Cubs Position-by-Position Analysis: 2B

Cubs Position-by-Position Analysis: 2B

Hope everyone had a happy holiday!

I just spent two days completely away from my laptop and spent that time with family and friends.  It was nice, but after two days, I already miss baseball.

The Cubs figure to resume their shopping and they have one more roster spot to open up, so we should be getting some news here in late December/early January, but until that comes, it's time for the next in our series of examining organizational depth, position-by-position.  Today, it's one of the Cubs deepest positions...

Second Base

Offensive outlook (Bill James' projections)

  • Darwin Barney: .268/.311/.357 with 5 HRs, .089 ISO, and .295 wOBA

Right now, Barney is the unquestioned starter on the Cubs and will be the Cubs opening day 2B.  As far as backups go, that is yet to be determined, but we'll cover some more names in the depth and prospects section.  James predicts a slight uptick in Barney's numbers across the board.  As you may remember, Barney through the same offseason strength regimen that Tyler Colvin used to increase his stamina, and ultimately, his power numbers.  It really appeared to help with Barney's extra base power in spring training as well, but the Cubs 2B saw no improvement during the regular season as far as his slugging numbers,  which increased by just one point.  Meanwhile his batting average dropped over 20 points and his OBP by 14.  He is a well-below average offensive player, even with James' predicted improvement.  Barney, however, is not in the lineup for his bat.

Defensive outlook

Barney was the Cubs best defensive performer last year, even winning a Gold Glove, the first Cubs 2B to do so since Ryne Sandberg.  Barney makes up for a lack of elite athleticism with positioning and instincts.   Barney's UZR/150 was 15.1 and his runs saved total of 28 (per the Fielding Bible) was far and away better than the runner-up Dustin Pedroia (17) and Brandon Phillips (11).  Yet I heard this explained away by one expert as an average fielder who benefits from the Cubs superior defensive positioning.  While that deserves some credit, it's hard to believe the Cubs do this so much better than everyone else that they can take an average fielder and allow him to perform far and away better than the reputed best gloves in the game.  Barney deserves a lot of credit here.  He has more athleticism than he's given credit for, especially in regards to hand-eye coordination, soft hands, and some of the best instincts in the game.  His arm may be a little short for SS, but at 2B, it plays just fine.

Overall

Barney gives the Cubs a defensive asset at 2B that, along with an improving Starlin Castro, gives the Cubs one of the best DP combos in the game, something their revamped pitching staff will really benefit from this season.  His bat belongs in the 8th spot in the lineup, however.  Eventually the Cubs may want more production from that position, but for now Barney's defense lifts his overall value to that of a solid to above-average starter (2.5 WAR).  There is no need to replace him now on a team that is going to rely on pitching and defense, especially when Castro continues to benefit from playing next to him.

Depth/Outside help?

While some think the Cubs should "sell high" on Barney, I don't see that as an option right now, primarily because I believe that, despite the Gold Glove, this value is not inflated right now.  If anything, I think teams remain skeptical not just about his bat, but the glove as well (as noted by the expert mentioned above).  Right now, the Cubs are thin as far as infield depth.  The lone projected backup is Luis Valbuena, who is capable of filling in at 3B and SS as well as 2B.  If the Cubs were to move Barney, it's likely that Valbuena would take over and while he projects better offensively (.253/.330/.402), he is likely to be a significant dropoff on defense, even though Valbuena is a solid defender in his own right.  His strength, however, is at 3B.

Right now the rest of the utility depth are guys like Logan Watkins, who we'll talk about in the prospect section, and a guy signed to a minor league deals, Edwin Maysonet.  Maysonet can play all 3 IF positions and hits from the right side, which gives him an advantage to win a spot alongside the bench with the lefty hitting Valbuena.   Maysonet plays better on the left side of the IF, however.  As for his bat, he's a career .265/.308/.346 hitter. The Cubs also signed former Rangers utility IF, Alberto Gonzalez.  I don't see Gonzalez listed as having an invite to spring training, as Maysonet does, so he may be organizational depth for the team at Iowa this year.  Of all the Cubs depth candidates, he is easily the best defensively at the up-the-middle positions, but his bat pales in comparison even to this light-hitting crew.

