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javier baez bomb[The second in a series taking a high-level look at the Chicago Cubs' farm system. First base and catcher were discussed yesterday.]

The farm system as a whole is very deep, but that depth is not evenly applied across all positions. Catcher is definitely on the thin side, as we saw in the last article, while first base features a good range of talent up and down the system.

Today we’ll take a look at the left side of the infield. I am lumping third base and shortstop together largely out of convenience. Many of the prospects at short are candidates to land at third if they cannot stick at short in the majors. And considering that the Cubs have one of the best young shortstops in the game already entrenched in Wrigley, odds are quite good that the Cubs’ best shortstop prospects will be looking for a new defensive home if they reach the majors on the North Side.

The headliner on the left side is definitely Javier Baez. He has the natural power and raw bat speed to hit for average and power and the defensive tools to be at least average at shortstop. The Cubs probably won’t move him to third until he is a few months away from the majors, but that could be as soon as sometime next year. If Baez can make some adjustments at the plate he has a chance to move quickly.

Jeimer Candelario may not be far behind Baez. Candelario may or may not be able to stay at third, but this switch hitter already exhibits plenty of discipline at the plate. There is no reason to give up on him at third yet, but there should be no worries about his bat working equally well at first.

The Cubs have a very good defensive third base prospect in Christian Villanueva, but it remains to be seen if Villanueva can hit enough stay at the hot corner. Moving to second may be an option for him, but, as we will see in a a later article, the Cubs are not exactly hurting for potential second basemen. Look for Villanueva to be the primary third baseman in Tennessee this year.

Joining him on the Smokies should be shortstop Arismendy Alcantara. Of all the raw, toolsy infielders the Cubs have packed into their farm system in recent years, Alcantara might be the rawest and toolsiest. Another switch hitter, Alcantara made some significant strides in Daytona last season. If he can build on those improvements he could find himself in the major league conversation in a couple of years. Some scouts feel he will be better suited for second base, but I expect he will stay with short for at least this season.

Speaking of switch hitters, we can’t forget about Marco Hernandez. Hernandez has a chance to be the best all-around shortstop not named Baez in the farm system, but he is still several years away. Look for Hernandez to return to the Midwest League to open the season.

Meanwhile, Junior Lake will be in Iowa spending more time at third and in the outfield than is typical for the career shortstop. Lake can handle short, when his head is in the game anyway, but he is close to the majors and is effectively blocked by Castro.

Also deserving some mention are projects Wes Darvill, Dustin Geiger, and Carlos Penalver. All three are young, raw, and with limited experience, but there is potential for any or all of these three to develop into major league talent.

And if we look into the very lowest levels of the organization, the Dominican Summer League, we find Mark Malave and Frandy de la Rosa quietly working on earning their own trip to the States. It will be awhile before we know what the Cubs have in those two, but both were highly regarded signings

Finally, to top things off, the Cubs drafted a pair of infielders in the middle rounds of the draft that have so far outperformed expectations. Tim Saunders and Stephen Bruno look more like second basemen long-term, but don’t be surprised to see both of them pick up playing time all over the diamond this season. They also have a chance to move quickly. I would not be surprised to see one or both finish the season in Double A.

That’s a lot of talent. This is the kind of depth that gives the Cubs a lot of options in terms of trades as well as options for the major league roster in the nearish and more distant future.

  • Bob

    What about Vitters?

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      He was discussed in the first base section. His future, long-term, at third base has become increasingly suspect.

    • arta

      what about him? he is not the future 3B for this team.

      • Bob

        I thought this was on gauging the 3rd base depth of the farm system. So you think that all of these other guys are future 3b for the Cubs?

        I just thought that Vitters was a potential 3b option for the Cubs, didn’t see the 1b part of it.

  • TheDynastyStartsIn2016

    Luke, in your experience, when will the Cubs announce their minor league rosters (opening day addition)?
    Does anyone have an idea how the Cubs plan to use their lower level starters? Are they doing that ‘piggyback’ thingy?

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

      Should be soon, early next week at the latest.

  • TJ

    What is the rationale for suggesting Baez be moved to 3rd as opposed to 2nd?

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      It could wind up being second. He’s definitely got the arm for third, though.

      (And, for the purposes of this series, Luke had to pick somewhere … )

      • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

        He could wind up at second, but like Lake, his arm would be wasted at second.

        Besides, the Cubs have a ton of second base options.

    • http://thecubcontrarian.blogspot.com Mr. Know It All (Kyle)

      Saves his legs, makes better use of his arm, easier position to learn, may be hard for him to turn DPs at his size as he grows.

