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christian villanueva smokiesIn the pantheon of Chicago Cubs prospect acquisitions over the past two years, you almost never see Christian Villanueva’s name mentioned. I don’t know if it was the 2013 emergence of Kyle Hendricks (thus making the return for Ryan Dempster just Hendricks, and not Hendricks AND Villanueva), or if it was Villanueva’s underrated 2013 campaign, but you don’t hear about Villanueva much when the future at third base is discussed, or the bevy of top positional talent in the Cubs’ system is mentioned.

No, Villanueva isn’t going to adorn any top 100 lists, and he won’t crack many – if any – top ten Cubs prospect lists, but that’s no knock on his status as a dude you should seriously be following.

Villanueva, who is thought to be above-average defensively at third base and turned 22 mid-2013, hit just .261/.317/.469 last year in the AA Southern League, so it’s understandable that he didn’t jump up on any prospect radars. But consider: among players with at least 345 at bats in the Southern League last year, Villanueva’s .787 OPS was actually 12th best in the league. An offensive haven it was not. Further, his line belies what the advanced stats say: his wOBA was .350 (excellent) and his ISO was .208 (excellent). His BABIP (.303) was slightly lower than you would have expected from him coming into the season (previously, it was closer to .320). His walk rate dipped a bit – to 6.3% – but it wasn’t unnervingly low. All in all, particularly considering the glove and age, it was a very solid year for Villanueva.

I’m writing today about Villanueva because the Mexican Winter League, where Villanueva was playing his offseason ball, just ended yesterday. Once again, Villanueva’s line looks meh: .227/.312/.381. But, once again, it wasn’t a particularly offense-heavy league, and a walk rate better than 10% plus an ISO of .154 give you something to dream on.

Indeed, take a look at a Baseball America scouting report on Villanueva from halfway through the Mexican Winter League:

When he was with the Rangers, Villanueva was blocked not only by Adrian Beltre in Texas but by Mike Olt one level above him. A 2012 trade to the Cubs for Ryan Dempster should have helped clear a path to the majors for him, but instead the Rangers included Olt in the Matt Garza deal, although Olt’s struggles make that less of a roadblock than it was in Texas. Now he’s in the same organization as Kris Bryant and Javier Baez, both of whom could end up at third base, while Jeimer Candelario is coming up through the system too. Villanueva had a steady year with Double-A Tennessee, playing plus defense while hitting a career-high 19 home runs, and he was off to a .253/.326/.434 start through 92 plate appearances for Obregon in the Mexican Pacific League. Power has been a question mark on Villanueva, but if Villanueva can hit around 20 home runs per year and improve his patience at the plate, his ability to prevent runs in the field give him the upside to be a solid-average everyday third baseman in the big leagues.

In another organization, Villanueva is a clear top ten prospect and is headed to AAA with a chance to emerge as the heir apparent at third base in the big leagues. With the Cubs, he’s fallen into this unfortunate afterthought status.

Don’t let it happen – Villanueva is a legitimate prospect, and he could be the starter out of the gate at third base at AAA next year. The Cubs will have a tricky decision to make if Mike Olt doesn’t make the big league roster, but demonstrates he’s still capable of playing effective third base. But, who knows? Given that he’s already on the 40-man roster, we could be seeing Villanueva as the placeholder at third base in the second half of 2014 while awaiting the arrival of Bryant and/or Baez.

And, from there, maybe Villanueva shows something more? His track record and scouting reports suggest he certainly can. All I’m saying: don’t forget about this guy.

Picture via Tennessee Smokies

  • TF

    Still nothing to be “excited” about, though.

  • abe

    If Olt produces this year. Do you think they will move him by the trade deadline? (this way we can bring up Kyle and build up his value for an off season trade)

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      If Olt shows he’s past the eye issue – permanently – and his glove is as good as folks said it was in 2012, then, yes, I could see Villanueva shopped mid-season. Problem is: shopped for what? Prospect-for-prospect swaps are uncommon and difficult, and the Cubs won’t be “buying” at the deadline. Obviously a deal can be made, it’s just that the mechanics of it are interesting and could be difficult.

      • abe

        Maybe they will package him with Jeff S., or whoever else they are trading. They can use him as bait for a better pitching prospect or prospect in a position that they need players (catcher, outfield..)

      • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

        If Olt is able to claim third base, we could also see Villanueva tried out at second. We hope Alcantara can take that job, but he’s got some work to do as well. Villanueva would probably be a viable option there.

        • hansman

          It seems as if the Cubs don’t get a long-term 3B and/or 2B that is above- to well-above average out of their current farm system, we should all rethink our Cub fandom. The franchise is truly doomed.

        • MattM

          I don’t know…I really think that offensively Valbuena could be the answer there. I know some people will laugh but seriously he would have to be in the top ten at second offensively last year right?

          • Jason P

            No — Valbuena’s .708 OPS would have put him slightly below the middle of the pack among second basemen with at least 400 plate appearances. That’s better than Barney who was dead last, but still not what you want long term.

