A little more than five years ago, Logan Watkins was more known as an all-state quarterback and defensive back at his high school in Goddard, KS. Most assumed he was going to Wichita State. Because of his athleticism, the 5'11, 170 lbs. Watkins was considered by many to be an intriguing prospect, but his baseball skills were still a little raw. In general, teams were willing to let him go to college to hone those skills rather than meet his reported bonus demands.
The Cubs liked him more than most however and they selected him in the 21st round, then surprised the baseball world by signing him to a bonus of $500,000 to lure him away from his strong commitment. They saw a diamond in the rough with the mental makeup to translate raw talent to productivity on the baseball field.
But don't get me wrong. He wasn't just some speedy ex-football player dabbling in an offseason hobby. Watkins is a legit prospect, not just an athlete playing baseball. One reason the Cubs thought he was worth the risk was his innate ability to make contact, something that then Cubs amateur scouting director Tim Wilken can spot as well as anyone in the game. It didn't take long for Watkins to prove Wilken right. After hitting .325 at Rookie Level Arizona after signing in 2008, Watkins duplicated his success at Boise with a line of .326/.389/.393. That immediately put him on the prospect radar and if you've read this blog regularly for the past couple of years, you know he's been there ever since.
Today, the 23 year old Watkins is playing in the Arizona Fall League, a springboard for many a big leaguer, and he's continuing to play like, well...Logan Watkins, though it is a version that is even better than the one that burst on the scene at Boise 4 years ago.
If there was a big question about Watkins as an amateur, it was whether he had the size and strength to be anything more than a singles hitter, and thus some saw his ceiling as a utility infielder. The Cubs, however, saw extra base potential in Watkins wiry frame and, combined with his work ethic, the thought was that he could continue to add strength as he matures physically. Watkins has done exactly that, attending a weight program in Arizona for the past 2 years. He will be there again this year.
The results so far have been extremely encouraging. Watkins has improved his ISO numbers every single year since he was drafted.
- AZ: .038
- Boise: .065
- Daytona: .123
- Tennesee: .141
So far in 6 games at Arizona, he has continued to improve those numbers with an ISO of .190. He slugged his way to a percentage of .422 at AA Tennessee last season, hitting 20 doubles, 11 triples, and 9 HRs. All but the triples were a career high.
The improvement is a tribute to Watkins mental makeup and intelligence. He knew exactly what he needed to improve and went immediately to work. What's more,Watkins understands the new regime and what they are looking for. He grinds out ABs, walking in 12.9% of his plate appearances (yet another career high) and put up an OBP of .383. While Watkins has improved his power, he knows his role will be to get on base and utilize his plus speed, a tool that he parlayed into 28 stolen bases in 35 attempts last season.
As far as his future holds, Watkins will be added to the 40 man roster and will start the season in AAA Iowa. The Cubs currently have Gold Glove winner Darwin Barney at 2B and they don't need to rush Watkins right now, but it won't be long before he'll start pushing Barney for that job. They are similar players but, with the Cubs rebuilding, they may decide that Watkins can offer similar production at a fraction of the cost. While he may not be the defender Barney is, he is a good 2B in his own right, possessing more natural range and a stronger arm than Barney, though he has yet to learn the same nuances of the position. Offensively, his speed and superior minor league power and OBP numbers provide the potential for an upgrade.
Even if Watkins manages to someday wrest the job from Barney, he won't be able to rest easy, not that anyone who knows him thinks he would anyway. The competition from Watkins is not just in front of him. It's behind him as well. The Cubs are stacked with 2Bs from Ronald Torreyes (AA in 2013) to Zeke DeVoss (Adv. A) to Gioskar Amaya and Stephen Bruno (A). That's not to mention potential position change candidates such as Marco Hernandez and Arismendy Alcantara.
Watkins has an advantage over all of those players, however. He has performed at the higher levels and has already proven he can improve as he moves up the ladder. That's what separates a player with potential from a major league ballplayer, something Logan Watkins will be in the very near future.