Looking ahead to 2013: Who's on third?

There's been a lot said about Josh Vitters not playing everyday.  I've written about it myself and while I understand frustration runs high by this time when the Cubs are losing, Vitters simply isn't ready and the Cubs feel they can develop him more by working with him and limiting his exposure against MLB pitchers, who should be able to exploit his lack of selectivity at the plate.

That said, who's going to be the Cubs 3B come opening day next season?

Let's look at a few in-house candidates...

  1. Well, there's Josh Vitters himself.  As mentioned, the Cubs are giving Vitters a look to try and address some of his weaknesses before they get completely exposed at the MLB level.  Vitters put up some good, but not great, numbers in the PCL which is known for inflating a hitter's statistics.  The guess here is that Vitters may get some more playing time, whether it's at the end of the year, the winter leagues, or both.  Depending on his progress, he could get a legit shot at spring training next year or head back down to Iowa for a half year for some  more seasoning.  Given his age (22), level, productive season, and raw hitting ability, Vitters is the best long term possibility on this list at this point.
  2. Current starter Luis Valbuena is getting a long look at 3B and for those who want to shove him aside after 164 PAs, consider that as good as Vitters was in AAA, Valbuena was better, both offensively and defensively.  Part of Valbuena's struggles at the plate have to do with a ridiculously low .229 BABIP.  The results haven't been all that good, but the truth is that Valbuena still puts together better ABs than Vitters does and while he's not Brooks Robinson, he's a better defender as well.  Their respective development processes are at different stages and because he's already 26, there is more urgency to see what the Cubs have in Valbuena.  The Cubs can afford to take their time and do what they feel is the right thing for Vitters' long term development.
  3. Remember Ian Stewart?  The Cubs acquired him for Tyler Colvin and DJ LeMahieu in a deal that currently looks like a win for the Rockies. But despite Colvin's success, he's still not playing good defense or putting up the necessary OBP numbers that the front office values.  For now, the Cubs have gotten the short end, but Colvin is still a part time player, albeit one who has shown very good power vs. RHP this year.  Anyway, on to Stewart.  Despite the poor results, Stewart put together some good ABs, ranking among the league leaders in pitches seen before finally succumbing to a sore wrist that plagued him all season.  He also proved himself to be a solid defender.  If he comes back and he's healthy, he could get another look, but he'll have to prove himself in 2013.  The Cubs can't be patient forever.
  4. We've mentioned that both Vitters and Valbuena have put up great numbers in Iowa, but Adrian Cardenas has them both beat, putting up an .890 OPS and a .395 wOBA.  Cardenas, however, has struggled on defense, and unlike Vitters, he's not 22 and doesn't possess a strong arm.  Ultimately, Cardenas best chances to start are at 2B or LF, but if he can become just adequate defensively at 3B, he could be the guy, as he has the best combination of a pure bat and a solid approach on this list.
  5. The most physically gifted 3B candidate the Cubs have is Junior Lake.  While some may have expected a breakout season, Lake started the year with a minor back injury that kept him down in AZ for the first month of the season.  The Cubs took advantage of the situation and worked with Lake on his approach.  It worked great early on as he drew 10 walks in May alone.  Since then, it has wavered as Lake has had 16 walks in the last 2 1/2 months.  Still, he's held his own against the most advanced pitching he has faced so far in his career, putting up a .284/.339/.428 line with 8 HRs and 18 SB.  He's been caught 10 times, but most of those were early in the season when he appeared to have lost a step from the injury.  It's still likely Lake won't be as fast as he was earlier in his career as he has grown 2-3 inches and will probably fill out some more as he matures.  The key to Lake's viability as an MLB starter will be if he can develop power, handle 3B, and develop a more consistent approach.
  6. The unexpected candidate on this list is Greg Rohan, who played half this season as a 26 year old in Class A Daytona.  The track record for players who succeed after getting stuck at that age in the lower minors is not good.  Anyway you look at it, he's an extreme long shot, but fans of more traditional statistics will love the way he relishes RBI situations.  He is second in the organization with 95 total between the three levels.  RBIs aren't predictive, so fans of advanced statistics will toward things like wOBA and RC+. Rohan has a .388 wOBA in AAA (.404 in AA) and an RC+ of 129 (149 in AA) at the upper levels.  Rohan doesn't stand out in any area, including defense.  He just finds a way to be productive at every level in which he's played.

 

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  • fb_avatar

    Wow 68% on the Josh Vitters train so far. I shouldn't have to mention my thoughts on him but I do hope he makes steady improvement and takes over 3b until Baez steps in.
    If he takes huge steps it wouldnt surprise me to see Baez move over and be the best 2b in the league while Vit is very solid at 3rd. But that part is wishful thinking.