            • C. Steadman

              but 2 points ahead of Brandon Phillips!! :P

        • cub2014

          if and when baez is ready he will have to play either
          2nd or 3rd at AAA (depending on which position the
          cubs need the most help at). So where does Villanueva
          play then? Maybe Alcantera to SS and Villanueva to 2B
          if Baez goes to 3rd. If Baez go to 2nd you could see
          Acantera play some centerfield.

          • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

            Alcantara isn’t likely to be going back to short over Baez or Castro.

            • cub2014

              Luke, no I meant Alcantera at SS in AAA. Castro is
              the Cubs SS.

              • cub2014

                Cubs have a good dilemma between
                Chicago and Iowa, they have more
                guys than positions to play them. I think
                the key will be guys like: Watkins,Olt,
                Villanueva & Alcantera will have the
                ability to play multiple positions.

            • TOOT

              Luke, I asked this before. Do you see Baez replacing Castro at SS?

      • terencemann

        Honestly, I don’t think there’s a logjam if Villanueva can make the jump to AAA. They could platoon Villanueva, Olt and Vitters between 3B, 1B and DH to give them all some playing time (with Vitters probably playing most of his time at DH and 1B). Villanueva seems like a future bench bat and utility player which would be a nice player to develop and have under team control considering how many forgettable infielders the Cubs have cycled through over the past several seasons. I don’t see a need to trade him.

        • Chad

          I like Villanueva in the bench/utility role. Why do you think Vitters is at 1B/DH? I thought he might end up playing mostly OF as that is where he may find value at the ML level? Did you hear something else?

          • http://bleachernation.com woody

            Don’t see Vitters being a factor in the infield. Period!

  • Ivy Walls

    Again part of a trade package. Actually I could see Olt (provided he finds a remedy or cure) could make the club and see some LHP platoon at 1B if Rizzo continues to hit sub-700 OPS against the southpaw. With Murphy, Valbuena and possibly Barney along wit Olt Cubs could have some versatility on the IF.

    • BenRoethig

      Seeing they basically just made Rizzo the franchise with a huge deal for a second year player and traded the organization’s only real legitimate pitching prospect for him, I don’t see that happening. They’ll ride the Rizzo ship for as long as they can. Plus, despite his struggles against lefties, he still put up 23 homers and 80 RBI while playing gold glove caliber defense.

  • cking6178

    Would love to see him catch fire…he’s somebody that we could include in a package deal at the deadline to get that “next level” type guy – maybe a TOR potential pitcher.

  • http://bleachernation.com woody

    He’s another piece to throw in on a trade deal.

  • http://www.shadowsofwrigley.com Tommy (TC)

    If one of Villanueva or Olt can stick it at the MLB level (and they only have to be league-average at the plate to do so, given their gloves), the “logjam” gets so much clearer for the Cubs. Bryant can move to the outfield, Baez and Castro in some combination play 2B and SS. Importantly, Villanueva or Olt being useful right away lets the Cubs figure this out while the big guys are still in the minors, rather than shuffling them around once they’re in the bigs

    • http://vdcinc.biz 70′scub

      Brett, I thought I read that Villanueva can play second as well?

      • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

        I believe the story has always been that he’s got the skills and a body that suggests he *could* play second base. He’s only played four games there in his career, though. With a good glove at 3B and projectable power, there’s never been any reason to move him. Besides, moving him to second doesn’t necessarily help him find a job on the Cubs, what with Castro/Baez/Alcantra still potentially needing to find time between SS/2B.

  • Blackhawks1963

    The Cubs are bursting with 3rd base options for the future. Unfortunately none are likely to be with the big league club to start 2014, meaning another round of Valbuena who is more ideally suited to be a quality utility infielder.

    I’m not optimistic on Olt. Villenueva has a chance to become a useful major league player, but probably spends all of 2014 at Iowa. Baez is still a raw hitter and needs work adapting to the breaking ball while honing his defensive game. Bryant is very promising, but the Cubs will be careful with his development and his future may wind up in the outfield.

    Patience Grasshopper.

    • wvcubsfan

      Blackhawks1963
      December 31, 2013 at 11:13 am | Permalink | Reply

      I’m not optimistic.

      This is all that you really needed to say. :)

      • Isaac

        Optimistic about him or not, I disagree that Olt is “not likely to be with the big league club to start 2014″. I believe it is very likely he is on the club in some fashion, and that would clear the way for Villanueva to start at 3B in Iowa.

        • Kyle

          My read is that only Cubs fans seem to think Olt’s concussion/eye problems will allow him to start 2014 in the majors. Everyone else, including the organizaiton, seems to think of him as an afterthought.

          Olt needs to be more worried about not getting sent to AA than anything else.

          • CubFan Paul

            “Everyone else, including the organizaiton, seems to think of him as an afterthought”

            This is not true. They sure as he’ll didn’t acquire him to replace Villanueva in AA …just silly

          • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

            For what it’s worth, the only reporter who seems to have actually spoken with Olt this offseason is Muskat, and she’s written regularly that he says he’s over the issue.

