As we continue our look at the top prospects across the Chicago baseball landscape this afternoon, we take a look at Chicago Cubs #5 prospect, Mark Zagunis.
It was clear that the Cubs’ front office had a plan for the 2014 draft. Of their 40 picks that year, 7 were catchers.
Almost everyone, at this point, knows who the first catcher taken was. With the fourth pick, the Cubs took Kyle Schwarber (which was a pick that was widely considered to be a reach, by the way), who was just out of college at Indiana.
Their next catcher came not too long after. The Cubs snatched Mark Zagunis, another college player, out of the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University very early in the third round.
The 24-year old Zagunis has an uncanny ability to both hit and get on base. The righty not only knows how to swing, but his eye for the strike zone is unlike any other in the entire Cubs farm system. His career OBP is .401, and he’s only finished below .400 in that regard once. His career batting average is .281, and outside of a poor Arizona Fall League performance, the lowest batting average he’s ever ended a season with is .271. Oh, and that Arizona Fall League appearance? He ended that with an unreal OBP of .455.
Coming off of a season in which he slightly regressed, Zagunis was ranked as the Cubs’ 18th best prospect by MLB Pipeline entering 2016. By the midway point of that same year, however, Zagunis was destroying his competition at Double-A Tennessee. With a .302 average, a .402 OBP, and an .860 OPS, he not only was promoted to Triple-A for the second half of the season, but saw increasing recognition, as MLB Pipeline moved him up to sixth in the rankings.
At Triple-A his numbers declined a bit, as is expected with better competition, but remained above average. He ended his time at Triple-A with a .274 average accompanied by his usual excellent OBP of .360.
His incredible bat and knack for getting on base is, unfortunately, Zagunis’ only major strong point. He gave up trying to fit in behind the plate back in 2014, and has been a corner outfielder ever since. His speed, arm, and overall fielding prowess are all average. He’s never been known for his power, but he’s been steadily increasing his power totals, seeing a career high 10 homers with an also career high .469 slugging percentage in 2016.
Because of his defensive limitations, Zagunis is most likely destined for a fourth outfielder role in the majors, especially on a stacked team like the Cubs. Further, given his major league readiness, the logjam of position players on the north side, and his offensive skill, Zagunis could possibly be used as a trade chip at some point this season.
Zagunis has yet to be added to the 40-man roster, but he did receive a non-roster invite to Spring Training. Based on his age and success at AAA, it’s very likely we get a taste of Zagunis on the MLB roster this year, especially if there’s some sort of injury at that level. Be on the lookout for him, because this natural hitter is very close to wearing Cubbie blue on a consistent basis.