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jeimer candelario cougarsPick a level, any level, of the Cubs farm system and there was a very good third base prospect there in 2013. According to Baseball America, four of the Cubs fourteen best prospects are third basemen by trade today, and a fifth could wind up there before it is all said and done. Maybe a sixth.

Normally, when we survey a position we are are content to see depth and very good prospects. In the case of third base, the Cubs have a significant depth of those very good prospects, and then an additional depth coming behind that. If there was a Nobel Prize for baseball organizations, the Cubs would win it in a landslide for their work building this completely insane stockpile of third base talent.

With this time of incredible depth, though, comes the best problem a General Manager can have. Now the Cubs will have to figure out which one to play, and what to do with the rest.

Arriving Soon

The best of the bunch, without a doubt, is Kris Bryant. Bryant is a Top 10 in all of baseball prospect and right at the pinnacle of the Cubs system alongside Javier Baez. The Cubs appear willing to leave Bryant at third for as long as he can handle it and so long as his development there does not slow the arrival of his bat in the majors, and so far he’s done just fine. In a more normal organization I think he would stay at third long term, but with the Cubs I suspect he’ll wind up in right field simply to open up third base for another organizational bat (because goodness knows the Cubs have plenty of them).

Bryant’s raw power is effectively equal to Baez, although it remains to be seen if that power will continue to play as well in game as Baez has shown. The early results are very good, though, as Bryant put up an otherworldly SLG of .719 in his 16 game stint with Daytona (by comparison, Baez slugged .535 at the same level). That was good for an ISO of .386. Even in video games you aren’t seeing numbers like those without cheats, and this guy was doing it in one of the toughest pitching leagues in the minors.

Bryant probably will strike out more than I’d really like, even to the point of being a 30% strikeout rate guy in the majors. He’ll also draw a lot of walks, though, and should hit for an acceptable average regardless of the swings and misses. Bryant should start the season in either Tennessee or Daytona (highly likely to be Tennessee at this point), but he could finish up in Chicago.

Regardless of how fast Bryant moves, Mike Olt will beat him to the majors. We know Olt can play excellent defense at third, but there are lingering questions about his ability to hit. Those answers should arrive early this season now that Olt is apparently recovered from the concussion, tear duct issues, and allergy problems that have slowed him in the past.

Olt also has some natural swing and miss to his game, but he projects to compensate with plenty of power and plenty of walks. If Olt does show he can hit major league pitching, he might lock down the Cubs third base job before the rest of the candidates arrive.

If Olt stumbles, the next man up will be Christian Villanueva, the best defensive third baseman in the system, and quite possibly the best in the minors. Villanueva quietly put together a good season with Tennessee in 2013, finishing with an OPS of .787 and the most doubles in the league, but I think his value will continue to come primarily from his glove. He could be a good hitter in the majors, but he lacks both the power and the patience shown by Olt and Bryant.

Villanueva should begin 2014 as the everyday third baseman for Iowa, but, depending on how various roster battles shake out, I would not be surprised to see the Cubs move him around the diamond a little as they assess him for a possible major league future as a utility guy.

Work In Progress

One of the best prospects in the next wave of talent currently sloshing around in the lower levels of the system remains Jeimer Candelario. There are some concerns that this switch hitter may not be able to stay at third long term, but he did just fine at that position in 2013 and should remain on the left side of the infield as he moves up the system. His best asset is his bat, though, and at the plate he produced a walk rate of 11.9% and a strikeout rate of just 15.4% at the age of 19 in the Midwest League. He hit only 11 home runs last season – most of those in the second half – but there is more power where that came from. He should report to Daytona for this season.

Wrap Up

Baseball America lists Wes Darvill at third, but so far in his career he has primarily played in the middle of the infield and that is where I will be considering him for this series. Junior Lake and Josh Vitters were both third base candidates at one time, but both have now moved to the outfield. Ben Carhart played quite a bit of third for Daytona in 2013, but it appears the Cubs are moving him to catcher now. The international leagues do have some promising looking hitters that could slot in at third as well, but they are all quite a ways off yet.

