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...
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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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