            I’m not saying that proves anything whatsoever … but he’s still on the 40-man, which is jam-packed at 40.

            • CubFan Paul

              We’ll learn more at CubsCon, I bet.

  • http://bleachernation.com woody

    I have made myself dizzy thinking of the posible infield combinations going into 2015. Olt definatley plays a big part in that mix. I see no way the cubs don’t give him a shot out of spring training unless he chokes. And what if he lives up to the hype. The Olt of old? I project Bryant to be in the outfield with reasonable certainty. I think that if that happens then Castro will be the odd man out and flipped for prospects or traded before the deadline. Leaving Baez at short and Alcantara at second. It just makes sense to keep those two guys together as a cohesive DP combo.

  • Bluz Cluz

    Getting Hendricks and Villanueva for Dempster has turned out to be a steal. Villanueva is definitely a big league guy. I expect Olt to make the team, and him to start at AAA. But if Olt or Valbeuna gets hurt, Villanueva could be the first callup we see.

    • AA Correspondent

      Totally agree. Great trade for the Cubs. Villanueva is a big league caliber player.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      When you consider that the front office essentially had zero negotiating leverage, too (besides the questionable threat of keeping him and making him a qualifying offer that he probably would have accepted) – it was quite a return.

      • Kyle

        I’m not remotely convinced that either player is a sure-fire major leaguer.

  • Hee Seop Chode

    “His BABIP (.303) was slightly lower than you would have expected from him coming into the season (previously, it was closer to .320).”

    Question for those of you who spend more time with minor league numbers: wouldn’t BABIP tend to decline as prospects move into higher levels? I’d imagine defenders have better range and therefore make more putouts. I tried to find AAA average BABIP to compare to AA, but couldn’t find those numbers.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      Yes, I think it would (and I think it does). I wasn’t going to make a big point about the BABIP thing for him, because it’s within a reasonable “true” range – just wanted to note that the drop in BA wasn’t entirely due to a newfound strikeout problem or something.

      • MattM

        Actually, the breakdown of his season last year was very helpful in trying to figure out how good he “really” is.

        If you think about it…..with this glut of 3b prospects we have…our infield when they finally come up, could be set for years. Talking about Villanueva at 2nd. Those numbers translate amazingly to second base. He would be awesome there. Baez would be awesome there. Castro would be awesome there! Bryant will be at 3b or the outfield and same with Olt, but man is that a massive amount of options!

        It just sucks that they are all at least a year away!

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

      BABIP should decline based on improved pitching and defense, but at the same time players are still improving their game at the plate at the Double A level. I can point to cases of BABIP increasing as well as decreasing, and I hesitate to say that a general norm with BABIP that all, or even most, prospects conform to.

      The biggest problem with using BABIP in the minors is that we don’t have the baseline to compare it to. We often use BABIP to spot players having very good or very bad luck, and that requires that we have a known baseline BABIP for that player against which we can compare what he is doing this season.

      In the minors, we rarely have that baseline. We know what Villanueva’s BABIP is at Double A, but we don’t know what it should be. It is possible he was unlucky and his numbers are depressed. It is also possible that he was lucky and his numbers are a little higher than we’d otherwise expect.

      • DocPeterWimsey

        Last year, there was no association between minor league level and BABiP. Here are the league averages (with just level given):
        Lvl BABiP
        AAA 0.293
        AAA 0.305
        AA 0.293
        AA 0.279
        AA 0.282
        A+ 0.300
        A+ 0.295
        A+ 0.295
        A 0.297
        A 0.298

        Two AA leagues (Southern and Texan) stand out as unusually low, although the third (Eastern) is like the other leagues.

        • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

          What the heck? So many below .300 – I find that very surprising.

          • DocPeterWimsey

            Whoop: let’s make sure that I did my mass calculation properly!

          • DocPeterWimsey

            Yeah, OK, here it is if you use AB’s instead of Plate Appearances (i.e., column 6 instead of column 5….)

            0.310 AAA
            0.325 AAA
            0.310 AA
            0.294 AA
            0.301 AA
            0.323 A+
            0.310 A+
            0.308 A+
            0.311 A
            0.312 A

            The two AA leagues still stand out as a bit low.

  • Napercal

    From an organization that went through 587 3rd basemen between Santo and Ramirez to this? Really nice problem to have.

  • Hee Seop Chode

    And if you really want to get a hard on, check out FG’s scouting report and breakdown of Tanaka: http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/tanaka-fest-this-is-going-to-be-insane/

  • AA Correspondent

    I’ve been anxiously awaiting an article like this on Christian Villanueva. He was stellar at 3B last season in TN. He played every day and did everything a manager wanted in a tough pitchers league. He was new to the organization, made the All Star Team and truth be told was quite a leader. Hit bat is coming….remember he is only 22. He is MUCH BETTER defensively than Josh Vitters ever was at 3B and was a doubles machine. He flew under the radar in TN because of the hot start of Alcantara and the 2nd half arrival of Baez. The Cubs appear to be in good shape at the hot corner, but I believe CV can and will be an everyday Big League 3B someday……just not likely for the Cubs. I believe that Christian Villanueva has been a great acquisition, and if his future is nto in a Cubs uniform, hopefully he can be moved to a team that will provide the opportunity.

