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luis valbuena cubsLuis Valbuena, 28, who made all but three of his starts last year at third base, has been playing exclusively at second base this Winter in Venezuela, and Cubs GM Jed Hoyer said that is intentional, rather than just the VWL club doing its thing.

“We want him to be versatile, and he is versatile,” Hoyer told media in Orlando, including Cubs.com.* “[Darwin] Barney can play shortstop, Valbuena can play some shortstop, Donnie Murphy can play some shortstop. We have a really versatile infield, and that’s a great thing. We may not have to carry a standard utility guy and can mix and match in different ways.”

It would be naive to not assume that the Cubs are trying to make sure they’ve got all of their bases covered (heh) in case there was some roster shifting this offseason – if Starlin Castro were dealt, and Darwin Barney had to take over at shortstop; if Barney were dealt, and Valbuena had to play primarily at second base. Having Valbuena ready to go at second base “just in case” provides cover for the front office to do whatever they want (including shopping Valbuena to the market as a second baseman or a third baseman) and not have to rush a youngster into starting duty at the big league level.

Presently, Valbuena is hitting .338/.427/.506 in 20 games in Venezuela, which is obviously impressive, even in a league that appears to be fairly offensively friendly this year. He’ll make something in the $1.5 million range in 2014 in his second go-around in arbitration (he’s a Super Two), so a little bit of bat and a little bit of infield versatility, and Valbuena remains a valuable bench bat. If he’s forced into being something more than that, well, I guess we’ll just see what happens.

*(See the Cubs.com piece for more on Barney’s upcoming “big” season.)

  • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

    If Olt is healthy and can claim third, the lineup looks better with Olt at third and Valbuena at second than it does with Valbuena at third and Barney at second.

    • Matty V

      I hope Olt can claim it. I’d like to see him at third and have the kind of season that shows he can make it in the big leagues. That gives the Cubs many more options with the rest of the infield.

      • dAn

        I think Cub fans are more desperate to see Olt out there in April than the FO is. Cub fans complained about 3B being a problem area most of last year, but the reality is that we got above average production from the position from the platoons there (Vizcaino/Ransom and Vizcaino/Murphy).

        I expect Cub management to be conservative with Olt and give him a chance to get back on his feet with the whole vision thing, instead of throwing him to the wolves by sticking him in the opening day lineup. I’m not saying that it would be impossible for him to make the team, but the chances are VERY slim, IMO.

        The Cubs can survive another 3-4 months of a Vizcaino/Murphy platoon there, although it’s quite possible that they’re preparing for the possibility of a Vizcaino/Barney platoon at 2B by letting Vizcaino get time at 2B this winter. Vizcaino, incidentally, is an excellent defensive 2Bman–much, much better there defensively than the likes of Watkins.

        It will be interesting to see how all this shakes out.

        • Alex S

          I hate to be “that guy,” but considering you typed his name several times…it’s Valbuena, not Vizcaino I agree with your point, though.

        • cub2014

          spring training will decide Olt’s status

    • HuskerCub

      Why isn’t Lake being considered at 2nd?

      • C. Steadman

        itd be a waste of his plus arm…left side of the IF or OF would best utilize that tool

        • J.L.

          Also, he would be an awful second baseman.

          • Scotti

            Junior Lake actually could have been a passable 2B. Plenty of time to knock it down and recover over there (not great–not even good–just a young Soriano-ish type). But that ship sailed long ago. The last time he had more than a handful of reps over there was when he was 19-y/o. IMO, aside from a manager jockeying guys around in a long game, he’ll never play in the infield again.

      • Mike W

        Last season Junior Lake played only OF because that is where the Cubs want him to play, not the infield. He would not be returning to the infield. Darwin Barney needs to go though. Hopefully Luis Valbuena can start at 2nd with Olt at 3rd to begin the season. Thats an upgrade for sure Offensively Olts bat compared to Barneys bat, id take Olt.

      • Kyle

        Because he’s a terrible defensive infielder.

        • MightyBear

          Agreed.