    Stewart is still interesting but I let him go, lake is a utility player to me, Cardenas unfortunately should get a chance somewhere else.

  • In reply to Marcel Jenkins:

    I had a feeling Vitters would run away with this one. I think he's one of the favorites, but my prediction is he plays winter ball in Carribean (closer to MLB competition than Fall League) and if he shows progress with approach and defense, he becomes the odds on favorite.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Hi John longtime reader here I have no idea why it took me so long to join but anyway want to say great job to you, Tom and now Felzz. You guys run hands down my favorite blog when combined with all the great commentors. Wanted to share my thoughts on Stewart in my opinion it would be a mistake to turn the reigns over to anybody but Stewart in 2013 till the Cubs are certain he is number1 100% healthy and number 2 the wrist was indeed the root of his problems the last couple years. As you noted, even with his injuries he grinded at bats as well as anybody on the team this year and always provides stellar defense. I think Vitters should start in Iowa. Worse comes to worse he has an extra half year of developement and hopefully tears it up while working on his weaknesses like Rizzo did. Afterall he will still be just 23 and in the best case scenario improves his trade stock for pitching if Stewart proves to be a keeper. Just have a feeling Stewart will haunt us if we don't give him the chance. He will be 28 years old next year. I think the cubs have nothing to lose here. Thanks for all your hard work.

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    I'll go with a Stewart/Vitters platoon until one of them wins it outright.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    That could be a solution. Would Cubs want to limit Vitters ABs when he's 23, though?

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    As a long term thing, no. I'm imagining it takes about a month to make a decision, and then Vitters is starting every day or in Iowa starting every day, so it isn't a horrible thing. This is just a guess since I think management likes both players. It could be one just wins it outright in spring training, too.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Steward is better then Vitters on D by so much it's not even amusing... and if his wrist is good he should have little trouble beating him with his bat... that's if the Cubs even bring him back

  • I suspect that so far we have a very small sample of votes. It was 100% when I voted!

    Sveum has noted improvement in the field since spring training and we have already seen two stellar plays that showed some instinct, reflexes, and a strong arm. And the kid always seems to hit. And I am hoping that he can, at least, contribute until the next one shows up - Villanueva? Baez? etc.

  • In reply to bruno14:

    That's the hope and the most optimistic outcome is that he becomes viable there and gives the Cubs another asset, one way or the other.

  • I voted for Stewart, although I'm not in a position to know the projected recovery time from his surgery. But I do hope the Cubs keep him in the mix. I think Vitters needs more minor league reps to polish his defense and improve his selectivity at the plate.

  • In reply to cubsin:

    I don't think any of us know how the wrist surgery will affect him, but if he's healthy, he's got to be a top candidate, at least as a stop gap.

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    My gut says that Stewart gets non-tendered and then resigns at a greatly reduced cost. Hopefully, the surgery was successful and his wrist is 100%. Vitters will go back to Iowa, but I'm not sure he'll be playing third base, as I think Lake will get most of Iowa's starts at third base in 2013. Vitters will still be in the lineup everyday, and he will also see some time at third base, but I also think he will see some time in right and left field and at first base.

  • In reply to Michael Caldwell:

    Michael,
    I wouldn't mind seeing Vitters as a spot starter with average defense and a good bat. Sure, you'd like him to succeed at 3rd but there appears to be more well rounded talent on the way. I would like to see him get the job next year and continue developing. This list leaves a lot to be desired though as there is no clear favorite.

  • In reply to Break The Curse:

    Agreed on the list. There may also eventually be an outside option, but for now I wanted to keep this list in-house only....and yeah, it's nothing to get excited about.

  • In reply to Michael Caldwell:

    I think they have to do it that way because he's too expensive for his production otherwise. If that happens, you almost have to give the edge to Stewart to open the season because giving him some assurances is the only way they can keep him while reducing his salary.

  • I think vitters is the best option right now, but later on if all goes well baez could be the long term solution. If vitters does good then the cubs have a good problem on their hands.

  • In reply to seankl:

    Baez is definitely the best long term option. All of these guys may just be holding the fort if things work out the way the Cubs hope.

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    I'm all for Stewart. I think the Cubs should approach this 3B situation just like they approached the 1B situation this season: give an opportunity to the older guy who's something of a question mark (LaHair, Stewart) and let our best prospect (Rizzo, Vitters) keep working on his deficiencies at AAA until the team feels he's ready to take over the position.

  • In reply to João Lucas:

    If he's healthy and comes back for less, that's kind of the way I see it shaking down as well.

