in Mesa, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York) AP

Over a seven-year career with New York and the Nationals, Smith hit .248/.313/.407 with 58 homers and 225 RBI in 600 games.

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