    • Noah_I

      The one thing I’ve seen is that it does not seem like many people believe that the Cubs would give Olt the starting MLB gig on opening day because of just how awful he was last season. There is another alternative the Cubs could try, in Josh Vitters.

      With that said, I do find the idea of a Valbuena/Barney platoon at 2B extremely plausible.

      • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

        If Olt’s awfulness was due to his eye issue, and the eye issue is resolved (the Cubs would have solid info on both those factors), then he may still have a shot.

        It sounds like Vitters is being moved to the outfield now. His defense at third would be OK on a fill in basis, but probably isn’t something you want to deal with long term.

        • Noah_I

          I agree, the most likely slot for Vitters is either as a corner outfielder, or an infield/outfield corner platoon type against LHPs. But whomever the Cubs are placing at 3B on opening day 2014 is likely a stop gap, although hopefully one that can show enough value at the position to be flippable for other assets when Baez or Bryant are ready to take over the position by, likely, late June 2015 at the latest.

        • Dustin Smith

          The only thing with Olt is that he claimed mid-season that the eye issues were all resolved and behind him, and then after struggling he admitted still having intermittent vision problems in the second half. He’s the definition of a boom or bust prospect at this point. It’s all up to whether or not his vision clears up this offseason. Even if he can see 20/20 he still has to prove he can hit at the MLB level. So a lot of question marks. He’d be a nice story if he can bounce back though.

    • Kyle

      Olt needs to worry about whether he can claim 3b in Des Moines.

      • Voice of Reason

        If Olt has a decent spring he could break camp as the starting 3b in Chicago, screw Des Moines.

        • Chef Brian

          Agreed. The Cubs don’t have Olt around as minor league filler. If his eye issues are resolved, than he has the talent to claim the everyday 3rd Base job at the major league level. This is put up or shut up time for Olt’s young career. I really hope he gets more of a chance than many on this board would allow.

    • Hookers or Cake

      Yeah with Olt/Murphy 3B and Valbuena/Barney 2B The infield wouldn’t look terrible if Castro bounces back.
      The rotation and bullpen don’t look bad.
      What we still desperately need is an outfielder. If we can get a Choo or trade for a Kemp the Cubs might not be terrible.

    • Eric

      this is my hope. Barney needs to lose the starting 2B job. IF Olt has turned a corner and that’s a big if. Our line-up looks a bit better with Valbuena and Olt in it minus Barney.

    • cub4life

      Absolutely agree with you Luke. As much as I don’t like Valbuena I would have to say if both he and Barney are the same player this year as they were last he is a better option then Barney. I guess he is a good hold over til one of the minors guys (no including a free agent signing). Hopefully Olt will just come in and take over #B.

      • cub4life

        3B

  • SenorGato

    Not surprising or anything – Hoyer explains it well enough. Team probably won’t be able to have a standard UT guy (my guess is due to the probable 3B platoon and obvy the poss. of a Barney or Castro trade) and the roster could use the versatility. Also makes selling him as a utility man more plausible, though it’s tough to imagine they would move Valbuena yet at 1.5.

  • Cubbie in NC

    They could platoon Valbuena and Barney at 2nd.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

      Not a bad idea either. Barney did have an OPS of .802 against lefties last season.

      • CubFan Paul

        Barney’s OPS was .725 against LHP…

        .802 almost gave me a heart attack..

        • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

          I see. I was looking at the line against left handed starters.

          • DocPeterWimsey

            Wow, Barney must really have been bad against LH relievers, then!

            • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

              Yes and no.

              Baseball Reference uses that stat to track performance in games started by a left handed pitcher, even if he later faced right handers. And if he faced lefthanders in a game started by a right hander, those stats don’t show up in that line.

              Useful stat? Eh. In proxy situations mainly, I think. I grabbed it by mistake.

              • DocPeterWimsey

                Huh, I confess that I’m not sure that I see the use in those stats!

