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arismendy alcantara tennesseeGood teams, the baseball thinking goes, are strong up the middle. If that applies to organizations as well teams, then the Cubs are in great shape. While the depth of quality is not quite as impressive as it is at third base, the overall mix of depth and quality rivals that of any position in the system. With Starlin Castro already in the majors, the Cubs just need a second baseman to emerge from this group and they would have a young, high quality middle infield that would cause envy in a lot of other front offices.

And the first two guys on this list could put an end to that second base battle before it ever really starts.

On The Way To Wrigley

The biggest story in the first half of the season will be Javier Baez, and he won’t even be in Chicago for at least part of that time. After rampaging through High A and Double A on his way to a 37 homer, .578 SLG season, Baez will head to Iowa as the everyday shortstop. Once he demonstrates he can lay off low breaking pitches and has picked up that final coat of polish, he should bring his insane bat speed and incredible power to what is all but certain to be an excited Wrigley Field.

Coming along for the ride on that trip will be a lot of strikeouts. As high as his ceiling is, Baez still represents a tremendous amount of risk. His ability to adjust in-season at two levels during 2013 makes me think he has a very good shot to make enough contact to have a long and productive career for the Cubs, but, at this stage, that is not certain. He doesn’t need to dramatically cut the strikeouts, but he does need to show improved plate awareness and discipline before he takes a middle infield (or, perhaps, third base) job in the majors. Mid-June still sounds about right for his arrival.

His Iowa double play partner, Arismendy Alcantara, may not be too far behind. I’m not sure where Alcantara will fit into the Cubs plans if all goes well and Mike Olt claims third and Javier Baez takes second, but I sincerely hope they find room for him somewhere. Alcantara took some significant steps forward in Double A last season and now looks like the sort of potential leadoff hitter the Cubs could use. Last season he hit 15 home runs, stole 31 bases, compiled an OPS of .804, and walked in 10.9% of his at bats. If he can maintain that walk rate and OBP with Triple A Iowa this season, the Cubs will find themselves assembling a suddenly complicated roster puzzle. Scouts report that Alcantara has the speed and arm to play in center. That might be the way to go; using his 2014 ZiPS projections from Fangraphs and the Fansided Simple WAR Calculator, it looks like he could be a 3 WAR guy in center. That’s not too shabby.

Somewhat forgotten in the prospect excitement has been Logan Watkins. Watkins is a left handed hitter with some power, good speed, and the defensive flexibility to play anywhere up the middle. Long term I think he projects as high quality utility player in the majors, but in 2014 he will be looking to rebound from a somewhat lackluster initial Triple A campaign. It could be challenging for the Iowa Cubs to find at bats for him in what should be both a prospect-crowded infield and outfield, at least until Baez and/or Alcantara are called up, but if the Cubs are struck with an early season injury on the infield it is more likely that Watkins will get the call.

Breakout Watch

One of the most frustrating events of the 2013 season was the injury (Tommy John surgery) that shut down Stephen Bruno for the season. After being drafted in 2012, he put on a show for Boise, amassing a .361/.442/.496 line with 3 triples, 3 homers, and a pair of steals (in nine attempts). He jumped to Daytona for the 2013 season and through his first 19 games was hitting .362/.436/.478. That’s where his season ended. We should not expect a lot of power from Bruno (who stands just 5’9″), but if he can continue to get on base at a high rate and can improve on his base stealing, he could jump into the prospect conversation in a hurry with a healthy season. I don’t know where he’ll start the season, but I’d not be surprised to see him in Tennessee by the end of it.

Second baseman Daniel Lockhart came to the Cubs in the 2011 draft. Since then he has been lurking in the (mostly) lower levels quietly picking up some fans among in minor league analyst circles. He made it onto Baseball America’s Top 30 list with praise for his left handed hitting and speed along with his defense at second base. It would be too early to give him top prospect billing, but when he opens the season in Kane County this season he will be one of the players I watch the most closely.

Wes Darvill began his career as a 17 year old way back in 2009 and last season reached Daytona at the age of 21. He still has some work to do, but in his 79 games at High A he showed flashes that he is close to translating his tools into baseball production. Also a left handed hitter, he projects to provide a nice mix of power an speed, but while he has been an infielder for most of his career to date, his ultimate future may lie in the outfield. Last season we saw Dustin Geiger and Rubi Silva jump into prospect spotlight with note worthy performances; Darvill is a solid candidate to follow in their footsteps this summer.

