The 2016 Cubs are loaded with high-end talent and depth — and, as it turns out, high-end depth.
We already know that the Cubs are among the deepest teams in baseball, but they also have some of the best depth. Over at FanGraphs, August Fagerstrom used the site’s depth chart projections to aid in helping calculate the projected WAR per 600 plate appearances and came up with a list of baseball’s 10 best backups.
It should be of no surprise that the Cubs are represented by Javier Baez and Jorge Soler, who are two players with the highest upsides on the list. However, what is interesting here is that Baez’s projection suggests he would be more-than-serviceable as an everyday player.
Fagerstrom calls Baez “the best prospect without a job” and notes the tools in Baez’s arsenal that make him such an intriguing utility player. We have seen the power and glove skills at shortstop on display at the Major League level (and in the postseason, no less), but the inability to make constant contact is one of those things that is an apparent hang-up.
All things considered, 23-year-old utility men with 20-homer, 20-steal potential are extreme rarities.
As for Soler, his 1.8 WAR per 600 plate appearances ranks seventh among the top-10. And like Baez, there is plenty of potential living in his bat. This set of projections has Soler lined up for a .260/.325/.448 slash line and 22 home runs. Further, Soler’s projected .331 wOBA is the best among the list of best back-ups.
But unlike Baez, Soler has a little bit less position flexibility around the diamond. The Cubs’ official depth chart lists Soler as a reserve at both corner outfield spots, while Baez is listed as a back-up in left field, shortstop and second base — with big league experience at first and third. However, Soler could see as much playing time as fellow outfielders Dexter Fowler and Kyle Schwarber if manager Joe Maddon sees fit, and if his bat breaks out like we know it can.
With enough rest and rotating going on, it’s possible Baez and Soler won’t feel much like “backups” when all is said and done this year.
Tommy Pham (2.4 WAR), Brandon Moss (1.7) and Jedd Gyorko (1.7) represent St. Louis, and there is plenty of positional flexibility to go around. Moss is listed as the Cardinals’ starting first baseman (though Matt Adams is right there, too), but a reserve in both corner outfield spots. Pham is on the Cards’ depth chart as a backup in center field and right field, while Gyorko is the most versatile of the bunch as he is listed as a back-up at three infield positions. With Jhonny Peralta out for a while, Gyorko’s value may have to show itself quickly.
You can see the top-10 list of baseball’s best backups in its entirety here.