                • DarthHater

                  Well, it’s probably as useful as looking at a batter’s stats with RISP. ::ducks:: :-P

    • D-Rock

      Agreed, perhaps based on Barney’s splits. Not sure if he was any better with a different pitcher on the mound or on the road, etc. but could be a good idea to rest him more. And maybe the new hitting coach will be able to help him climb above the Mendoza line?

  • BABIP (MichCubFan)

    I am wondering what Logan Watkins will do next season. He didn’t get much playing time down the stretch last season, but could have some on-base ability. If Olt doesn’t take the 3rd base job then I would like to see Watkins get an opportunity to start at 2nd base against righties to see what he can do.

    • Ron

      Am I mis-remembering or can Watkins play center field a little bit also?

      • Cedlandrum

        Logan can play probably about anywhere on the field.

        • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

          This is true.

      • dAn

        Watkins was a guy who they gave some CF time to in the minors as he was coming up, in part because his 2B defense was so erratic. He’s pretty raw defensively at 2B. There’s a chance he could be an okay stopgap as a platoon 2Bman (a la someone like Vizcaino)–especially because he has big platoon splits. But it’s likely Watkins needs another 3 months to a year of AAA.

    • Blackhawks1963

      Logan Watkins is nothing to write home about. He probably toils at Iowa where he belongs. The trouble for him is that the infield will be Villenueva, Baez and Alcantara at 3rd, SS and 2nd, respectively.

      I’ve not seen anything out of Watkins to suggest much of a major league future. Maybe he can become a serviceable utility player? But the problem with that is he seems limited to 2nd base.

      • BABIP (MichCubFan)

        Well if we are going to be putting Darwin Barney out there in the short term, we might as well let Watkins at least get the chance to compete in ST for the second base job…at least against right handed pitching.

        I do not see Watkins as a long-term starter with the group coming up behind him.

      • cms0101

        Exactly. If anything, he needs to show something in Iowa before you let him unseat a gold glove winner at 2nd. I’m all for playing young guys at the ML level when they’re ready, but he was called up last year because he was on the 40-man already and there was an injury. It’s not like he earned a promotion by being dominant in AAA, which is what this FO looks for when they promote guys.

        • CubFan Paul

          “It’s not like he earned a promotion by being dominant in AAA, which is what this FO looks for when they promote guys”

          Most promotions of youngsters are caused by ineffectiveness and injuries on the ML level.

          • cms0101

            That’s one half of the equation. The other would be a guy has earned it. In this case, they were short-handed and he was the only guy they could bring up. When Lake was brought up, it was because they had a need AND he was playing well. Before Lake, Rizzo forced his way up. Castro was having success when he was called up too. These were different circumstances than Watkins.

            • CubFan Paul

              You admit Lake and Watkins’ callups were out of their control.

              ineffectiveness brought up Castro too (Theriot & Fontenot), who leapfrogged Barney

              • cms0101

                No, I’m saying their hand was forced with Watkins, whereas they didn’t HAVE to call up Castro, Rizzo, or even Lake. The latter three were performing well enough to be considered for a call-up. Ironically, Castro skipped over Barney, who was playing SS in AAA, because Barney was not playing as well as Castro was. If there were truly a need, they could have taken the guy from the higher level. The decision was made to take the better performing player. What I’m saying is, Watkins was an extra body they called up, and nothing else. Like J.C. Boscan when Navarro got hurt. He was there for insurance. Not to get at bats at the ML level.

                • CubFan Paul

                  Their hands were forced with Castro and Lake too.

                  “Most promotions of youngsters are caused by *ineffectiveness* and injuries on the ML level”

                  • cms0101

                    I don’t recall the exact timing of Lake’s call-up, but Castro’s call-up was not due to injury. They could have brought up Barney to play short from Iowa, but he wasn’t hitting over .300 like Castro was. Castro came up and immediately went into the starting lineup. As did Lake. As did Rizzo. Why didn’t Watkins? Because the situations were different. Watkins was brought up for insurance. The others were brought up because they had shown they deserved an opportunity in the majors.

                    • CubFan Paul

                      “I don’t recall the exact timing of Lake’s call-up”

                      I do: injuries and ineffectiveness on the ML Club in the OF.