With the Cubs having some questions at 3B and infield depth, this is an area where the Cubs could look to the outside for some additional help.  They pursued Jeff Keppinger but were outbid by the crosstown rival White Sox, who surprised the industry with a 3 yr/$12M deal.  There were rumors that the Cubs had interest in Yuniesky Betancourt, but those were quickly shot down.  He just doesn't seem to fit the Cubs profile either defensively or as a grinder at the plate.  One interesting, versatile option could be Brandon Inge, who could provide a RH bat to balance out the lineup, some power, and excellent defense at multiple positions.   While he won't hit for any kind of average, he does grind out walks and may provide enough help on a part-time basis.

Prospects

Most MLB Ready: Logan Watkins (.281/.383/.422, 9 HRs, 22 SBs) was the Cubs minor league player of the year. He's a grinder with some tools.  He'll play good defense, steal a base, and he gets on base both with his bat and his ability to draw walks.  He's not a big player, so power is never going to be his game, but he does continue to show improvement (his ISO has increased every year since turning pro) and could provide doubles/triples power with the ability to perhaps hit double digits in HRs.  If he doesn't become a starter, he could be an excellent utility player with ability to provide solid defense at 2B, SS, and CF.  Watkins is ticketed for AAA.  So far he has shown himself to be a one-level-at-a-time type of prospect, so I don't expect him to skip AAA, particularly because the Cubs prefer not to do that with any prospect.

Best prospect: Gioskar Amaya, though it's close.  Amaya, 20, edges out Watkins because he projects a bit better, but given everything that can happen between short-season ball and AA, the Cubs wouldn't be disappointed if he turned out a lot like Watkins himself.  Amaya is a good defender with some speed and gap power (.298/.381/.496, 15 SBs).  He has some HR power (8) to his pull side but it remains to be seen if that holds up at the higher levels.  Like Watkins, he isn't a big player, but he may be the better pure hitter and last year he showed tremendous improvement in his ability to grind out ABs and draw walks.

Others to watch:  As mentioned, this is a particularly deep position for the Cubs and they have several players who could challenge Barney and Watkins down the road.  Ronald Torreyes, 20, had a strong 2nd half (.297/.361/.450 after the AS break) at Class A Daytona after a horrific start.  He's an excellent contact hitter who squares up the ball with surprising regularity.  Torreyes actually walked more often than he struck out (6.8% to 6.1%).  He's listed at just 5'9" and even that might be a big stretch.  Defensively, he's average with good instincts in the field.  In a perfect world, the Cubs would let him start the year at Daytona, but nipping at his heels is another smallish 2B in Zeke DeVoss, so he may make yet another big jump to AA next year.

DeVoss, 22, is speedier with better plate discipline than Torreyes but he is not at the same level as a hitter.  The 5'10, 175 lb. speedster hit .249/.382/.370 at Peoria with 34 SBs.  DeVoss has the chance to be a better all-around player than Torreyes, but he has to hit more as he moves up.  He's not going to walk at a 14% rate forever, especially if he doesn't give pitchers to throw anything but strikes.  I expect DeVoss to bounce back somewhat with the bat this year as he had a big dropoff in BABIP, and while it wasn't atrocious, it was still low for a player of his speed given the level at which he played.  Defensively he has excellent range and a good arm, but he is still a little raw, and given the Cubs log jam at 2B, it wouldn't surprise me to see him play some more CF in the near future.  The move would increase his versatility and increase his odds of making it to the bigs, though his best bet as a starter would likely be to stick at 2B.

Stephen Bruno, 22, is yet another undersized, athletic infielder who has the versatility to play all over the field.  Bruno's bat ranks right up there with Amaya's and he actually outhit him at Boise with a .357 batting average.  Bruno is a couple years older however and doesn't walk as much, partly because he makes contact so easily.  We may see Bruno jump a level to advanced A Daytona, though that may make the logjam even worse.  His versatility, however, should allow him to share time with DeVoss and maybe even Torreyes at that level if it becomes necessary.