    • Noah

      Because the issue that would result in Baez having to move from shortstop would likely be that he outgrows the position. In other words, he gets a little too big so things like going to the whole quickly become more difficult. The same issue exists at second base, so, if he outgrows shortstop, you wouldn’t be combating the flaw that causes him to move while minimizing one of his better defensive talents, a strong arm.

  • Puma0821

    If Baez can handle 2nd though, his bat could play at an All-Star Caliber… Maybe HOF caliber?

    Kinda getting ahead of myself there but wouldn’t that bring much more value to the team than him at 3rd?

    • http://thecubcontrarian.blogspot.com Mr. Know It All (Kyle)

      His bat could play at that level anywhere. Last year was a bit of an anomaly, but in some recent years the difference between 3b and 2b offensive expectations has been pretty close to nothing.

      • Puma0821

        Isn’t much easier to find an Aramis ramirez/Chase headley/middle of the order type at third than at second?

        Seems to me that average 3rd baseman is much more productive offensively than a 2nd baseman.

        Wouldyou rather have Baez at 2B and (last years) Hanley Ramirez 3B or Baez at 3B and (last yrs) Jose altuve at 2nd?… both had similar offensive WARs

  • Bilbo161

    I like Bruno and Saunders getting to AA this year. That would put them on a timeline to be available roughly the same time as Baez/Soler. A much more talented pool of players to have available to populate the big leave roster seems to be in the works.

  • TJ

    Reading this, and other similar-type pieces, it seems the Cubs have a surplus of infielder possibilities, will be interesting to watch and see who materializes.

    I’d really like to see Lake make it into the major league line up this season. Is he ready defensively to take over now? If so, I would unload Dejesus now and get the best possible return.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

      He won’t be as polished defensively as DeJesus, but he could probably handle the position.

      Realistically, he probably needs a few hundred at bats in Iowa before he’s really ready for the majors.

      • http://thecubcontrarian.blogspot.com Mr. Know It All (Kyle)

        I think people are talking entirely the wrong approach to Lake expectations.

        He isn’t a prospect with a timetable for getting to Chicago.

        He’s going to spend the next few years waiting for it all to click. If it does, he becomes an excellent player immediately. If it doesn’t, he’s never going to be a regular in Chicago. There’s not much middle ground.

        • TheDynastyStartsIn2016

          I think Lake will end up being a supersub. One that excites us times, and one that frustrates at others. Could fillin for short DL stintsproviding decent defense, frustrating offense. But I think of all the players we have in AAA, he may have the longest big league career.

  • DaveY

    Typically, on amateur teams the shortstop or pitcher is the best athlete and many of today’s major league infielders were highschool shortstops. This is old news as typically teams draft amateur shortstops while projecting them at another position meanwhile, the second or third basemen of amateur teams tend to be lesser athletes who, unless they have the clear tools that fit those positions and also have good offensive potential to match last to the later rounds or go undrafted.

    A long time ago the Cubs had great depth at shortstop in Shawon Dunston, Rey Sanchez, Jose Hernandez and a few minor leaguers that didn’t make it. At the time the Cubs drafted very few shortstops for a several drafts and usually in the lower rounds. Under Andy MacPhail and Ed Lynch the Cubs drafted a lot of second and third basemen meanwhile the major league team used the aforementioned depth but when that ran out they went through a series of free agent journeymen shortstops. Jeff Blauser, Ricky Gutierrez, Ramon Martinez, Neifi Perez… Not until the 2000 draft with first rounder and number 5 pick Luis Montanez did this end. Coincidentally, Montanez, like Baez, was projected to move to third. Once the Cubs starting drafting and signing international shortstops they finally developed Ryan Theriot and Ronny Cedeno and later Starlin Castro and Darwin Barney. It’s nice to see the Cubs drafting and developing shortstops again.

  • dan wis

    This may upset some people but with the upcoming prospects in the infield we shoud trade Castro for pitching help!

    • RoughRider

      A bird in the hand is worth two in the minor leagues.

      • DaveY

        two? At least five….

  • Marc N.

    Just curious: Why not lump 2B into here as well? Baez is a candidate for 2B, Candelario is a 3B who *might* become a 1B, Amaya is looking like a SS/2B/3B type so far, Hernandez is a SS prospect who would go to 2B if he had to move and the same for Penalver. Villanueva is really the only solid locked in 3B prospect in the organization .