    Thanks for the article Brett……..this kid is good.

    Brandon

    • MoneyBoy

      Brandon… Wonderful stuff!! It’s always good to hear from someone who had eyes on the games. Me? Nah… but I’m glad Brett did this as well. My humble opinion is that CV is going to get a chance next year. I can’t believe he spends another year at TN after the year he had this year. I suspect (hope?) that one or the other is going to break camp with the parent club.
      Hope you had a good Christmas and Happy New Year. I’ve always enjoyed your comments on the games and players! MoneyBoy

  • http://vdcinc.biz 70′scub

    Prediction with all this talent I think the cubs will clear out Barney at the mid-season trade deadline…

    • Blackhawks1963

      Barney has the trade value equivalent of a used infield rake. His value to the Cubs as a utility man is greater than any lowly return he would bring in trade.

      • wvcubsfan

        See when you say stupid things like this you lose all credibility. An infield rake? Is that one step down from the proverbial bag of balls? If someone needed a ++ defender for the stretch run you don’t think Barney could return a low level prospect?

        • CubFan Paul

          “If someone needed a ++ defender for the stretch run you don’t think Barney could return a low level prospect?”

          He didn’t say Barney couldn’t. He pointed out the truth: he has no trade value and is worth more to the Cubs in a bench for less than $2M (..Year 2 of arbitration, probably not so much)

          • CubFan Paul

            ..and is worth more to the Cubs in a bench *role for less than $2M (..Year 2 of arbitration, probably not so much)

            • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

              I’m not so sure he is worth more to the Cubs. The Cubs aren’t likely to need a great glove off the bench in 2014, and they almost certainly won’t need a right handed hitter with no power off the bench either.

              A good defensive (if not as good) left handed hitting infielder with an equally weak bat would be more useful, and they happen to have that guy in Logan Watkins (not to mention that Watkins projects to be better with the bat and provides more value with his speed and extra power (as compared with Barney)).

              Unless Barney can keep the starting second base job, I don’t see his value to the Cubs being very much at all. I can easily see a contender with defensive issues on the middle infield wanting him as a bench piece, though. It isn’t every day you can trade for a Glove Glove caliber defender, even if he can’t hit a lick.

              • http://comicsandcardsupplies.com cms0101

                They’re not going to get much, if anything, for Barney in a trade. That’s why he’d be worth more to the Cubs than to someone else. Dumping him after he bottomed out won’t bring any kind of return, so even if he’s on the bench I think he’s more valuable to the Cubs. If he wasn’t, they could have just non-tendered him. Valbuena is your lefty on the infield, so you don’t need to carry Watkins. He hasn’t shown anything in Iowa, let alone Chicago. I’d love to see them move Barney and get that slot open for one of the prospects to come up sometime in 2014, but I would rather see him hit .270 and play sparkling defense in the first half so they can actually get something marginal back when the do trade him. Gold glove or not, his value is at the bottom right now and the only chance of improving the return is to give him a chance to show he isn’t as bad as last year indicated. Worst case, he’s worth exactly the same by the trade deadline as he his now.

              • When the Music’s Over

                I’m guessing Barney might have been able to fetch something at least mildly interesting a few years ago, but the likelihood of that return occurring has decreased in the current era where teams are now much more apt to hold onto prospects.

                • CubFan Paul

                  “in the current era where teams are now much more apt to hold onto prospects”

                  This myth/rumor started before the July 2010 deadline and it has been proven wrong ever since

    • TheRiot2

      The only reason I can see that Barney starts the year at 2B. for the Cubs, is that they are hoping he rebounds from his horrible 2013 #’s and builds some trade value.We could live with a Watkins type with lesser D but likely more bat,it’s not like the Cubs are counting on contending in 2014 anyway.I know patience grasshopper,patience.I’ve been patient for over 65 years and I’m running out of my lifeline.

  • Cubman

    I’d clear out Barney now. If Olt takes 3B, that means Murphy and Valbuena at 2B. If Olt doesn’t make it, I’d rather have Watkins at 2B. We should have seen what Watkkins can do last year, but Sveun never played him. Even after he had a 3 for 4 day he didn’t play the next day. We should have a much better idea on Watkins, but unfortunately don’t. I wouldn’t rule him out as a 2B gap filler until Alacantara is ready.

    • AA Correspondent

      Watkins never got a decent look at the MLB level last season. That was a mistake.