Others: Tim Saunders, Daniel Lockhart, David Bote

Comments

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  • It wouldn't surprise me to see some players (shortstops) slide into this position. I agree with you that Barney, even if he was traded, would not bring back much in return. However, I could see Dale Sveum's favorite (Junior Lake) slide across the bag, or any other position but first base, in the next year. I tend to think, that versatility is the kind of value the Cubs are wanting to develop.

  • In reply to historyrat:

    Absolutely...but I'll probably just keep those prospects in the SS slot for now. However, I'm not sold on Lake at 2B, or really in the IF full time. I think eventually he's an OF or a supersub who plays IF on occasion. He's huge for a 2B, somewhere around 6'4" and it's wasting his best tool, which is his throwing arm.

    I also look for Lake to start at AAA.

  • John,

    None of the guys you mentioned seemed to be capable of hitting homers. Since we project so weak at 3rd base, I was hoping we could pick up the slack at 2B.. After reading your analysis of the guys comin' up, I guess we just grind with Barney and wait for Baez. Is that the way YOU see it???

  • In reply to rakmessiah:

    Baez at 2B is a possibility, though I'm not sure it's one the Cubs prefer because of the physical demands of the position and because he's not able to utilize that great arm. None of the other good 3B prospects: Villanueva, Candelario, Lake, etc. project well at 2B, in my opinion. Villanueva played there at instructs 2 years ago, but that experiment appears to be on the shelf for now.

    Right now, I was just focusing on guys who play the position now. The list could get enormously long if I consider position change candidates, especially this early on in their careers.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I don't believe Baez will end up at 2nd or 3rd. I read somewhere that he enjoys being in the middle of the infield because he feels more connected to the other infielders and enjoys the chatter. This was a reason given for his high amount of errors at third during the AFL. I believe he'll end up at short, with Castro sliding over to 2nd. Its for this reason I don't think he'll prosper in the outfield. Some players profile better at a position mentally than physically. Tulowitzki isn't a prototypical SS either, but seems to play it ok.

  • In reply to SFToby:

    That's something I've pondered about as well. I like Baez's instincts and leadership potential at such a key position. If he can retain his quickness as he matures physically, he has a shot to stick there and while he isn't as fluid as Castro out there, he can make up for it with those intangibles. Luckily, there's a couple of years before the Cubs know how to best make them fit together. If Baez can stick, Castro may move to 2B -- or he may develop the bat to move to 3B.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    While he isn't as smooth as Castro, I'll bet he could make a lot more of the routine plays that Castro seems to have problems with.

  • In reply to SFToby:

    I've seen Baez enough now to know that right now that, unless he improves significantly, that will not be the case. And because his natural ability there isn't on par with Castro, I don't think he'll make as many of the more difficult plays either, so he really has to make less errors, better intangibles, etc. In the end, you want guys who make the most plays overall. Right now, that's Castro.

  • I think Amaya is the guy I want to see, he has the highest ceiling. I really have the feeling this coming season will be a breakout year for him. Baez , i'm thinking more and more he's a 3rd baseman

  • In reply to Steve Flores:

    Amaya probably has that highest ceiling among current 2Bs. We'll have to see how Baez matures physically before projecting him at 2B. Many think he'll be too big to profile there.

  • I've got high hopes for Torreyes. I was really disappointed in his 1st half last year, but watching that average tick higher and higher every week in the 2nd half was fun to watch. If he can put together a full season, watch out!

  • In reply to Ratmoss:

    Strong 2nd half was nice and bodes well for him going into 2013. I'm curious as to what their plan is because if they want to give him more time before making what is perhaps the biggest jump in professional baseball (the one up to AA), they'd have a real logjam at 2B at Daytona. Bruno can probably play at that level, DeVoss is ready to move up to Daytona with Amaya going up to Kane County. I don't think they're all going to stay at 2B for much longer. Torreyes seems like the guy who's most locked in at that position for now.

  • Interesting stuff on the "others to watch" piece. Just curious, but did you happen to compile a list of player(s) that the Cubs lost in the Rule 5 Draft?

