Cubs Top Prospects: The Third Basemen

Cubs Top Prospects: The Third Basemen

Third base is another area where the Cubs have some depth, though their best prospect at that position still plays SS and there's enough reason to think he could stick there long term before I put him on this list.  We are talking, of course, about Javier Baez, who may one day render this entire list moot.  The Cubs also have some other high ceiling candidates, but all have yet to play full-season ball.

1. Christian Villanueva, 21, 5'11, 160 lbs., R/R

  • Likely 2013 team: Tennessee (AA)
  • ETA: Late 2014

While he doesn't project as a star, Villanueva is the best combination of polish and ceiling on this list.  Between two teams at the advanced A ball level, Villanueva hit .279/.353/.427.   He's a good defender with a strong arm, has average speed and average power.  In fact, he's pretty solid across the board.  What he lacks is a standout tool and as such will probably not ever garner a whole lot of attention, the kind of guy who, if he makes it, will always be referred to as "underrated".  He has good pitch recognition skills but he has yet to translate that into a high walk rate, though he did make some progress after joining the Cubs in getting his walk rate up to 10.6%.  Villanueva may still fill out a bit and hit with a bit more power, but I expect him to be a good defender who does just enough of everything at the plate to make him an above average starter.

2. Jeimer Candelario, 18, 6'1, 180 lbs., S/R

  • Likely 2013 team: Kane County (A)
  • ETA: 2016

Candelario has the highest ceiling in this top 5.  Asked to skip a level, he played the entire season at short season A ball as one of the youngest players in the league.  He held his own, hitting .281/.345/.396 and hit 6 HRs, though most of those came early on in the season.  When he did hit them, however, they weren't cheapies, so that and the fact that he has quick, strong hands bodes well for his future as a power hitter. Though he had a solid walk rate (8.4%), Candelario did struggle at times with the advanced pitching, sometimes chasing pitches out of the zone.  As the season wore on, he seemed to adjust and started displaying the kind of pitch recognition we'd heard and read about in the DSL.  Candelario is still maturing, both physically and as a hitter, but he has the potential to be a monster at the plate.  Defensively, he has soft hands and a strong arm, but his range may not hold up as he gets bigger.  As we've said before, however, it's the bat that is his ticket to the big leagues.

3. Josh Vitters, 23, 6'2", 200 lbs., R/R

  • Likely 2013 team: Iowa (AAA)
  • ETA: 2013

After a good season in AAA (.304/.356/.513), Vitters flaws were exposed in his brief call-up with the Cubs this season.  The Cubs knew this was likely to be the case and the hope is that he learns from it and goes right back to work at AAA next season to correct them, much like Anthony Rizzo did last season.  Vitters will go back to work on his defense, particularly his footwork, and his strike zone discipline.  If Vitters can learn to lay off more of those pitches just off the plate, as well as those "pitcher's strikes" that are difficult to drive, he has the nice swing and natural hand/eye coordination to be a good hitter with average power.  With adequate defense, Vitters could become an average everyday 3B.  Vitters doesn't adapt to new leagues as quickly as some of the other Cubs prospects, so the hope is that he just needs a bit more time.

4. Junior Lake, 22, 6'2", 215 lbs., R/R

  • Likely 2013 team: Iowa (AAA)
  • ETA: Late 2013

The hype has died down on Lake to more realistic levels.  He's a physically gifted athlete with great size and the temptation is to dream big but, unfortunately, Lake's baseball skills lag behind. What you like about Lake is that  he can do a lot of things well and can help you in a variety of ways even if he doesn't hit a ton, but if he's going to be a starter at the MLB level, he'll have to improve his approach both at the plate and in the field.  The encouraging development is that Lake showed some progress with his pitch selection early in the season and finished with a respectable 7.8% walk rate.  He also managed the jump to AA, perhaps the toughest jump in baseball,  and did surprisingly well, hitting .279/.341/.432.  We must also give some benefit of the doubt in that Lake reportedly grew at least 2 inches, though his listed height does not reflect that yet, and the fact that he started the year with a back injury, which can be tough on hitters.  This could be a telling year for Lake as he should come in healthy and ready for a bg season in the PCL, especially if he can translate his improved plate discipline and physical growth into the kind of power you like to have from an everyday 3B.

5. Dustin Geiger, 20, 6'2", 180 lbs, R/R

  • Likely 2013 team: Daytona (Adv. A)
  • ETA: 2016

Geiger had a mixed year. On offense he hit .251/.301/.465.  He showed a big ncrease in power but his defense regressed a bit.  His walk rate vs. his strikeout rate, 6% vs. 23.8%, shows he still needs some polish with his approach.   The hope with Geiger is that he can maintain that power (17 HRs, .215 ISO)while improving his defense and his OBP skills.  There's some reason for hope, first off because he is just 20 years old and also because Geiger once again put up a low BABIP, though some of that may have to do with his lack of speed. It boils down to Geiger being a more consistent ballplayer in all phases, even HRs, which he hit in binges, including a streak of 4 straight games.