      I’d like to caution the over-expectation on Alcantara. I saw both ALcantara and Watkins for an entire season at AA (agree that AA is not the be all; end all) but I belive I have seen enough games to compare the two. Alcantara has been listed as a higher prospect on all of the lists. It’s hard to deny his switch hitting and power potential from 2B. He can run and proably hit leadoff. He is good. In many ways, he reminds me of a young Jose Reyes. Unfortunaterly, he from where I sat this season, I noticed he was not a very hard worker. I think this will show up as he climbs the ladder. He went to the futures game and his head got real big after that (not literally…..just attitude wise)……similar to what happened to Jae-Hoon Ha in 2012 after he went to the Futures game. Alcantara is not a great defender. I’m not trying to sit here and say that Watkins is better……but I do believe that he’d be a better 2014 fit at 2B in Chicago than Alcantara. Watkins works hard. Shows up every day and plays the game the way it is supposed to be played, and I believe that if given the opportunity would provide solid 2B value at the MLB level. Big Al (as I like to call him) has some maturing to do. Watkins is a good defender, has does in fact have surprising pop, can run and is a grinder. I think the Cubs could do a lot worse at 2B than Logan Watkins.

      • CubFan Paul

        “I noticed he was not a very hard worker”

        Because “Big Al” only works on his game when you’re watching, so of course he doesn’t play the game you think it’s supposed to be played.

        Gotcha.

        You said similar things about Junior Lake this time last year.

        • Cedlandrum

          I don’t know about Alcantara and his work ethic, but I have heard from multiple people who would know that Lake isn’t the most coachable and doesn’t work as hard as others. That doesn’t mean he is lazy, but not as driven as a guy like Castro who I have been told was a relentless worker coming through the system.

          • CubFan Paul

            “but I have heard from multiple people who would know that Lake isn’t the most coachable and doesn’t work as hard as others”

            Well since Lake made it as an everyday player those multiple people can kiss his ass:)

            • Drew7

              “Well if Lake makes it as an everyday player those multiple people can kiss his ass:)”

              FTFY

              • CubFan Paul

                No, Lake is an everyday Outfielder, listed as #1 on the depth chart.

                • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

                  For now.

                  I’m not convinced he can hold that long term.

                  • CubFan Paul

                    “I’m not convinced he can hold that long term”

                    That’s not the point, but even if he doesn’t, super-utility was always more likely and valuable in its own right.

                • hansman

                  You know Bryan LaHair was listed as #1 on the depth chart at some point as well, right?

                  • CubFan Paul

                    Too bad we’re not talking about journeymen

                    • hansman

                      There are still some red flags on him where in 7 years a commentor on another team’s blog will make the same comparison between then Lake and their team’s current version of Lake.

                      For what will amount to 1 season (assuming he gets a 1/2 season this year before he gets demoted/benched if he is playing poorly) he will, most likely, be an everyday player.

                      To say he has “made it” depends on your definition of “made it”

                    • CubFan Paul

                      “To say he has “made it” depends on your definition of “made it””

                      Made it = getting called up * getting regular at-bats, getting the front office to committ to you over the offseason by making sure you’re starting/500 at-bats.

                      All things people like Brandon the AA correspondent said wouldn’t happen.

                    • mjhurdle

                      “Made it = getting called up * getting regular at-bats, getting the front office to committ to you over the offseason by making sure you’re starting/500 at-bats.”

                      that is a very loose definition of “making it”, and even by that Lake isn’t there yet, seeing as how we have no idea whether he is going to get 500 ABs or how long he will start.

                      I would saying that, if Lake can hold down a starting job all year and perform to at least an average level for the position, then he will have “made it”.
                      I dont think that a mid-season callup, great July, average August, bad September + a starting job in December is equal to “making it”.

                    • CubFan Paul

                      “that is a very loose definition…I dont think that a mid-season callup, great July… + a starting job in December is equal to “making it””

                      Who cares? I wasn’t asking for you confirmation.

                    • mjhurdle

                      I wasn’t looking to confirm anything for you, except for the fact that, even by your definition, Lake hasn’t “made it”.
                      You conveniently left out the part: “and even by that Lake isn’t there yet”

                      but who cares about consistency, it is way more fun to randomly grab lines from a post.

        • When the Music’s Over

          Your assholish, mocking, condescending delivery make it instantly hard for me to take your opinion seriously. Typically, the instant I see this type of delivery, I almost always move on.

          • CubFan Paul

            “I almost always move on”

            Thank God. I thought it was just me.

      • Edwin

        Of course they can do worse, they have Darwin Barney.

        • Isaac

          How quickly we forget that Barney compiled a 4.8 WAR (Baseball-Reference) in 2012. Yes, even 1.5 of that was derived from oWAR.

          • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

            Barney’s wOBA in 2012 was .287 (bad, bad). If he was worth 1.5 wins offensively according to BR, that tells me much more about bWAR than it does about Barney.

            • jt

              there were 8 2012 NL teams whose 2B position had an OPS below 0.700
              Most of the PA’s from these teams would have come from a “starter”.
              0 WAR is defined as replacement level from a pool not on a ML roster which is infered to be less efficient than those reserves on a ML roster.
              It is not surprising that Barney qualified for 1.5 oWAR from a pool of reserves who could not beat out 8 fifth IF’ers who could not beat out 8 starters with OPS scores of less than 0,700.