  • In reply to lokeey:

    You mean for this year? I just listed them at the time of the draft. Starling Peralta is the only one to really worry about as far as high ceiling. They lost OF Michael Burgess, IF Matt Cerda, and RP Alvido Jimenez in the minor league portion. I like Cerda as a possible utility guy down the road if he can hit. Burgess stopped selling out for power, hit for a better average, but also didn't hit as many HRs as you want from a corner OF'er. Jimenez not a top prospect and so, so far away anyway.

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    Nice article John. It looks like we have more prospects than places for them to play. How would you slot them?

    AAA = Watkins
    AA = Amaya
    High A = Bruno?
    A = Torreyes
    Low A = ??

  • In reply to Chuck Coletta:

    Thanks!

    Don't forget DeVoss. It may shake down like this...

    AAA - Watkins
    AA - Torreyes
    A+ - DeVoss
    A - Bruno (since he's also learning to catch, Cubs may be conservative with his promotion)

    Tim Saunders may have to squeeze in somewhere too. He and Bruno are very versatile, so I expect them to move around. Maybe DeVoss gets some OF time too, as he played CF at U of Miami and also at AZ/Boise.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    I'm confused. Where is Amaya?

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Oversight. Meant Amaya at A ball with Bruno moving around like he did at Boise.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Who's is on First....

    What is at Second....

    I Don't Know on Third

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    I too like Torreyes, though some might think 20 is a little young for AA. I suppose if he can hold his own, it will be a good sign.

    Saunders came out of nowhere last year to post a good season; hard to tell if that's flukey, or if he's reached his ceiling already

    Next article is probably SS....2B and SS are probably our greatest areas of organizational depth.

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    In reply to Zonk:

    That's actually why Torreyes is my favorite of the minor leaguers. Same age as Amaya -- but had his season two levels higher. If he can hit at AA, we'll really have something.

    Although, to be honest, I'm starting to wonder if Marco Hernandez is the second baseman of the future.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    From a scouting standpoint, Torreyes has one tool that stands out, though he's a better fielder/runner than someone like Vitters, so I wouldn't call him a "one-tool guy". He has to hit for a high average, though, to make it because he won't walk a lot or hit for too much power and his defense is average. I like Amaya's ability to contribute in all phases of the game and supplement his good hit tool with walks.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    I hear you. And I actually don't disagree with that assessment. I just wonder, when all is said and done and they're 25-year olds facing major league pitcher, does Torreyes hit tool outdo Amaya's hit tool+walkers. Given what he's done against guys so much older then him, I think it easily could. Also, while he'll never be a home run hitter, he put up pretty respectable slugging numbers (.523 and .471) in June and July based on doubles.

    But, defense clearly counts with this team -- that's actually where my Hernandez theory comes from -- and Torreyes might be more valuable to Team Theo by putting up Jose Altuve-like numbers for a season, and then getting flipped to clear the runway.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Possibly, but will it outweigh Amaya's better defense, speed, and power potential? I also think Amaya has more room to grow with hitting, so I don't think it's necessarily true that they're going to advance on a linear basis from their respective current levels.

    Any one of these guys could end up the guy at 2B or it could be a position switch guy. Too early to tell. If Torreyes hit tool keeps advancing to the point where's he's something like Jose Altuve, then that could be enough for him to get that starting job.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    Brett was the one that pointed this out last year, and I think it's a great stat:

    Not only did Torreyes have more walks than strikeouts last year, he had more extra base hits than strikeouts (34 vs. 29). And he did that much younger than the competition. For easy comparison, Gioskar was 27 to 65. Although -- and this is a big plus to Gioskar -- 12 of those 27 were triples. As opposed to only 5 for Torreyes.

    I wouldn't at all be surprised for your view of Amaya being the best to be how this plays out -- he's an outstanding all-around player -- but I am just crazy in-love with Torreyes hit tool.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Numbers at the A ball level don't tell you much about projection to the majors, which is why you don't see me use that as a foundation to project their viability at higher levels. We know Torreyes is a good contact hitter, we also know his size limits how much those numbers will translate as he moves up the ladder. Altuve is the exception more than the rule.

