Welcome to the first post in our “Thick as Thieves” series in which we look at minor league systems that are stacked at a particular position. We lead it off with an examination of the Chicago Cubs’ left side of the infield with two of the top prospects in all of baseball leading the charge.
If you look at the Cubs’ top prospect lists, you’ll see a quintet of players who all play either shortstop or third base with SS Javier Baez at the top of just about every list. However, with a log jam on the left side of the infield, the Cubs are going to have to be creative to find another position for some of them to play. At the big league level, the Cubs have Starlin Castro, who’s owed a huge sum of money ($49 million over six more guaranteed years) and is looking to show that 2013 was just a temporary regression rather than a continuation of a downward trend. With that kind of money locked up at shortstop, the Cubs also have Mike Olt looking to crack the lineup at third base. He came to the Cubs in late August after a trade with the Texas Rangers but put up some very poor numbers in for two different Triple-A ball clubs.
Other than Olt, the Cubs don’t really have a viable, every day third baseman (no, I don’t want Luis Valbuena playing any more than necessary) and MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo believes that Baez’s future lies at third base. Mayo writes that, while Baez has the tools to play shortstop, he’s still pretty raw (coming off a 44-error season in 2013) and a transition to third base could get him to the majors faster.
If the Cubs go down this route, it leaves their next best prospect, Kris Bryant in an interesting position. While many scouts think that he’s going to be fine at third base, others think that he could be best served with his strong arm in right field. His bat is expected to play at any position with monster power and a good contact tool.
We come across Arismendy Alcantara next, a toolsy natural shortstop who may end up shifting the other way, to second base, in order to get his bat into the Cubs’ lineup. Projected to start in Triple-A, Alcantara blends power, speed and a good eye (despite a lot of strikeouts) and could be an above average player at second base.
With the top three left-side infielders in the Cubs’ system all possibly moving to a different position at some point in the future, the Cubbies could have a very exciting lineup within two years. With Alcantara at second, Castro at short, Baez and third and Bryant in right, all four of these young players could very well be in the lineup at the age of 25 or younger on Opening Day of 2015.
But wait, there’s more. The embarrassment of riches that the Cubs have on the left side of the infield keeps going as two of the club’s fringe Top 10 prospects, Jeimer Candelario, 20, and Christian Villanueva, 22, are also making some noise. Candelario spent 2013 in Class-A Kane County and showed some terrific contact ability and patience at the plate, earning raves from scouts despite just decent numbers. Villanueva is closer to the majors, having played all year in 2013 in Double-A Tennessee, hitting 62 extra-base hits. While his plate discipline needs more work (34 walks, 117 strikeouts), Villanueva is seen as a superior defender at third base.
The Cubs are going to have to make some very tough but positive decisions in the near future. With so many players who look like major league regulars coming up through the system, the left side of the Cubs’ infield may get a major makeover over the next two seasons.