            • Isaac

              Right, but ultimately that pool of players is the pool of players he has to be compared to.

              My only point is, be careful what you wish for as there are a LOT of very mediocre 2B’s on both sides of the ball. Barney doing one side of it spectacularly is of greater value than some others that do nothing above-average…Not to mention he’s being paid (and has been) very little.

      • Norm

        grinder, plays game the right way, shows up everyday…
        bleh.

        And I’m not seeing this pop you’re talking about with Watkins. His minor league ISO is barely over 100.

        • CubFan Paul

          “His minor league ISO is barely over 100″

          that’s more than Darwin. For any non-power guy a .100iso is ‘huge’, i’ll take it.

        • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

          Watkins has no power when compared to, say, Baez.

          But he has plenty when compared to, say, Barney.

          • jt

            I’m not a fan of Barney!
            But….
            His OPS vs LHP in 2013 was 0.725 which is good enough for a short side platoon.

      • Edwin

        What types of things was Alcantara doing that showed he was not working hard?

        I appreciate the in person review that you give of prospects, but what do you think that you’ve seen that scouts haven’t?

        • CubFan Paul

          “but what do you think that you’ve seen that scouts haven’t?”

          Exactly Edwin. Alcantara put himself under the microscope with his play last year but Brandon the AA correspondent knows more

      • http://comicsandcardsupplies.com cms0101

        The mistake with Watkins was calling him up in the first place. He wasn’t even playing well in Iowa. He came up for injury and people think he should have played every day. You know who else is a hard worker, plays the right way… Darwin Barney. But he can’t hit either. Watkins just isn’t the answer, not even as a stopgap measure. He needs to prove something in AAA before being considered a ML starter. He’s going to struggle to even get at bats in Iowa with the team they’re going to have, let alone in Chicago. At best, he could be a potential utility guy down the road. But I wouldn’t be shocked if he’s moved off the 40-man roster at some point, as the team looks to shuffle players throughout the season. Not saying it will happen, but I look at the guys on the roster and he could easily be one that gets pushed off.

      • mjhurdle

        “works hard. Shows up every day and plays the game the way it is supposed to be played”

        I might be alone on this, but i hate when people use this type of term to describe anyone.
        You don’t get to the bigs by not working hard. Maybe there are different levels of work, but to assume that one player is working harder because of a few actions taken in a couple games you watch is ridiculous. For all we know, Watkins may “try hard” in games, but not in practice, or in video study, or the weight room. A player that looks like he is “not showing up” could very well be the hardest worker on the team.
        To pretend like watching a game from the stands (a minor league game at that) gives some sort of special insight into the mental makeup of a player is a stretch.

        Also, i have yet to find a definition of “plays the game the right way” that isn’t simply “plays how some random individual feels that the game should be played”.
        it seems to be more of a meaningless statement that is made when no other validation for an opinion can be found.

        “Sure Campana can’t get on base, but he works hard and plays the game the right way!”
        “I don’t get why they traded Fuld! That dude worked his butt off and really played the game the way it was meant to be played!”

        • hansman

          Who asked you?!?!?!

          • mjhurdle

            the Darth Vader candy dispenser on my desk asked me. And when I think of Darth Vader, i think of Darth Hater, and so i posted my response to the candy dispenser in the most logical place: the comment section of Bleacher Nation :)

            • hansman

              First your Almond Joy love and now this?

              You sir…well, I won’t say it but I think we all know what you are.

              A COMMUNIST-TERRORIST!!!!!!!!!11!!!1!!!1!11!!

    • Blackhawks1963

      Watkins is nothing to write home about. He struggled to adapt to Triple A pitching. His future role potential is as a utility player. Unfortunately he can’t play shortstop which makes him an ill fit for a utility role.

      All of which is to say that in my opinion Watkins is overhyped by some of you. Barney doesn’t appear to be going anywhere. Along with Valbuena, he will be asked to hold down the fort until Baez, Alcantara, Bryant and Villenueva start to arrive on shore.

  • Spoda17

    I really think Olt will be starting at 3rd when camp breaks… And I also think Barney will be dealt.

    • willis

      I definitely clears up a lot of space if he can catch on in Spring and start with the cubs.

    • Blackhawks1963

      Why is Olt presumed to be at 3rd base? I’m afraid this is wishful Brett Jackson thinking all over again. At a minimum Olt is going to have to demonstrate he can regain what got lost as a hitter. You don’t go from being Mr. Magoo and hitting .200 at Triple A at age 24 to becoming the presumptive starting 3rd baseman for the 2014 Chicago Cubs.

      • willis

        I don’t presume it. But I’m hoping for it. I’m not expecting it to be honest. I expect he continues to blow at baseball. But…he’s shown off in the past that he can be a very good player, and if he can rebound from his season he can at least be a placeholder for the cubs at 3B. If I had to bet, I’d bet heavy on it not happening. But it clears up a lot of space if he can make it, and you just never know, maybe he finds what he lost? He and Arrieta are the two guys I’m looking most forward to seeing in the spring.

