Along with catcher, true shortstops are a rare commodity in baseball. While the Cubs are woefully short on catchers after Welington Castillo, they do have surprisingly good depth at SS behind Starlin Castro. The great thing about having depth at SS is it gives you a whole lot of options. They are generally the best athletes on the field and can usually play every position except catcher. Junior Lake, who we had moving to 3B, is a prime example. Apart from catcher, there probably isn't a position he can't play -- including pitcher. We can also point to Stephen Bruno, who was a SS as an amateur and has already played LF, CF, RF, 3B, and 2B and is being tried at catcher.
Then there is trade value. The presence of Starlin Castro gave the Cubs an opportunity to trade Hak-Ju Lee and pick up a power arm in Matt Garza. The Brewers did the same when they traded Alcides Escobar to help them obtain Zach Greinke.
It's a valuable asset and the Cubs potentially have 5 true shortstops in their system when you include current MLB starter Castro, perhaps 6, as Darwin Barney was once considered a good defensive SS at AAA Iowa.
Anyway, on with the Cubs top minor league shortstops..
1. Javier Baez, 19, 6'0", 180 lbs., R/R
- Likely 2013 club: Daytona (Adv. A)
- ETA: Late 2014
The Cubs top prospect overall, bat speed is Baez's calling card but he has surprised the Cubs with his instincts and athleticism at SS. It was once a foregone conclusion that Baez would move to 3B, but the consensus now is that, if he doesn't outgrow the position, he has a good chance of sticking there. If Baez continues to produce, then the Cubs will have to choose who plays SS and 3B down the road between he and Starlin Castro. Baez was the best player in the MWL last season hitting .333/.383/.596 with 12 HRs in 57 games. He was also a surprisingly efficient baserunner despite average speed, stealing 20 bases in 23 attempts and showing good instincts on the bases overall. Baez has struggled a bit against older competition in Daytona and now the AZ Fall League, as better pitchers have exploited his aggressive approach a bit, so it appears he'll be starting the year in Daytona this season. But once he adapts to the tougher pitchers in the FSL, it probably won't be long before the Cubs start considering him for a promotion to Tennessee. Baez has the potential to be a Gary Sheffield type hitter with the ability to either play SS or gold glove caliber 3B.
2. Marco Hernandez, 20, 6'0", 170 lbs., S/R
- Likely 2013 club: Kane County (A)
- ETA: 2016
Of all the Cubs shortstops I've seen this year in the Cubs organization, Hernandez has the most fluid actions at SS. He's a smooth athlete who doesn't stand out in one particular area but has average to solid tools across the board with a chance to contribute in all phases of the game. Last year Hernandez initially skipped Boise and then struggled mightily at Peoria with the bat. He appeared to be turning it around but Baez's promotion took precedence and Hernandez was sent to Boise. By the end of the year, hitting coach Bill Buckner called him the team's most improved hitter. Hernandez is still a bit aggressive at the plate as his 3.5% walk rate would indicate, but he does show pitch recognition skills and should improve on that with experience and as he begins to tap into his average power potential. I think he's a breakout candidate in 2013 if he can improve his plate discipline.
3. Arismendy Alcantara, 21, 5'10, 160 lbs., S/R
- Likely 2013 club: Tennessee (AA)
- ETA: 2015
You can make a case for the wiry Alcantara as #2 on this list based on his superior hitting numbers in a more advanced league, but I ulimately chose Hernandez because I think he has the best shot to stick at SS on this list and has better long term power potential than Alcantara. While he was on my radar entering the season, Alcantra really burst on the season in 2012, hitting .302/.339/.449 as a 20 year old in the FSL. He consistently squared up the ball and made good contact all season before going down with a season ending injury. On defense, Alcantara is another athletic fielder with a strong arm so he can make all the plays, but he can get sloppy with his footwork, leading to numerous throwing errors this past season. If Alcantara can correct that fixable flaw and build on the improved plate discipline he showed late in the season, he has a chance to stick at SS and become a speedy (24 SBs in 28 attempts), switch-hitting player with the ability to shoot the ball through the gaps. Since his injury, Alcantara has played in instructs and in winter ball, but he hasn't really made up for that lost time yet. Ideally he starts in AA with Baez playing SS at Daytona, but he'll have to show he's ready for that jump this spring.
4. Carlos Penalver, 18, 6'0", 170 lbs., R/R
- Likely 2013 club: Boise (short season A)
- ETA: 2017
A sleeper on this depth chart, Penalver may be the most disciplined of this aggressive group of hitters. He walked at a 9.3% rate, 4 points higher than anyone else on this list. Penalver is a good athlete with above average speed and the instincts to stay at SS, but it's his bat that will determine whether he can be a starter long term or come off the bench as a utility infielder. He's held his own in both the DSL and AZ despite being young for both leagues. This past year in AZ he hit .273/.341/.322. Penalver has yet to develop extra base power but good size and a selective approach give him a chance to develop gap power as he matures. He's still young, having just turned 18 in May and may eventually outgrow SS, but for now he has the skills to stay there.
5. Frandy De La Rosa, 16, 6'1, 180 lbs., S/R
- Likely 2013 club: DSL
- ETA: 2018
I usually don't like putting players this young on top prospect lists. It's hard enough to project when they're in the DSL, where stats are almost meaningless, but a guy like De La Rosa hasn't even had a professional AB yet. There are a few reasons I'll make an exception here, however. First off is De La Rosa's intelligence and mental makeup are exceptional, which gives him a better chance to reach his ceiling than your average young player. The second is his advanced feel for hitting. De La Rosa's bat has the potential to be the most special on this list outside of Javier Baez. He can hit from both sides of the plate and already has good size,though, like any 16 year old, he still needs to add strength to that frame. The biggest question mark for De La Rosa is defense. While he has good hands, he's already just an average runner at best, which raises doubts about his range long term, and his arm may end up being a little short for the position. He is, by far, the least likely to stick at SS long term on this list, and I believe he'll move before he even gets to full season ball. For now, however, he's a SS, and wherever he winds up moving (my guess is 2B or LF), it's his bat that will be his ticket to the majors.
Position Change Candidate: None. People rarely switch from other positions to play SS. It's the other way around. And with the Cubs set with two top young shortstops already, plus 2-3 more true SS prospects right behind them, there's no need to stretch out someone's talents at the position.
Tim Saunders stands out as a guy who is athletic enough to stay at SS and has shown a solid bat thus far. As mentioned in the 2B piece, David Bote and Daniel Lockhart both have a shot at making it as utility types. Junior Lake is a SS for now but that won't be his position in the majors. Logan Watkins can play SS in a pinch but he's not an everyday player there.
Filed under: prospects