    I also have to disagree with the Cubs having a ton of second base options. None are anywhere near as talented as Baez in the first place, BUT also Watkins/Torreyes/Amaya are some of the more overrated prospects in the system over the past year.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

      There are too many infield prospects to pack into one article. I could have split out third, but then I have some high profile cross-overs between third and short (Baez and Lake). Splitting out second actually leaves me with fewer double billings of that type.

      Yes, Baez could go to second, but he is much more likely to land on third. He has the arm and the quickness for third; fewer players exhibit that combo than show the skillset needed for second.

      And I have to disagree that Amaya/Watkins/Torreyes are being overrated. They are not on par with Baez – few players are – but all three are solid prospects (to greater or lesser degree) in their own right. Any or all of the three could emerge as starting second basemen in the majors.

      • Marc N.

        Baez has the arm and quickness for 2B too. I don’t see what he’s missing physically that would make him unplayable there.

        If you think those guys give the Cubs a ton of 2B options to the point where Baez can be easily scratched from there then those guys are being massively overrated. Watkins can’t hit lefties, Amaya isn’t oozing with offensive tools and was in Low A ball, and Torreyes is like 5’6″ and hit .264 in High A ball.

        Sure any of the three *could* emerge as a 2B in the future, but you can say that about alot of people if we’re dreaming big. More likely we’re looking at one guy who even makes it to the majors and likely he isn’t starter quality (at least not on a great roster). It’s the nature of prospects, and those guys aren’t of a high enough quality to really be interested in as long term starting options for the Cubs.

        • http://Noclue Marc N.

          Even more damning is that none of the three are Barney with the glove.

          I also dont think Baez responded too well to 3B when they tried it in the AFL, and both Epstein and Sveum spoke of 2B as a real possibility. Throw in that his bat historically would be most valuable up the middle and I don’t see any reason to list. 3B as his second position anymore. He answered the questions about his range this year, and the natural step down would be to the less defensively demanding up the middle spot.

          Plus I can’t help but remember that BA listed Utley as the Phillies 3B of the future until they couldn’t. Same for Cano but the Yankees made that a non-issue fairly early.

          • Marc N.

            Should add…none really project as overwhelmingly strong defensive 2B or even clearly better than Baez would be there.

          • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

            You seem to be under the impression I’m insulting Baez by not listing him as the most likely second baseman of the future.

            I’m not. Just the opposite. Baez will only wind up at second if (1) someone better than him takes over third, or (2) he can’t handle any other position.

            I don’t see either of those happening.

            I also disagree that Baez is clearly the best defender at second base in the organization. I’d take Watkins or Amaya over him in a heartbeat (talking purely defense here), probably Villanueva, and would give serious thought to Saunders, Alcantara, and Bruno.

            Baez is a great prospect. That doesn’t mean he is automatically the best at everything.

            • Marc N.

              Not insulting, it’s just the natural move to look to make.

              I didn’t say Baez is clearly the best defender at 2B in the organization. I said the three guys you listed as legit competitors do not project to be significantly better than him at the position. Villanueva is not a 2B prospect. None of those other guys projects to be a Barney-esque GG type defender at the position, and no bats come close to Baez’s ceiling at the position.

              Basically Baez only moves to third if:

              1 – He can’t play SS higher than A ball.

              2 – While losing his ability to play SS he bulks up so much that he can’t play 2B.

              Personally I don’t see either of those happening.

              If I think you’re insulting anything it would be the value of a 2B for no apparent reason.

              • Marc N.

                Also you are probably insulting Baez’s overall defensive toolset and athleticism. It goes beyond arm and quickness. People questioned his range at SS coming into pro ball and he responded by raising his defensive profile across the board according to almost every major source you can find. He has solid range, he has a strong arm, he’s quick, he’s decisive, he’s confident, and he’s aggressive…These are all things that would play at 2B or any other defensive position.

                More dramatic a statement in writing than I imagined but I would go as far as saying I would rather see his bat at 2B/CF/C (catcher was discussed during the 2011 draft) before I moved him to a corner anywhere on the field. Up the middle offense costs a ton to buy so it makes to keep your top guys there as long as possible.

        • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

          Baez isn’t unplayable at second. Neither is Lake.

          Fewers players are able to play third than second. When you find a guy who has the power bat generally needed at third and both the glove and the arm to stay at third, he tends to go to third.

          The players who wind up on second often, not always, are the guys who can’t cut it at third or short defensively, or who lack the slugging generally needed at third.

          I could also list Baez at first, he has both the bat and the defensive skill to play there. But because he makes more sense at third and short, that is where I’m listing him.