Lower Level Lurkers

Several years ago the Cubs had in the low levels of their system a very talented double play combination that featured guys named Castro and Lake. Last season in Tennessee the Smokies had perhaps a more talented combination named Baez and Alcantara. This summer in Daytona we may see the next high ceiling double play combination on display. Marco Hernandez is a switch hitting shortstop who stole 21 bases for Kane County despite getting on base at just a .287 pace, and Gioskar Amaya is a second baseman who stole 13 bases and drove 6 triples and 5 home runs with his line-drive producing right handed swing. Neither of them produced a great OPS (Amaya was the highest of the pair at .698), but both were slightly young for the league and struggled some with consistency over the course of the season. And while I am higher on Amaya, I like both these players quite a bit. They will join a very talented infield that also features Vogelbach and Candelario in High A this summer.

Kane County will no sooner graduate a pair of high ceiling middle infielders than they will find another very projectable shortstop on their roster. Carlos Penalver made it to Boise for his age 19 season last summer, and he held his own. His line for the season read .261/.338/.359, but the highlights were his 9.5% walk rate and 18.6% strikeout rate. Those aren’t bad numbers for a teenager in that league, and his consistently high walk rate throughout his (short) career makes me suspect the healthy on base percentages could continue as well. When he grows into some additional power, the potential will exist for Penalver to provide solid offense at either short or second. And while it is early yet, it looks like his glove will do just fine in either position as well.

Shortstop Gleyber Torres was the top international prospect in Venezuela last year, and the Cubs signed him for $1.7 million in June. At just 17, he’s still a long way from the bigs (or high-level prospect radars, really), but he’ll be one to watch. It remains possible that he’ll open up his Cubs career in the Arizona Rookie League later this Summer, but he could also head back to Venezuela to play summer ball there first.

Sleepers

Among the Cubs draftees the past two summers has been a trio of light hitting collegiate infielders that, while they may not crack many top prospect lists, are well worth monitoring. Giuseppe Papaccio joined the Cubs in 2013 and spent most of his summer with Kane County. He finished with a line of .279/.331/.364 and a pair of home runs. Those numbers were trending upwards at the end of the season, though, and given his collegiate experience I would not be surprised to see him match or surpass those stats with Daytona this year.

Tim Saunders was a late round pick in 2012 who soared to Daytona in his first summer, but he was not quite able to recapture that success in 2013. Given that his BABIP was over .400 at every stop he made in 2012, a decline in 2013 was not entirely surprising. Nevertheless, in 62 games for Daytona he stole 21 bases and walked at a 9% clip while posting an OPS of .637. That OPS is potentially misleading, though, because he got off to a very slow start. In June, his final month, he hit .307/.398/.427 over 22 games. After 2 games in July he was shut down for the season with an injury. I suspect he’ll open 2014 back in Daytona, but if it turns out that his mid-summer numbers are the real deal, then he could find himself moving up to Tennessee and moving up some prospect charts in a hurry.

Another 2012 draftee, David Bote was taken out of community college at the age of 19. Last season he spent time in Boise, Kane County, and Daytona. At every stop he put up very good walk rates and flashed some speed on the basepaths. With Boise, his only sample size large enough to really mean anything, he totaled an OPS of .703. Bote should start 2014 as an everyday player in Kane County where I suspect he’ll make a name for himself with a combination of walks and steals.

If we reach all the way back to the 2010 draft, there is one more light hitting infielder worth mentioning here: Elliot Soto. Now in his fourth year with the Cubs, Soto has yet to make it past Double A, and while with Tennessee he really hasn’t hit enough to warrant a promotion (his OPS is just .568 in 127 games there). At this stage his career seems more likely to mirror that of minor league veteran and general do-it-all guy Jonathan Mota than it is, say, Darwin Barney, and that is somewhat unfortunate. That means it may be that fans in Iowa and Chicago will not get to watch the guy who has made some of the best plays at shortstop I have ever seen.

Given the depth the Cubs have on the middle infield a major league future for Soto is looking unlikely, but I should note that his walk rates have been trending up since 2011 and reached 9.6% with Tennessee last season, and that ugly Double A line of .190/.269/.256 came with a BABIP of just .226 when his average is closer to .290. Between those figures and his very, very good defense, I suspect he would provide positive value to a major league team as a shortstop or second base fill in should the opportunity ever appear.