                      “Castro’s call-up was not due to injury”

                      Correct, it was ineffectiveness of Theriot & Fontenot up the middle.

                      “Why didn’t Watkins?”

                      Because Barney was healthy. No reason to bench him BUT with other injuries and inefffective replacement level players on the 25 man, Watkins got his call-up.

                      “The others were brought up because they had shown they deserved an opportunity in the majors”

                      False when it comes to Castro, Lake, & Rizzo (remember LaHair going ice cold and getting benched?).

  • http://bleachernation.com woody

    I’ve always liked Valbuena. He’s not really a front line starter, but he is a very valuable utility man in my opinion. Really makes you wonder about Castro. Have been a couple of teams looking for short stops. The thing I like about Valbuena is that he bats left handed. He may not be a star, but he seldom does things that hurt the team i.e. Castro. But the fact that Valbuena has been playing second could be indicative that the Cubs may be throwing Barney into some kind of a package for pitching prospects. I think that is more likely than Castro being traded. The fact that Valbuena has been playing second base over the winter could also mean that the FO is expecting OLt to claim the third base jod out of ST.

    • terencemann

      That’s a funny way to spell Baez.

      • terencemann

        And I replied to the wrong post….

        • DocPeterWimsey

          And here I assumed that your entire post was a completely misspelled reply to the prior post…. (I had agreed entirely with your completely misspelled argument about Valbuena’s OPS against GB pitchers, too…)

          Hey, it’s snow day: I’m feeling goofy.

  • Blackhawks1963

    Translation? Mike Olt, your table is ready at 3rd base. Luis Valbuena, you are now our 2nd baseman until Alcantara arrives.

    Obviously, the Cubs are hoping / praying that Olt can be “adequate” until Bryant or Baez arrives to challenge for the 3rd base job. If Olt totally sucks and Bryant / Baez aren’t yet ready, then I suppose the Cubs could give Christian Villenueva a spin.

    • terencemann

      If Olt secures the 3rd base job, Baez would probably take over at 2nd when he’s ready.

      • Blackhawks1963

        My assumption is that either Baez or Bryant winds up in left field on a permanent basis.

        • mdavis

          i think Alcantara is a guy that gets traded.

          • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

            Maybe. I suspect he’ll still have quite a bit of value to the Cubs as a switch hitting utility guy. He can play second and short (though he isn’t great at short), and I suspect he should be able to handle third and the OF as well (except maybe center).

            • mdavis

              very true, and i’m not saying i think they should trade him. Just that of the upper echelon of prospects the Cubs have, i think he’s a guy they could throw into a deal (when the time comes) as the 2nd big piece of a prospect package.

          • SenorGato

            Agreed on Alcantara getting traded. Not an elite talent here, his AA season + the Futures Game put him a little bit more on the map (the guy was getting Jimmy Rollins comps this year)…I’ve been dreaming of a one for one prospect trade – Alcantara for Jesse Biddle.

        • DavidC

          Theo said they wouldn’t put Baez in the OF, even though he could easily handle it.

        • dAn

          Based on Hoyer’s quotes about Baez, it doesn’t sound like he’s ticketed for the OF. They always seem to say things like “He could play anywhere in the infield” and stuff like that. IMO it’s much more likely that they would move Bryant to RF than Baez to the OF. But, the more I think of it, the more I expect them to deal Castro either at the trade deadline or at the end of the ’14 season–especially if Castro bounces back and Baez looks ready. A resuscitated Castro on a team friendly, long term contract could bring a lot of pitching or whatever they want back in trade, and Baez is a guy who could play a much bigger offensive role than Castro could, even if he bounces back.

  • Eric

    I think Sveum’s insistence on playing Barney everyday was one of the many nails in his coffin. We could be looking at Valbeuna starting and Barney coming in late for defense.

    • Roh Ruh

      Yeah, what was Dale thinking ! After all he had the option of Ryne Sandberg and Manny Trillo in their primes rotting on the bench.

      Revisionist history run amuk. Dale had many faults, but he could only fill out the lineup sheet with the cards he was dealt.

