Although we frequently hear about the Chicago Cubs’ elite prospect talent on the positional side, the focus of that praise tends to be the positional players’ bats. Of course, we know that there’s a necessary additional part of a position player’s game: the glove. Albert Almora gets a ton of love for his defense in center, but, beyond him, we don’t hear too much about the Cubs having great defensive prospects.
Well, Baseball Prospectus continues its top tools series (we previously discussed power), now looking at the top defensive infielders among the prospect ranks. When specifically discussing the top infield arms, the Cubs’ top prospect, Javier Baez, gets a mention in the “also considered” category, behind the top arm, Joey Gallo. Now that Junior Lake is in the big leagues (and in the outfield), you didn’t hear too much about the Cubs having a cannon-armed infielder, but there is Baez, considered among the best in the game. BP says he’s consistently giving a plus-plus grade for his arm, which is just another feather in his increasingly crowded cap.
It’s great to hear that about Baez, but the real pleasant surprise comes in the “top infield defense” category, where third base prospect Christian Villanueva is one of just three prospects who even get a mention. Indians shortstop prospect Francisco Lindor naturally takes the top spot, and Dodgers shortstop prospect Miguel Rojas is the other player mentioned. On Villanueva, BP says, “Villanueva might not play the toughest defensive position on the infield, but that hasn’t stopped him from drawing ample praise from scouts. He has hands that can rival those of Francisco Lindor and he moves well for the position, making every play necessary at the hot corner.”
I don’t want to do too much extrapolating here, but, given that Villanueva was the only third base prospect to make the three-man list, it sounds like BP is saying that he currently offers the best defense at third base in all of the minors right now. Cubs VP of Scouting and Player Development Jason McLeod said at the Cubs Convention that Villanueva is the best defensive third baseman in the Cubs’ system, but maybe he was actually underselling Villanueva.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: it’s easy to lose Villanueva in the shuffle with guys like Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, Mike Olt, Arismendy Alcantara, and Jeimer Candelario getting the bulk of the infield love. But don’t sleep on him. He was quietly great with the bat at AA last year, he turned 22 mid-season, and he is apparently one of the top defensive prospects in all of baseball. Villanueva is expected to be the primary third baseman at AAA this year, and he remains a guy to watch.