Position Change Candidate: Javier Baez, 19, 6'0", 180

  • Likely 2013 team: Daytona (Adv. A)
  • ETA: Late 2014

Who else? Baez's debut at 3B in the AZ Fall League didn't exactly go off without a hitch.  He mishandled all 4 plays in which he was involved, picking up two errors in the process.  I'm not worried about it.  He has the skills (range, arm, hands) to play there. I'll chalk it up to adjusting to the slower pace at 3B.  Baez is going to stay at SS as long as possible but at 19 he may not be done growing.  Baez is already just average when it comes to speed and quickness so he can't afford to lose much and still be a viable MLB SS.  Then, of course, there is the a tremendous roadblock ahead in Starlin Castro. As it is, one scout told me he likes Castro better at SS even now, so it would seem a move is definitely in the cards for Baez.  The good thing is he has the bat to carry the position and as a player capable of being an average MLB SS, he could potentially be Gold Glove caliber at 3B.

Others:

Marck Malave was the Cubs biggest signing in the international pool last season. They signed him as a catcher but he spent his entire first season in the DSL at 3B.  Malave is the youngest prospect on this list, but he already has a thick, powerful build that the Cubs hope translates to power as he matures.  At 3B his biggest asset is a strong arm.  Another big money signing, Luis Acosta, was signed as a SS but few, if any, believe he will stay there.  Acosta may be a better pure hitter than Malave but he struggled mightily making contact in his debut. The stoutly build Ben Carhart and the versatile Tim Saunders hit much better than expected in their debut season.  We talked about Saunders earlier in the 2B article.  Carhart is less athletic and less versatile but may have the better long term bat.  More of a line drive hitter, he batted .353/.419/.456 at Rookie level AZ, though he was a bit old for the league at 22. Undrafted Jesse Hodges impressed some Cubs scouts during a tournament in Korea and shows some bat potential at the hot corner.  Greg Rohan isn't really considered a prospect but he is a productive minor league player and every once in a while, those guys can carry it to the majors, but the fact that Rohan was a very late bloomer (in Class A until age 26), really stacks the odds against him.

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  • John, how do you see the Iowa 3B situation playing out with Lake & Vitters playing there at the same time?

  • In reply to CubsML:

    I think they'll both move around but mostly it'll be Vitters at 3B and Lake at SS. In Lake's case it certainly adds to his value if he shows he can play there at least part-time. Once Vitters is promoted, I envision Lake playing 3B more often in preparation for what will probably be his big league position.

  • With some any top infield prospects, which ones whould you
    not want the Cubs to trade now. We need at least 1 more year
    to see who we can gamble on trading.

  • Ok. I've been dying to hear the answer to this question. I'm sure I might get clobbered in the process too. Why haven't they tried Soriano at 3rd? His offensive numbers sound like 3rd baseman. Defensively he can't be any worse Aramis Ramirez. He also used to be a 2nd baseman. This can also open up a spot for someone like speedster Tony Canpana. What do you guys think?

  • In reply to WillieG1:

    Aramis played a pretty good 3B for the Cubs, a lot better than quite a few who were before him and after Santo. Sori would be terrible at 3b, guaranteed. Besides, why do you want to open up a position for basically a designated base runner?

  • emartinezjr...I would say the only one close to being untouchable is Baez. I don't think I'd trade any of the others anyway because their value isn't exactly all that high.

    Willie G - Soriano is just a bad, bad infielder. He'll make A-Ram look like Brooks Robinson. Never had good hands even when he was younger and now age and bad knees eliminate basically any range he may have had in the past.

  • Villenueva sounds like a Mark DeRosa in his prime type. Does he make the Trixies scream too?

  • In reply to Eddie:

    I'll take the 2008 DeRosa and be thrilled. The 2006-07 versions wouldn't be too bad either.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    John
    I know this was tossed around when Villanueva was acquired, but does the organization or scouts feel can he play an everyday 2B?

  • In reply to Cub Fan Dan:

    I'm getting the feeling that they don't. For one TX tried him there last year at instructs, then he didn't play a single game once the season started. I'm guessing it didn't go well.

    The Cubs didn't send him to instructs to work on 2B either.

  • Sorry for the glitches in the website today, everyone!