      • Eric

        That’s just a silly response.

        Logan Watkins barely got to take the bat off his shoulder. Hell, Cody Ransom would have been an improvement. There was nothing revisionist about what I stated, since I was merely speculating anyway.

        • Kyle

          Logan Watkins sucked at AAA. You want MLB at-bats, you have to give some indication that you are worth them.

          • SenorGato

            Come on Kyle…While the Cubs are losing I think everyone cheap and under 28 should get a shot.

            • frank

              If he sucked at AAA what would make anyone think he’d be better in the majors?

              • Eternal Pessimist

                Yeah, you “earn” a shot…his AAA performance was not inspiring.

            • C. Steadman

              im 22 and i’d play for free…give me a shot then!

          • Eric

            He was on the big league roster. No reason not to play him over someone like Barney.

            • Kyle

              Well, there’s the fact that he’s worse than Darwin Barney at baseball. That’s a good reason.

          • dAn

            Watkins’ numbers against RHP were pretty decent there. And Barney flat out cannot hit RHP. It makes sense to let them share playing time, even if it’s more of a 50-50 thing than a strict platoon.

  • http://bleachernation.com woody

    I have a feeling that maybe the Cubs are looking to put Baez at second base instead of third. He could be the next Cano at that position. Playing Valbuena at that position to me would be indicative that a Barney/Valbuena platoon would be a placeholder. If this happens and Olt plays well then Bryant may well have to wait until Sept. for his call up.

    • Blackhawks1963

      Baez is still very much a wildcard. There is going to be uncertainty on whether he can adapt to major league pitching over time, given his all or nothing hitting in the minors. Coupled with the fact that he is a defensive work in progress at shortstop. He’s never played 3rd base, or 2nd base, or the outfield. The fact that the Cubs intend for him to remain at shortstop to start the season in Iowa telegraphs to me that his future is either at shortstop or the outfield. But we will see. Baez is either going to pan out nicely or be a big messy bust. I don’t think there will be much in-between.

      • DocPeterWimsey

        The fact that they are keeping Baez at SS does not mean that they are precluding the idea of using him at 2nd or 3rd. Many SS have made the transition to 3B or 2B upon being called up. (Manny Machado is a very recent, and possibly not the most recent, example of this.)

        The other thing is that the same OPS from SS is more valuable than it is from 2B or (especially) 3B. Thus, Baez’s trade value is greatest while they keep him at SS. Yes, other teams will know that they might wind up putting him at 2nd or 3rd, or possibly the OF, but while there is a chance he can stick at SS, his value is greatest.

        • Jorbert Solmora

          Xander Bogaerts as well.

      • cubbiehawkeye

        I agree with you on the hitting aspect but playing shortstop in Iowa telegraphs to me that their isn’t a need to switch him to third or second at this time. I think Bryant is more likely to go outfield but this all remains to be seen. Baez is a future third base IMO

      • dAn

        Baez is very young and very motivated. In the long run, I expect him to succeed as an MLB hitter, although he’ll never be an OBP guy and there is some danger that the Cubs coaching staff will be a little too aggressive with him in modifying his approach, the way they were this last season with Castro and Barney.

  • Spoda17

    Olt has to claim 3rd out of Sring. I hope his issues are behind him. He is physically bigger and stronger than I originally thought, so if he can play in the future like he did a year or two ago, he may actually be the Cubs third baseman of the future. Baez and Bryant fit nicely in other positions, and if I recall correctly, Otl’s plus defensively.

    • DocPeterWimsey

      The Cubs no longer are dumb enough to use ST performances to choose who starts. The issue will be if Olt’s vision problems are gone. If so and if the team has decided that a healthy Olt is the 2014 3Bman, then regardless of how he does (for good or ill, it’s just as irrelevant), he will start.

      • Eternal Pessimist

        Agree with this. Olt’s control years are quickly disappearing with his value.