        • Bluz Cluz

          I’m willing to bet Olt will be given every chance to be the starting 3B. In fact, I don’t think its his job to win, I think it is his job to lose.

          • willis

            Yep, at his age I think they do just say “here you go, kid. Go get ‘em.” And if he fumbles it, there are other stop gap options, but if he grasps the opportunity and shows out, that is so huge for the cubs.

  • AB

    Watkins is still young, but he strikes out alot for a guy that provides little power.

    Hopefully he gets an extended assignment at Iowa to see if he improves on the poor numbers he put up there last year before the Cubs decide what role he should play.

    • http://comicsandcardsupplies.com cms0101

      The problem is where is he going to play? Villanueva at 3rd, Baez at SS, and Alcantara at 2B. Then in CF you’ll have either Ha, or Szczur, or Jackson, or Silva, or Andreoli. Watkins may not even be a full time player in AAA next season, especially if he doesn’t hit again.

      • http://bleachernation.com woody

        Do you think that maybe you forgot about Almora?

        • http://comicsandcardsupplies.com cms0101

          Almora won’t be in Iowa in 2014.

        • Danny Ballgame

          Almora needs to get to AA before he gets to AAA

          • Bluz Cluz

            Almora needs to get to high A before he gets to either of those.

            • C. Steadman

              im sure he starts there(high A)

              • Bluz Cluz

                Yea, I’m sure he does. There was some thought he may skip high A. My guess is we’ll see him in Spring Training. His play there will partially determine his destination.

                • C. Steadman

                  i agree, probably spring training, but doubt they skip High A…that’d be a big roll of the dice

                  • Bluz Cluz

                    I’m still not into the Almora star player hype, but I’m a lot higher on him now as a very good player who will see an all-star game or 2, than I was 2 or 3 months ago, after his AFL performance. If there is a prospect who can make that adjustment, it’s him.

                    • Chad

                      If Almora turns into an everyday player that can make 1 or 2 all star games during his career I think we would all take that in center field in a heart beat. We know he’ll be fine defensively, it’s the offense that we are unsure of, and offense=all star games, so that would be great.

                  • Bluz Cluz

                    But like you said, I doubt it. I would be shocked if he moved fast though.

                    • Bluz Cluz

                      Meant I wouldn’t be shocked.

  • willis

    So much depends with the future of the cubs depends on Olt and his Spring. I do think, as many do, he will get every shot possible to make the team out of spring as the starting 3B. Whether or not he makes it will depend on where Villanueva ends up. I’d love for Olt to bounce back after his awful 2013 and be the starting 3B coming out of the gates. That allows Villanueva to start at 3B at AA and Bryant to start at 3B in AA.

    If Olt still shows struggles, I don’t know what will happen at that point. There literally becomes nowhere for Villanueva to play other than 2B in AA or 3B in AAA with Olt moving over to 1B. Olt is definitely the first domino in all of this. Going to be very intriguing to see how ST goes for him.

  • Mat B

    I didn’t carefully peruse the previous comments. So, I may not be the first to suggest this, but what about trying him at second? Twenty home runs from that position along with what you would get from the corners (Bryant or Baez & Rizzo) in the future would be icing on the cake.

  • terencemann

    Would it be wrong to call Villanueva a right-handed hitting version of Valbuena with a little more power?

  • Rich H

    I hear all this stuff about Watkins being a hardworker and a grinder I throw up a little. Those are always the terms used to describe players that are missing something. The list of guys like Watkins is very long in Cubs lore. Lets just do the kid a favor and move him now before the Campana syndrome hits a fever pitch.

    Keep in mind his struggles in the offense friendly Pacific League before you start saying he should have gotten this or that in his time with the big club last year. If you can’t hit in AAA then the chances of hitting in the Majors is a long shot at best.

    • CubFan Paul

      “The list of guys like Watkins is very long in Cubs lore”

      There’s a list of guys with a 12% BB rate between AA/AAA?

  • http://bleachernation.com woody

    I haven’t heard if Bryant is going to start with the Smokies or at Daytona to start the season. Seems like he starts in AA and Villanueva at AAA Iowa. A lot of speculation that if Bryant dominates he may skip AAA. Seems like if Olt flounders then he and Villanueva would flip flop from AAA. I kind of think that Theo wants to keep Bryant on the farm until at least September. My guess is that Baez gets called up first, unless he goes into a slump or something like that. My guess is that Barney is the first to go.

  • http://BN Sacko

    It will be no surprise to me that Barney starts at 2nd until he is traded. They will have a more difficult time trading a benched Barney.

    • http://bleachernation.com woody

      Agreed, I am only thinking that with the log jam of infielders that Barney would be the most obvious to be moved. I really think he will have a better year this time around. But I wouldn’t be surprised to see a platoon in place depending on if Valbuena is needed at third. I don’t think it was coincidence that Valbuena played second base all winter.