Wrap Up

While Baez and Alcantara at top of this list clearly outshine the rest of the prospects on it, the Cubs have enough depth and talent up the middle to keep producing a major league quality middle infielder every year or so for the foreseeable future. That sort of depth will come in very handy when it comes time to flesh out a flexible bench for postseason candidate teams in a year or two, not to mention the potential value they offer in trades. For the next few years, anyway, it doesn’t look like Cub fans have anything to worry about up the middle.

  • jh03

    I freaking love this series.

    • Spoda17

      ++ I as well… I love all of the reviews.

  • http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/s/salazlu01.shtml Luis Salazar

    Stephen Bruno “He jumped to Daytona for the 2014 season” I think you mean 2013

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

      Yes. We’ll get that fixed up. Thanks.

      • Spoda17

        Luke, again an awesome job. I look forward to your analysis after the draft.

        • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

          This year’s draft should be interesting.

  • DarthHater

    If Giuseppe Papaccio doesn’t make it to the bigs, he might be able to have a second career carving baseball bats into puppets that turn into real boys.

    • Darth Ivy

      best name ever. Would be even better as “Giuseppe Papaccio Weinstein”

    • Fishin Phil

      I’m not sure if I’m offended or not, but for some reason my knows is growing.

  • MightyBear

    Well done again Luke. Thank you very much.

  • http://www.chicagocubsbleachertickets.com Cub Fan Dan

    There seems like there could be a chain of very good second basemen coming through the system by year’s end. Maybe not as top-10 prospecty as 3B is, but pretty darn good.

    AAA – Alcantara
    AA – Bruno
    A+ – Amaya
    A – Lockhart

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

      That looks like a likely scenario. And a very interesting one to watch play out.

      • Goss4Cubs

        If/when Baez is called up, does Alcantara slide over to SS and become part of that conversation.

        • Kyle

          No. He can’t play SS at an MLB level. That’s why he’s at 2b to begin with.

          If Baez is locked in at 2b, then Alcantara is either traded or moves to CF.

          • C. Steadman

            I can see Alcantara sliding over to SS at Iowa and Watkins playing 2B after a Baez callup.

          • gocatsgo2003

            The dude has played 260 games at SS in his minor league career as opposed to 111 at 2B. Last year he had 66 at SS and 64 at 2B. I don’t think it’s a foregone conclusion that he couldn’t take a spot start here or there at SS, but unlikely to be a full-time SS at the MLB level.

            • Kyle

              That’s how it works in the minor leagues.

              You start out at SS until you start to show that you can’t handle it, then you start getting other positions mixed in.

              I mean, could he theoretically at one point be put at SS in an MLB game in an emergency? Sure. But he’s not thought of as a SS for good reason.

              • Goss4Cubs

                By who? Just asking.

                • Kyle

                  By anyone paying more than a casual fan’s level of attention to the minors.

                  • Goss4Cubs

                    I was simply looking for a quote or two with that same strong opinion from scouting reports. I haven’t found any that are quite as definitive as yours. You play the “dick card really fast. Ah, well.

              • Justin

                Kyle, this is the first time i’ve heard that Alcantara couldn’t handle shortstop everyday at the MLB level for sure. Where is this info coming from? I know they moved him to 2nd, but they pretty much had to with Castro and Baez in the organization.

                • C. Steadman

                  He was making a lot of errors in the minors and I’ve read most scouts saying he’s better suited for 2B. I’m not going as extreme as Kyle, because I think of Alcantara as a utility player that could spot start at SS, but fulltime I would rather have him at 2b than SS. It’s a similar switch Barney made in 2009.

                • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

                  Me, for one.

                  I’ve watched Alcantara play short at two levels. He has all the tools to do it, but he never looks comfortable. He consistently plays too fast and commits a ton of mistakes as a result.

                  At second, that disappears. He looks like a very good, natural second baseman.

                  In pinch, yes he can handle short. But long term I do not see him staying there. He’s much better off at second.

                  • C. Steadman

                    +1

                  • Kyle

                    As a general rule, if there’s any doubt in the low-mid minors that a guy can handle SS, it’s a good bet that he won’t play SS in the majors.

                    • Jason P

                      Baez could be the exception.

                    • Kyle

                      He *could* be. But it’s a pretty good bet right now that he won’t play SS in the majors either.

                  • Justin

                    Ok, I didn’t realize Alcantara looked that bad at shortstop. I had not heard that.. Obviously, errors aren’t a way to judge minor league infielders, i.e. Baez.

              • AA Correspondant

                Wrong!