  • In reply to João Lucas:

    Hi Lucas new commentor here. Just want to say I agree 100% nothing to lose here and if we finally get lucky and Stewart works out better then LaHair we have a great trade chip in Vitters or Stewart but I have a feeling Vitters can be a much more valuable chip if he is able to improve those weaknesses as Rizzo did. That is of course assuming that Stewart proves to be able to provide value until at least Baez is ready otherwise we can easily remove Stewart from the roster if Vitters absolutely forces the issue.

  • Some quick news...Cubs just transferred Stewart to 60 day DL, optioned Brooks Raley, and called up Michael Bowden. If you've been following my recaps, then you know Bowden has shown great improvement at Iowa since being sent down.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    That's a little odd. Raley was doing okay, I figured he was going to be with the big team for the remainder of the season. And who's gonna take his place in the rotation?

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    In reply to João Lucas:

    10 innings pitched, 10 earned runs.

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    Alright, he was bad the first time but he was decent yesterday. And it's not like we have better options.

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    In reply to João Lucas:

    OK, now I realize it has to do with the doubleheader the Cubs will have against the Reds and that 26th-man rule. Raley is probably gonna be called back up then.

  • In reply to João Lucas:

    He'll actually be back up for a start in the Saturday doubleheader. He'll also be back in September, so I imagine the Cubs will mix and match for the next two weeks as far as starters go.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    There's a fun part in the rules, apparently: on doubleheader day you can have 26 guys on the roster, so making the move essentially gives them another reliever until Saturday -- helpful with Lendy Castillo doing nothing but taking up bench space. On Sunday, a reliever (probably) will go down to get the roster back to 25 guys. That's all that is happening here.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    I will be at the first game of the double header on Saturday.

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    I dont want to see stewart back. Wrist injuries are VERY hard to come back from. Honestly, I think 2013 will be like it was this year at third base with the Valbuena and Vitters platoon. That can easily change though, depending on how Vitters does in the fall league and spring training. As for Junior Lake, I dont think he is ready yet. I think hes a year or two away from the mlb. I really like Lake, I think he can be really good.

  • In reply to Nathan Mausehund:

    You're right about wrist injuries, but with no other options, shouldn't the Cubs at least give him a shot?

    I don't think Lake is ready either, agreed there. I'm curious to see if he can develop some power with his size right now.

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    I'd really like to see Villanueva moved to second base. It's a waste of his arm, but he has the range and instincts, and his bat plays up there.

  • In reply to Michael Caldwell:

    I think Valbuena's best value is as a utility guy -- especially if the Cubs trust him to play SS occasionally, which they haven't so far. A LH SS bat off the bench is a nice commodity to have on the bench.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    And I think you guys are not talking about the same guy!

  • In reply to João Lucas:

    haha! you're right! I misread that.

  • In reply to Michael Caldwell:

    Totally agree. Especially if Vitters moves back to Iowa to start next year and If Lake starts in AA would be nice to see Villanueva start the year at 2nd in Tennessee and see if he adjusts. I feel if he could put up a similiar ops at 2nd and proves to be at least league average devensively that would be a potential allstar 2nd baseman. He can always move back to 3rd base if need be.

  • In reply to Michael Caldwell:

    I know that's been brought up and I know Texas tried him there in instructs. I'd like to know why they didn't keep him there. Was it because they gave up on the idea or that they needed him at 3B?

  • I'd go with Vitters/Stewart and Valbuena as the utility IF. However, this is only if Stewart is willing to come back at 1 or 1.5 million. We need to see what we have in Vitters, but we could protect him against really tough RH pitchers.

  • John I know this is off topic but as far as I understand the Cubs have 700,000 left to spend on IFAs thought they might be interested in the Gohara kid from Brazil who I thought would be eligible to sign on July 31st. Have you heard any rumblings regarding Gohara or do you believe they will sit on the 700,000 anticipating some stud we haven't heard about becoming available in the next few months? Thanks

  • In reply to Holycow!78:

    Cubs were interested in Gohara, but Seattle had shown the most interest last I heard. I'd love it if the Cubs signed him.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Thanks yeah heard Seatte was in on him too. Would be ecstatic if they signed him think he will end up about 6'6 6'7 and if I remember right already was throwing 93mph as a 15y.o. lefty. I'm just shocked we didn't learn of him signing the 1st day of eligibility like Paniagua did. Makes me really curious who the Cubs are waiting on to be sitting on that chunk of cash where as Toronto and Tampa pretty much spent their entire 2.5mil in the 1st few days of the signing period.

  • My two cents: If the Cubs truly want to 'see what they have' in Valbuena, why call Vitters up? They need to both be playing full time.

  • In reply to Eddie:

    The Cubs development people have certainly weighed what would be best for Vitters. It's apparent that they think part time play with full time MLB instruction is more valuable than 3-4 weeks of AAA at-bats against pitchers who couldn't consistently exploit his aggressive approach.

    Here's the part I don't get..