  • Can't disagree with the list. Sans Baez, we have depth at 3rd, but we don't really have a star. Furthermore, it wouldn't surprise anyone if the last four names moved off 3rd.

    If Villanueva added some more pop, he might have that possibility, but as of right now ... is his offensive ceiling that much higher than Alcantara's?

    I had a tough time trying to figure out where to place Candelario in my Cubs Top 20. What he simply needs is time, time to learn, time to mature physically. Everything still looks excellent for him, albeit, whether or not he sticks at 3rd is debatable.

    At this juncture, I've got a dang tough time buying Vitters/Lake as potential 3rd base starters. Of the two, Vitters has the better chance. His defense is what it is. If he surprises and tightens it up tremendously, great. Doubtful, but great. Realistically, he's an average, at best, defender who needs the bat to play, average and power wise. Not sure it will, but here's hoping for egg on my face.

    There was some speculating on assignments above. First, I wouldn't necessarily rule out the Cubs from starting Junior Lake in Tennessee to start 2013. 2nd, I expect Lake to get looks in the OF, at SS, and at 3rd, wherever he is, and I expect Vitters to get some looks at other spots (namely, 1st) as well, so I think there's a way for all the guys to get PT.

  • In reply to toonsterwu:

    Vitters and Lake are fringe starting prospects right now. They may make it as stopgaps, but I'd be surprised if either wound up a long term starter, especially with the Cubs. I've been wanting Lake to try the OF for some time now to increase his versatility. I think it's his best shot at making it. Vitters, though, I don't think his bat really plays anywhere else, ,especially not 1st base. If he wants to be a starter, it may be 3B or bust for him.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Oh, don't get me wrong, I wasn't suggesting that Vitters bat would play elsewhere. I was just saying that, even if Lake/Vitters are at the same level, I expect both would get some time at 3rd ... and at other positions.

    I still wouldn't be all that surprised if Lake started in AA in some sort of super-util role (as, barring a stunner, Villanueva should be at AA, and same with Alcantara). A long way to go until Spring, and a lot could change.

  • In reply to toonsterwu:

    Oh, I understood you. I was more or less agreeing, but just adding that if Vitters changes positions, it's going to be tough for him. Could be an advantage for Lake. Lake could start in AA, but he's already been there for over a season and he didn't exactly fail there.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    The reason I wouldn't necessarily rule out Lake at AA is partly because of how AA/AAA/Majors look as it pertains to positional players. With Vitters at 3rd and Watkins likely filling a MI role, it wouldn't surprise me if they wanted a more veteran MI option there in case of an injury. Said veteran option could be Valbuena or Cardenas, or it could be a better veteran shortstop option (with Watkins getting PT at short ... this assumes Watkins is protected, which I guess isn't a lock, but sure seems a strong likelihood). I guess they could ponder him on a FT basis in the OF in AAA, but I don't know if I see that happening, (and the fact that Brett Jackson and perhaps a Tony Campana/Dave Sappelt takes up potentially 2 of 3 slots is a factor as it pertains to PT out there).

    Doesn't mean I can't see Lake starting in AAA, btw ... I could.

  • I agree John, outside of Baez, the rest are good but solid. Baez is the one guy who can be a star

  • In reply to Steve Flores:

    I think Candelario has a chance, though I don't know if it will be at 3B. Then you have to dig into the DSL to see guys with any kind of high ceiling.

  • Do u thinking Jeimer Candelario can try a diffrent position instead of 3rd or 1st, can he play catcher?

  • In reply to Domnk S:

    1B definitely...LF or RF maybe but catcher is a tough transition.

  • I'd like to see if Lake can pitch.

  • In reply to SFToby:

    I'm guessing he'd be a lot like Rafael Dolis.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    But not nearly as polished...

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Wouldn't surprise me if he has a livelier arm than Dolis. Sure looks like the ball moves a fair amount when he fires it (Lake that is). Granted, that's just an infield throw, and also, whether or not he could repeat mechanics, etceteras, is debatable.

    Sure seems like he's going to be given every chance to succeed (or fail) as a positional player. Maybe he ends up following Sergio Santos' path and moves to pitching in his mid-20's.

  • I'm not convinced that Candelario will wound up at 3rd base . If he does, he moves up to Baez as a 3rd base prospect. .

  • Another excellent list John. I look forward to a lot of first hand accounts on Candelario at Kane County. As you note, he's the one guy with star potential here, & it would be huge for the 18 year old to show that his defense could be at least average for a 3B. I love this prospect, believe in his bat big time, and am hoping he could open the door for a Baez move to 2B. A lot of time between now & 2016, but he's the guy here that I'll be watching closely all the way.

    Also, I'm curious to see how you're going to handle the OF spots.

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