                Alcantara moved to 2B mid season to make room for Baez who came up from Daytona.

                He did fine as a SS during first part of the season.

                But….I will agree with you that with the Cubs organization, he’ll likely be a 2B rather than a SS. But if he is traded to another organization, it would not at all surprise me if he is playign SS in the show.

          • http://bleachernation.com woody

            Alcantara was a shortstop until he was moved off of the position to accomodate Baez. I’m sure he could play either position if needed. For now Baez is the only one of the top 5 that realistically is going to see much time at Wrigley this season. And second base will be his position unless Castro changes positions or is traded. That is assuming that Olt works out at third base. Where Alcantara or Bryant fit into the plan is very premature at this point. With the exception of September neither will likely see time at Wrigley. Of course Alcantara could have a breakout first half and change that thinking. I was reading a piece at a Mets fan site yesterday and they are still talking about aquiring Castro. And I am not one of the people that has been knocking Castro here. But he remains the one player on this roster besides Samardzija that could probably bring a really nice prospect haul to our side. If Baez and Alcantara are dominating and a cohesive DP combo then they are a more cost controlled option. It doesn’t have anything to do with popularity, it’s just business. The only way any player on this club is going to stay in a Cubs uniform for his whole career is if he signs club friendly contracts. Maybe a guy like Rizzo could do it.

  • MoneyBoy

    Nice problems to have isn’t it? What to do with all this talent. Let’s hope it turns out well for the Cubs *and* for the kids.

    Thanks so much, Luke. This was excellent as always!

  • Q-Ball

    Good series. One thing to me is pretty clear: If Olt, Baez, and Alcantara all hit, somebody is going to be traded. If Villanueva also hits, make that 2 somebodies. Castro could be the one that’s moved.

    It’s a good problem to have, but even moving Alcantara to CF, Almora isn’t too far behind, and he’s a Gold-glover in waiting apparently. If he is good enough to lead-off and play CF, a lead-off hitting 2B is even more valuable.

    Ultimately, the answer may not be moving everyone around to find a role, but moving players to other teams. That’s OK, because we have holes to fill elsewhere, and trading may be the way to do it. One of these guys may be moved for pitching. You can have too many 3B, but you can’t have too many pitchers……

    • Q-Ball

      PS: Forgot to mention, but Theo himself has said it; prospects are currency. Currency can be used to get veterans or more prospects sometimes, but they are currency. We may end up simply spending some of our currency.

      • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

        Prospects are absolutely currency. But there is no need to count the Almora in the bush yet when there is an Alcantara (almost) in the hand.

        When and if the Cubs do wind up with that positional conundrum, then they’ll happily make the hard decision of who to trade.

        • Darth Ivy

          “…Almora in the bush….”

          To make the immature joke or not to make the immaute joke. That is the question.

          I won’t.

    • TK

      I strongly suspect that Castro trade-talk is not far off, assuming Alcantara gets called up this summer, and doesn’t flop. He is a natural 2B, leadoff hitter, fast, some power, good D . . . What is there to not like? He fills a lot of holes, all-in-one. He’s the kind of player you make room for. 8 Alcantara’s and a good pitcher win every game! And Castro seems to have his own personal drama cloud hovering above. With his contract, age, and on-field history (minus last year), he could bring a HUGE boat load return, especially SP. Trading him would allow Baez to stay at SS, and Alcantara to stay at 2B. Then the question would just be what to do with all the 3B rapidly approaching.

      • http://bleachernation.com woody

        When you think Castro trade, think Mets.

        • AA Correspondant

          Or Yankees. They’ll be looking for a SS soon.

      • TK

        Yeah, I tend to consider teams that actually have something we’d want in return. Neither NY team has much of a farm. And NYY will be too old to trade MLB talent to us.

  • dAn

    What about Frandy de la Rosa? Shouldn’t he be mentioned in there somewhere?

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      He’ll need to do a little something first at this point.

  • ruby2626

    Huge seasons this year for Vogelbach, Alcantara and Soler. If their stocks continue to rise then those 3 for either Price or Stanton would almost get it done.

  • Adventurecizin Justin

    Love this series, Luke…kudos!

    My hope is that the Cubs will not have to spend big money on free agents because a deep system will allow ‘em to plug holes via trades instead. I feel like the Cubs could build strong packages right now without including any of the big five. That’s what I’ve been dreaming for 30 years the Cubs would be able do!!!