  • Fastball

    I believe if Baez and Bryant get called up before mid season this year they won’t be playing there normal positions. Baez at 2B and Bryant in LF or RF. That’s if Olt comes on and does a stellar job at 3b. Then either Barney or Valbuena will get traded. The other will be our utility infielder. I believe we will Alcantara in the mix at end of the season. Although injury could change everything. The Cubs have had more guys on the DL than anybody in recent years. So if Barney got hurt you might see Alcantara get a call up and start at 2b and Valbuena is the utility guy. I think by June this roster will have a much different look than on opening day. If the Cubs aren’t within 10 games of .500 by June 1st the youth movement will begin. Baez, Bryant, Alcantara and even some of the pitching prospects will be moved up. All of these names will at least fill the seats in Wrigley. It won’t matter whether they win or not. The fanbase will come to see the future of this organization.

  • Blackhawks1963

    I’m not optimistic that Mike Olt is going to be decent. All I really hope for is that he can be a decent stopgap until Bryant or Baez arrive. It seems too easy to simply chalk up Olt’s struggles over the last two years to a vision problem. I get it that the vision problem was serious and obviously impacted his game a great deal. But it also was supposedly corrected as best it could corrected. So lets see what happens. Can the guy hit .225 with some pop while playing good defense? I guess if he can do that then he will be an adequate stopgap.

    • WGNstatic

      “It seems too easy to simply chalk up Olt’s struggles over the last two years to a vision problem.”

      Olt had a very good 2012 season at AA, with a 288/398/579 line. This line, in part, made him a top 50 prospect in baseball between 2012 and 2013.

      The vision problems arose after he was hit in the head in winter ball. Whether that was the only issue that led to his 2013 struggles, or if the vision problems are even fixable, are certainly outstanding questions.

  • Fastball

    I predict the June 15 Starting Lineup to look something like one of these 2 options.
    Castillo – 2
    Rizzo – 3
    Baez – 4
    Olt – 5
    Castro – 6
    Bryant – 7
    Lake – 8
    Sweeney -9
    * a variation could be Alcantara – 4 and Baez – 9.

    I would pay to watch these guys play everyday. Or be in front of my tv for every televised game.

    • regimezefelerski

      I suppose this may be a stupid question, but do you see Vitters as an outfield possibility?

      • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

        Not a stupid question. If he can play average defense in left field (up for debate, he’s learning the position), his minor league offensive performance suggests he could be an average to above-average bat in the big leagues. Not exactly what you want in left field, but not nothing.

        • dAn

          With the overall downturn in offense around the league, and VItters’ increased walk rate at AAA (in small sample size, of course), you would have to think that he has a shot at putting up some decent numbers if he can get on track. And with the way he hits LHP, he could play his way into extra time potentially if he begins in a platoon role. But with the way things have gone for him the last couple of years, I think the FO/coaching staff want to see that he’s hungry and working hard. He needs to show them something in the spring–they aren’t going to hand him anything, which is why they picked up McDonald again as a backup plan for Vitters.

  • http://BN Sacko

    A lot of what determines our infield besides Castro & Rizzo depends on if Olt is going to show up or not. And I sure hope he does in order to give 2nd base a different look.

  • http://www.bairsdenuni.wordpress.com BAIRSDEN

    If running Barney out there everyday with the splits he had is acceptable then one would think the leash for Olt could be hella long (if the eyes check out). If he’s good it could speed up when Baez and/or Bryant get the call. I think it gets overlooked that if the team is hovering somewhere around .500 and apparent competitiveness Theoyer call up reinforcements in late June rather than August or September.

    Not that I’d be a good GM but man I would be shopping; Nate, Barney, Valbuena, EJax, Shark, Russell, Alcantara and Vogelbach for controllable pieces that can speed up the rebuild. I’m on the trade for Kemp squad too.

  • willis

    I think ST is all about Olt. We want to see good performances from everyone, sure, but IF he can just be adequate at the plate with some pop, he just may be the best 3B option in house. Now, do I think that is likely? No. But it surely is a possibility to keep a close eye on.

    I’d love to see a platoon at 2B between Barney and Valbuena to start. I do think it’s Baez’ job come the All Star break or so.

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