  • Fastball

    I think the Yankees will come looking for Barney sometime during ST. If Jeter isn’t ready health wise then Barney will be a solid defensive gap filler for them. Barney can easily be hidden in their lineup for a while. I am hoping we can package Barney and 2 other prospects of middle of the pack value for Gardner.

    • mjhurdle

      if you could turn Barney and 2 middle of the pack prospects into Gardner you do that in a heartbeat.
      That being said, i don’t see anyway the Yankees go for it. Gardner is a very good player (3-4+ WAR) when healthy. If they trade him, i would imagine they would want a package not centered around Barney.

      • Bluz Cluz

        How about a package centered around Watkins since he is much, much better. ;)

        • mjhurdle

          If we gave up Watkins, the Yankees would have to kick in more than Gardner.
          Maybe Nova + Pineda + Gardner gets that done :)

          • hansman

            I dunno, he WAS much better and then the Cubs/Dale ruined him last year by not playing him after the callup.

            • TOOT

              Can a organization/manager truly ruin a player? I think not.

              • baldtaxguy

                Mark Pryor

                • TOOT

                  Nope. His injuries came about by being a flame thrower. Just like Kerry Wood. Nothing to do with management.

                  • Edwin

                    Unless he was pitching hurt, and management told him to keep pitching, which resulted in even more damage to his shoulder.

                    I don’t think Management can totally ruin a player, but they can play a part.

                    • TOOT

                      Come on man! Management DOES NOT let players play hurt. They have to be cleared by doctors. Let’s move away from managers causing injuries, PLEASE.

      • JakeMac

        I don’t know if I agree. Gardner is in the final year of his deal. Unless you think of him as a long(er) term answer in the outfield and are confident you can sign him to a reasonable extension, what’s the point? Barney + 2 “mid-level” prospects for one year where you won’t be competitive?

        Even if you have the ability to flip Gardner at mid-season, it’s highly unlikely you get the same value you gave up, and it may be more because of the prospects you’d be including. Amaya? Dustin Geiger? Dunston? Luke’s mid-season ranking has them at 18, 29 and 33, respectively. Don’t know that I give up a combination of any of them for 1 year of Gardner.

  • dAn

    I like Villanueva a lot and think he has a surprisingly good shot at being the Cub 3Bman of the future. For one thing, the Cubs’ FO loves good defensive players, and McLeod has been quoted as saying Villanueva has the best 3B glove in the system. For another thing, Olt has a good chance of being a bust and never fully recovering from his head/vision problems, Bryant could end up in the OF, and Baez is probably more likely than most fans realize to be the Cubs shortstop in 2015 or even late 2014.

    Villanueva is young and has hit well–some have bemoaned his lack of power, but he has enough power to provide at the hot corner, especially when you consider his defense there.

    Another guy I would say “don’t forget about…” is Stephen Bruno. He has fallen completely off the map for a lot of people (not even listed in the Cubs’ top 30 on mlb.com, for example)–but has done nothing but hit as a pro, and he’s the kind of college bat who could move pretty quickly through the system if he gets healthy, and possibly end up as a Mark DeRosa type player.

  • http://www.rotochamp.com RotoChamp

    Speaking about prospects….check out this guy from 1986:

    http://bustedcoverage.com/2013/12/18/greg-maddux-scouting-report-1985/

  • Cheese Chad

    This just shows what a great job this FO has done in not only getting elite prospects but depth in the field. You figure between Olt, Baez, Bryant, Villanueva and Candelario one of those guys will be a pretty good 3B.

  • Jbb

    We will know who will step up early July and from the plan will formalize. Cautiously optimistic.

  • http://bleachernation Bobdawg78

    I’m one that’s on board with getting rid of Barney sooner, rather than later. I personally would rather have some of these young pitchers that teams are trying to slide through waivers on our team, than having Barney. The kid Marshall we took from the Yanks looks like he could be a descent find, and I’m sure more of these types of guys will be available as teams sign some of these FA’s that are out there.

    I would look to move Barney for cash considerations, or a PTBNL that we take WAY later in 2014. The key thing with moving Barney, would be opening a spot on our 40 man to be active in FA, or on waiver claims. Russell is someone else I would look to move ASAP, because he’s gotten a lot of use the last couple years, and his value seems to be pretty high right now, so we might as well maximize his value, and get a descent prospect, or a couple low end prospects with potential high ceilings.

    As far as 3rd base goes, I’m hoping Olt wins it as well out of ST, because it would be nice to see him rebound after his bad 2013 season in the minors. Not just that, but it would allow Valbuena to slide over to 2nd, and potentially make our offense a little more exciting with another power bat in the middle of it.

  • Tom A.

    Barney is a gold glove and Russell gives you 75 good relief innings. I say we need to learn to win games now and consistently — Barney and Russell help more than cash or PTBNL type guys.

    Keep them unless return is good and helping us win.

    • hansman

      Sigh.

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