The Cubs are not really in need of any more third base prospects right now, though. Their top four can rival the top four at any position in any organization in baseball in recent memory. And if we consider that both Javier Baez and Arismendy Alcantara could yet wind up at that position (more likely for Baez than Alcantara), their depth gets even crazier.

Nothing is certain, of course, but there is reason to be very optimistic that the Cubs are developing on the farm a very bright future for themselves at third base. The way to win at the prospect game is not to just develop very good prospects, to develop lots of very good prospects so that the inevitable busts do not derail any long term plans. That is exactly what the Cubs have done at third base.

  • Chad

    I envision Villanueva as a very good utility infielder that has a great glove and likely average or above offensive ability.

  • half_full_beer_mug

    I know how the BN community and Cubs fans in general feel about Villanueva and Alcantara, but what do you think other front office personnel think about these players? Are they highly thought of enough to be the second and third piece of a trade for a proven TOR type arm? Or would they be enough alone for a prospect with that type of ceiling?

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

      Likely. Alcantara is more valuable due to be a switch hitter with more speed and the fact that he can play short, but either would be an attractive piece in a trade.

      Pure prospect for prospect trades are rare enough that speculating on the return for either those guys in that scenario is pretty tough.

  • ObsessiveCubDisorder

    With the depth at 3rd, could Villanueva or Candelario be catcher options? Read somewhere Amaya has had a few looks there as well.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

      Amaya was tried there last fall/spring, but nothing came of it.

      I don’t see either Villanueva or Candelario moving to catcher, but if either did I think it would make more sense for Candelario.

    • Bilbo161

      I think the longer guys like Villanueva develop (AAA) this season the more value they will have in the eyes of potential trade parteners. If Olt shows something great this year perhaps he could bring back some true TOR prospects when and if we decide it is time for Bryant or Villanueva to take over the post. It really is an embarrasment of riches so to speak. If we can use the excess talent to bring in a couple of high end pitchers and some lefty power we will be all set in a season or two.

  • http://bleachernation.com woody

    The biggest question I have is where Alcantara fits into things going forward. Up until this spring I had been pretty sure that Baez would end up at third base and that eventually Alcantara would be our second baseman/leadoff man. But as things shake out it seems more and more likely that Baez and Castro will be our middle infielders. If so then maybe Alcantara is relegated to the role that Bonafacio has now. We’ll have to see how it all shakes out during the season. Alot of “if’s” this year. Right now on the big league club it will be all about Junior Lake and Olt if he gets the call. And of course Rizzo and Castro. We should know by mid-season if Lake is going to be an everyday player or a 4th or 5th option. On the minor league side Soler is the one that I’m watching, along with Alcantara. For Soler it may be a make or break season.

    • Chad

      If Alcantara could learn to play CF he would be very valuable there, and even more so as a super utility that could play CF, SS, 2B, or 3B. Would love to have that flexibility if he doesn’t provide the most value as a starter at one position.

    • ssckelley

      A make or break season for a guy who just turned 22 in February? I will be keeping an eye on Soler as well, along with other prospects, but I would not call this a make or break year for him. Josh Vitters yes, Brett Jackson yes those are a couple of players who have been around for a while and soon their 40 man roster spots are going to be needed, but not Soler not this season anyway.

      • Chad

        I think it is a very important season for Soler to stay healthy and make progress. If he starts at Tennessee he needs to prove that he is ready for the jump to AAA next year and then the ML after that. It is not make or break, but it is pretty important none the less.

        • ssckelley

          Sure, but we should say the same thing about all the Cubs prospects. About the only extra importance with Soler is that he already takes up a spot on the 40 man roster and he makes a million bucks per year. Otherwise to me, as a fan, he is just another prospect that I want to see succeed.

  • http://bleachernation.com woody

    I know he is still young, but considering that he missed a significant amount of playing time due to his immigration issues and last years injury it’s very important that he makes good on his potential this year. Don’t forget that he isn’t being paid like a minor league player.