    If Valbuena has more experience and a better approach -- and better numbers in AAA, what makes people think that Vitters will be so much better now that he's in the bigs? Valbuena had an OPS which was 150 points higher against RHP against the same competition in AAA. I have to think the Cubs understand that Vitters is going to overmatched and they're trying to protect him as much as they can while giving him the benefits of MLB instruction and experience.

  • Maybe it's just the intelligence of Cub fans on this site but its just funny to think about but if this poll question was done a year ago how many fans would be clamoring for David Wright for 125-150min 5-6yr deal. Now we are debating the merits of Valbuena and Vitters. Its like the fan base is finally getting rewired to the correct ways to rebuild. I for one am happy to see it as I don't feel alone in my thinking anymore.

  • In reply to Holycow!78:

    Great point...and agreed, the readers on here debunk the myth that Cubs fans don't know baseball and just go to the park to get drunk :)

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Thanks John and you and Tom are doing a great job of educating and spreading the message hopefully it will eventually spread over to the Tribune and Cubs websites where there's still idiots out there that were ready to hang Hendry yet are already mocking Theo the savior for having such a train wreck team. It's like pick a lane. So many people are already wanting to trade Jackson that he will never amount to anything. What about Rizzo hitting .140 and even better Trout hitting .220 last year. I wonder how many fans of ours would of been calling Trout a failure. I respect the stats they are very important but seems like to many people these days put way too much stock into them. Whatever happened to individual improvement. Stats can't predict that especially in pre prime players with great makeups. Oh and lastly am I the only one who gets tired of the media and fans acting like Theo is the GM saying Theo traded this guy and that guy how about giving Hoyer credit. A lot of people act like he has no power I bet he has a lot more autonomy then people think. It wouldn't surprise me if the Rizzo and Maholm/Johnson trades were all Hoyer. I'm sure Theo was more involved with Dempster due to the high profile nature of the deal but man Hoyer is not a puppet was Theo guiding his hands when he landed two top 100 prospects for a 33y.o. non closing reliever last year?

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    In reply to Holycow!78:

    And im pretty sure the Rizzo trade was all hoyer.. I heard theo was reluctant to give up cashners power arm.. Hoyer said we needa get this kid..

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    In reply to Holycow!78:

    I agree with this two.. Jed hoyer is no dummy.. Him McLeod and Madison turned that farm system to one of the worst to one of the best.. If not the best..

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    In reply to Holycow!78:

    Why just 5-6 years? $250 million over 10 years is much more appropriate for our third baseman.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Ha! that's about right Mike and the same people will be saying fire Theo after the 3rd year and how against the contract they were the whole time.

  • I'm pulling for Vitters. I wouldn't mind bringing back Stewart but only if they really feel Vitters can't hold it down.

  • In reply to Tom Loxas:

    I think this offseason will tell us a lot about Vitters chances.

  • In reply to Tom Loxas:

    I would be cautious in resigning Stewart. When Derrick Lee had his wrist surgery he had trouble driving the ball the following season. He did not bounce back until the year after that. That being said, his defense and pitch selectivity were real assets are things that Theo and Jed are looking for.

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    Here's hoping the Cubs take at least 2 of 3 from the Astros.

  • I think we need to see how Stewart comes back from his injury. I think he could be a pleasant surprise.

  • In reply to SFToby:

    Agreed...don't want to write him off just yet.

  • In reply to SFToby:

    right on Toby

  • While I will root for Vitters I chose Stewart simply because I doubt Vitters and believe Stewart the de facto selection.

  • I voted for Stewart. Is it safe to say that everyone else has given up on Blake DeWitt and I'm the only one that still likes him? ;) He's been hurt most of the year also and terrible at AAA even when he was playing, which honestly wasn't very much. DeWitt was another guy that always seemed to have such a natural swing.....

  • I know the cubs have used the idea of protecting players, but I sometimes wonder if it does more harm than good. If a player is protected too much, say against left-handed pitching, will that come back to place him in the position where he's not going to develop in hitting left-handers?

  • I voted for Stewart, but am really pulling for Vitters.... let me explain.

    I think in a perfect world, Stewart comes back healthy and puts up the power numbers we saw him flash in 09/10, to go along with his stellar defense. This gives Vitters a few more months in Iowa to work out whatever deficiencies the Cubs see in his game... then we trade Stewart for more prospects before the trade deadline next year. If Stewart is right, he'll be in demand by a contender or two.... Then Vitters steps in as an every day player for us the rest of the year. Long term, I think Vitters can hit for a much higher average than Stewart with similar power numbers.

    On a totally separate note, does anyone know where Casey Weathers is as a prospect? I know he's with AA, but wasn't he a key piece with Stewart in that trade?... Any chance he sees action beyond AA, etc.?

  • Castro?

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