  • JakeMac

    Does the sheer quantity of middle infield depth make it nearly a sure thing the Cubs don’t go with Trea Turner in the draft?

    Position redundancy is a good thing, but maybe not quite that much?

    • C. Steadman

      Trea Turner can play 3B/OF though as well. If they value his offensive skills, then they can find him a home defensively.

    • Kyle

      No. The existing system will have absolutely nothing to do with the Cubs’ pick, and you can never have too many middle infielders.

      • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

        Agree on both counts.

  • Medicos

    Convert Vogelbach to become a catcher. The Dodgers did this with Piazza and he turned out to be an excellent MLB hitter and a decent catcher. It’s rare to have a left handed power hitting catcher in the majors and Vogelbach could become an exception.

    • Q-Ball

      I think Scouts are unanimous that Vogelbach does not have the athleticism for that move, or really to play any position but 1B. If Big Dan hits, Cub fans will ask 10,000 times “Can he move positions?”, but the answer, resoundingly, is no.

      If Rizzo and Dan both hit, somebody will probably get traded. As a bat-only guy, though, Dan is going to have to hit a ton to be a starter in the league

      • Darth Ivy

        the increase in interleague play is probably the thing that brings the DH to the NL. If that happens before the team is forced into a trade, well, boo-ya.

        • C. Steadman

          fingers crossed

        • http://bleachernation.com woody

          I think the DH is in Seligs to do list before he retires. No matter what he does he will leave a stench behind.

          • C. Steadman

            How is the NL having a DH a stench?

            • http://bleachernation.com woody

              I was talking about the stench of Seligs legacy.

              • Darth Ivy

                The same thing that leaves that stench is what saved the game. It’s a weird double edges sword thing.

                • Darth Ivy

                  edged

          • Darth Ivy

            he better get on that quickly, then. Isn’t this his last year?

      • TK

        Disagree. FAT has a funny way of reducing one’s athleticism. Vogs has shown the determination to lose weight, get into shape, improve himself, and pursue a career in MLB. He already looks like a completely different young man than when drafted. To hit like he does . . . Not just “ugh! Me swing haaaarrrdd!” . . . to hit as hard as he does, make as much contact as he does, take walks like does . . . that indicates EXCEPTIONAL hand/eye coordination and an unbelievably fast brain! If he continues to work hard to lose weight, he will be in much better shape, and he WILL be able to play RF, and possibly even LF if next to good CF to pick-up some slack.

        • C. Steadman

          The fact that he has a noodle for an arm could prevent the switch. Just bc he has the body of a catcher doesn’t make him a catcher.

          • TK

            I was referring to a move to OF. Q-Ball said no way Vogs can move anywhere – 1B or bust. He could eventually move to OF if he continues the hard work and positive attitude. I agree that he would probably not be able to catch, except possibly as an emergency back-up type.

            • C. Steadman

              Maybe LF, but I just don’t see it. Scouts out of Arizona said even with the loss of weight, Vogs still doesn’t seem athletic enough to handle anything outside of 1B/DH. Cubs don’t need to make a decision for a couple years since he’s still in A+. NL could get DH very soon then it would all work out.

              • C. Steadman

                “out of Arizona” meaning Cactus League not just diamondback scouts

              • TK

                That couple of years part is the key. He was a flat blob. He just started trying to work it in the last year-ish(?). Im sure this is not the finished product. He does still have a couple years. Think about what it takes to hit like he does . . . You cannot be such an amazing, “professional” hitter without a great degree of athleticism. You just cant. If you don’t have great athleticism, you play chess, not bash baseballs like vogs does. I guarantee that as the weight loss, and all the working out that promotes it, continues over the next couple years, he WILL show significantly more athleticism. Its just buried under all that flab right now. And we know he’s working towards the goal of switching positions in the minors. And I didn’t see all the reports cited above, but I’d have to guess that if they really exist, they are most likely referencing the PRESENT, as he is currently, and not stating that he does not have the potential to overcome thru continued hard work and continued weight loss. I doubt anyone would be foolish enough to “officially” suggest that.

  • Justin

    Luke, or Brett what are your thoughts on a platoon at 1st with Rizzo and Olt. Yes, it would be great if Rizzo could improve hitting lefties, but why not have him just mash righties with Olt in against Lefties? I don’t ever see Rizzo doing that well against LHP’s. Especially if Bryant can stick at 3rd.

  • Diehardthefirst

    So who is this Murphy who had a monster day for TR?

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