    • Chad

      And that is partly why he will get more time. The investment in him is higher than most prospects. Again it’s a big year, and I expect him to do well, but if he has ups and downs I won’t consider it the end of his prospectus hype.

    • ssckelley

      I am with ya Woody but I am saying some of the same things about Baez, Bryant, Alcantara, Candelario, Almora, Villanueva, Olt, Hannemann, and a whole list of pitchers. You are correct in that there is a little extra concern from a FO perspective due to the amount of money he is being paid and, as I mentioned above, the fact he takes a 40 man roster spot. But from my perspective, I am hoping all the mentioned prospects succeed this year. I think guys like Brett Jackson, Josh Vitters, Matt Szczur, and Mike Olt do have a little extra pressure due to their age, how long they have been in the minors, and they take a 40 man roster spot.

      • http://bleachernation.com woody

        With Soler we are talking about a guy with a 9 yr / 30 million dollar contract. I don’t know how it is structured, but that’s 3 million a year to roster a guy at the minor league level. Anything short of him being major league ready by the end of this season would be a downer IMO.

        • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

          Given that he missed most of last season with an injury, major league ready at the end of the season might be a little aggressive. Had he been healthy all last year I’d agree.

          That said, I’m still projecting Soler to be up in September.

          • http://bleachernation.com woody

            My hope is that Soler moves at the same pace as Almora and Bryant this year. They were like the three amigos in the AFL last year and it would be nice to have them ready at the same time since the probability is that those three guys are the outfield of the future.

            • ssckelley

              There you go Woody, now we are talkin! By next June we have Soler, Almora, and Bryant all roaming the outfield.

              I agree with Luke, with Soler already under contract and with him already being on the 40 man roster I am hoping he gets a September call up this season.

              • blublud

                Huh, Soler and Almora have never really been on the same level. So let has been in Daytona for over a year, I believe, and will be headed to Tennessee. Almora is head to Daytona. So let and Bryant are on the same level, and unless Almora gets a quick bump to Tennessee, both will probably always be ahead him.

                • ssckelley

                  Muskat was on a Cubs broadcast last weekend and mentioned the FO may fast track Almora. I think there is an outside chance he could start the year at Tennessee. Again, outside chance, I still think he starts at Daytona.

                • http://bleachernation.com woody

                  There is still a chance that Almora starts at AA. Indications are that Almora is being fast tracked through the system. I was refering to the fact that they were both injured last year and played together in the AFL.. Even if Almora starts at Daytona he probably doesn’t stay there very long.

  • terencemann

    Has Gioskar Amaya shown up in any of the depth previews yet? If not, where would he go or is he no longer a player of note?

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

      The middle infield review is not finished yet. He’ll be in there (along with a more complete assessment of Alcantara and Baez, both of whom were mentioned briefly here).

      Also, some players I cut short the breakdown of in these pieces because I know I’ll be digging into them a bit more in Top 40 write ups (coming soon!).

  • Tyler_31

    What do you think the ceiling and floor are for Candelario

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

      Floor – Double flame out

      Ceiling – Major league regular, maybe a 5 or 6 hitter in an average lineup.

      • ssckelley

        I move your ceiling on Candelario a little higher due to his power potental. When I look at other guys his age in college or minors this is age a lot of them bust out with home runs. If those fly balls he was hitting in Kane County start leaving the yard, watch out, the Cubs might have another middle of the lineup type of guy developing.

        • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

          A 5 hitter is in the middle of the lineup (3,4,5).

          He was near, if not at, the league lead in doubles last year for Kane County and hit eight homers in the second half. A 15-20 HR season for Daytona would be a surprise at all.

          • ssckelley

            Sure Luke, that little ceiling bump was me thinking he could be a #3 or #4 and you mentioned the #5.