          • Marc N.

            Lake is unplayable at 2B. Baez is a better defender than Lake at SS at the same stage, and projects to stay better. Baez is waaaaaaaaay more playable at 2B than Lake.

            That “fewer players…” needs some statistical backing, because neither position is historically loaded with talent. If you find a power bat that can play 2B or any of the four up the middle positions then you play that guy there. That’s common roster and lineup building logic. It’s WAY harder to find offense up the middle than it is at the corners. You can always go out and grab a 3B who can hit some HRs for you and pass defensively, it’s *much* harder to get that bat out of 2B.

            No one would list Baez at a 1B. That makes no sense.

  • Thrilho

    I’m hoping Baez goes to second, because it’s easier to find a slugging third baseman than second baseman. Last year, there were 12 third basemen who hit 20+ HR vs 3 at second.

    If Baez can get you middle of the order production at second, it’s going to be much easier to get another middle of the order guy for third. Even if you’re wasting his arm, I’d want to take my best chance to get a stacked lineup.

  • Thrilho

    So basically, I’m saying I think his range/power combo at second is more rare and useful than his arm, assuming he doesn’t outgrow the range.

  • http://Noclue Marc N.

    Quote from Sveum this February:

    Manager Dale Sveum said Baez will play at short and second in Cactus League games.

    “He’s a shortstop and he’s going to play shortstop,” Sveum said. “If he happens to get into a game at third or second base, it will just be because of flat numbers. It’s not that we need to take a look at him anywhere else. That will be a development question down the road. Maybe to get his bat in the lineup in spring training, you might see him at second base. I don’t know about third base right now.”

    • Misuser use of Hyperbelanalogy (BluBlud)

      Marc, I think you are over thinking it a little. I’m with you, I think Baez may be better suited for 2B, but if Baez was to play 3B and lets say Villanueva is the prospect that makes it and was to move to 2B, would the lineup be any different. I think people over think defensive positioning relative to offensive production to much. Take Soler, Jackson and Almora. If all three turn out to be good Major league players, and all three stay with the Cubs as starting OF, I could really careless where their bats play best at. If all three stick with us, I would care more about where each can play to makes us better defensively, as all three of their bats will be in the lineup either way. If Baez comes up and plays third, and the Cubs find another slugging infielder, while still having Castro and Rizzo, they’ll find a place to play all four of them. It could be moving Baez to 2B and putting new slugger at third, or moving Castro to 2B, Baez to SS and new slugger to 3B. But Baez is not in the league yet, and though I believe there is a chance he could be up in September, he still has a lot of work to do to prove me right. When he gets close enough, the Cubs will figure out their defensive needs and thats where Baez will play. Who knows, it may even be in the OF.

      • http://Noclue Marc N.

        Have to say it again…Villanueva is not a second base prospect. There’s only the very smallest possibility that Baez moves to the OF. If he came up and played 3B they wild just find another slugging infielder?

        Iunno, I’m not reading anything that says I’m over thinking this one. It just makes sense for him and the Cubs to have him at 2B.

        • hansman1982

          Not if he can handle 3rd. There are more 2B who provide above-average (positionally) offense than there are 3B (I want to say there were only 5 who did it from 2011-2012 and 2 of them were pushed off other positions to 3B by their team acquiring another player).

          • http://Noclue Marc N.

            Even during this lull at 3B the average line is over .750 there. The average Line at 2B is .701.

            This is with guys like Longoria, ARod, and Zimmerman missing large chunks of seasons lately.

            The bigger bat is STILL, as it has always been, more valuable at 2B/up the
            middle.

      • hansman1982

        “Take Soler, Jackson and Almora. If all three turn out to be good Major league players, and all three stay with the Cubs as starting OF, I could really careless where their bats play best at.”

        This is correct, just like when Baez comes up, he will most likely go to 3rd because Castro is the better SS defender.

        The question then becomes, if Baez can be a productive player, is it easier to get a 2B or a 3B who can provide above average offense. The answer is 2B.

        Now, in trade talks, Baez has the highest value as a SS because it will be the easiest for his bat to be above-average there and if you can play SS, you should be able to play the other 6 positions (leaving C out of this discussion) thereby increasing a team’s ability to have you stick somewhere.

        • http://Noclue Marc N.

          The answer to that question you ask -easier to get – the historic answer is 3B actually.

          • http://Noclue Marc N.

            Before its said…yes I know that 3B is going through a lull right now. Give me history over the recent past, and up the middle offense over corner offense.

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