            Give me the over on 20 homers (assuming health ofc). :D

            • C. Steadman

              FSL is regarded as a pitcher-friendly league. I would say Jeimer hits 10-15HR…Dustin Geiger, who has better power than Jeimer, hit 17 HR with Peoria in 332PA(2012) and then promoted to Daytona in 2013 hit 17HR in 523PA while seeing his AVG go up 30 pts.

              • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

                Geiger was older than Candelario as well, which helps.

                20 is a high number for the FSL, but Candelario gets a bit of an edge due to being a switch hitter. Still, 15 is much more reasonable and still, for that league and level, very good.

                • C. Steadman

                  I would easily take 15 homers from Jeimer at age 20 in the FSL.

                  • ssckelley

                    So am I getting better than 1 to 1 odds then or we setting the over/under at 15? :D

                    • C. Steadman

                      I would say over/under is 17, because my guess for the season is 15. If you go over 17, you are getting a huge payday if he gets 18+! I hope you win this bet for the Cubs sake!! :)

                    • ssckelley

                      His body should be matured this season and I love his contact ability. Again I got to watch him last season and I seen a couple of those doubles along with a bunch of long fly balls. I have heard scouts talk about Candelario’s power potential for 2 years now, I think this is the year he breaks out.

                    • C. Steadman

                      I hope you’re right. I’m just going a little more conservative seeing only I person had 20+ HR in the FSL last year and he was 24. Baez/Sano/Franco would’ve had well over though if they got a full season there, but they all three have massive power.

                    • C. Steadman

                      “I person”=1 person

                    • ssckelley

                      True, and I looked at those same FSL numbers. But I also noticed a number of the league leaders did not play a full season in the league. I see no reason for the Cubs to not keep him in Daytona the full season unless he is really blowing it out of the water.

                      Sooooo if he hits over 17 you owe me a beer. Under or at 17 and I owe you one. We’ll figure out the details at a later date.

                    • C. Steadman

                      “Sooooo if he hits over 17 you owe me a beer. Under or at 17 and I owe you one. We’ll figure out the details at a later date”

                      Deal

  • SenorGato

    Not so deep down I want Villanueva to get a shot at 3B this year. Not sold on Olt, but do think Villanueva has alot of things that work in this league. He’s a reeeeally good kid with one of the better makeups in the system (and there’s alot of that in this system), defense is high quality and could play on a first division team, bat is competent with underrated power and approach, decent speed and competent base runner…A personal favorite because he does so many things.

    I couldn’t be rooting for Candelario more either.

    BTW I never even noticed until now that this system has so many guys that would receive compliments for their makeup. It’s not just the top guys either – your Wes Darvills, Matt Szczurs, and so on and on…

  • lnfihDeL

    I’d like to see us trade some of our surplus for battery mates. can never have enough pitchers and we’re pretty weak at the 2 spot.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

      Catching is one position where a lack of prospects does not really worry me. If the Cubs had a great hitter at catcher, I’d probably want him moved to a less injury prone position anyway.

      So long as the Cubs have a catcher that provides excellent defense, gets on base, and provides at least a little power, I’m going to be pretty happy. If that guy is a 37 year old journeyman instead of a 24 year old Top 15 prospect fresh off the farm, I’m still going to be pretty happy.

      • Bilbo161

        I think Malave may fit that Bill very well.

      • DocPeterWimsey

        They’ve done a bit a research on the aging of body-types, and the aging of positions. Has this ever been combined? Catchers have short half-lives for obvious reasons, but has there been any commonality among those few that remained productive hitters into their early 30’s?

        (The data might simply be too sparse, and other factors such as direct physical injury rather than wear-and-tear might be the over-riding signal anyway.)

        • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

          Not that I’m aware of, but it would be an interesting study.

          My first reaction is that there are not enough catchers who had long enough productive careers to form a useful sample without extending back into an era when training methods were so radically different as to call in question the validity of the study.

        • Chad

          I would guess there would be way to much noise to really determine if there is a body type x position interaction. Also, is there enough variation in the catcher body types to know this? Most seem like short/squatty guys. Not too many Joe Mauers or Buster Poseys out there for comparison.

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