  • In reply to Zonk:

    FYI next article is for 3B. Just following the defensive scoring position numbers...

    Saunders is grindy with some athleticism. I think he has a good shot to make it to the majors, but I want to see him hit again next year before I think he'll be something more than a utility guy.

    Torreyes is a big decision. Ideally they'd like to keep him at Daytona for a 1/2 year or so. The Cubs depth doesn't make that easy. You can't hold DeVoss at 2B because Amaya and Bruno are ready to move up to A ball. It may depend on how he looks this spring. Torreyes isn't all that versatile, but he can play some SS, so maybe the Cubs can work it out where he and DeVoss move around a bit.

  • Best second baseman I ever saw played was Joe Morgan......watched Rennie Stennet collect 7 hits against the Cubs in a game.......

    Cubs passed on Tommy Herr in a Sutter trade and opt on Ty Waller......

    Bowa & Cash were a smooth duo....Lopes & Russell was another good pair......

    Best glove guy was Bobby Grich....

    and Sandberg started out at third base with the Cubs.

    Whitaker was under-rated......if he played in NY, he would be a HOF by now.

    Biggio will be a HOF.......and he started out as a catcher.

  • Thank goodness for another Cubs Den post! It gets pretty boring at the in laws!

    I wish that Barney could improve his average and OBP a bit, but I think we've already seen the player he will be. A good defender, but with a weak bat. I like him for his attitude and defense, but don't really see him as a key piece long term. That being said, I don't think he has much value in a trade, and can play a role, even if it is as a backup middle infielder. John, in your opinion, what is the likelihood that one of these 2B prospects can unseat Barney, or will they have to realistically look outside the organization to fill the spot? I see that you think it as unlikely that Villanueva or Baez move across the infield.

  • In reply to TheSinisterUrge:

    Haha! Thanks. I always have a good time at the in-laws, actually. I'm one of the few, I suppose.

    I think it's very realistic that Watkins can challenge him soon, possibly by the end of the year depending on how their respective seasons go. Barney could end up as trade bait but given how he consistently seems to beat the odds and prove the naysayers wrong, I'm not going to bet against him holding the young 2Bs off for a while.

  • In reply to TheSinisterUrge:

    You might be right, about Barney having showed all he's got offensively. But I disagree with your comment that he's a good defender. Barnet is a GREAT defender. Best in the NL and that's something he won't lose. So no one should discount his value and what he brings based on defense alone.

    And beyond that, I seem to recall he was hitting for very high average the first couple of months of last season. He hit .276 in 2011 and he increased his walks by 50% last season. So I think he can improve significantly, especially given his amazing work ethic. No reason he can't hit .290 or better. I'm really looking forward to him continuing to develop into an All Star. No way I'd give up on him.

  • Think about some of the 'stiffs" we had playing at second base for the Cubs.......

    Mike Tyson
    Jeff Blauser
    Steve Dillard
    Junior Kennedy
    Ted Sizemore
    Joe Strain

  • Royals pitcher Luke Hochevar could be let go ......I like to see the Cubs jump on this guy.....Royals might wait all the way to the end of Spring Training to get some type of deal.

  • In reply to CubsTalk:

    Hochevar has been kind of an enigma for KC. Always seems to have great pitching 'stuff',... never seems to be able to put it all together though. Seems more of a problem in his 'head' than his arm.

    Kind of like Grienke a bit in that regard with a lower upside. Although Grienke finally get his head together now and can be brilliant.

    Hochevar on the Cubs might be interesting if the price were right. A change of scenery (and a change to the NL) might do him good.

  • In reply to CubsTalk:

    If the Cubs feel at some point this spring that their SPs aren't ready, maybe. I think SPs are pretty low on the list right now, though.

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    I am glad you mentioned Brandon Inge. I was just reading about the remaining free agents ranked by iso and I saw Inge's name and wondered why the Cubs had not pursued him yet. They could definitely use his power in the line up, and he can be in the equation at 3B as well if Stewart can't hit.

  • In reply to Mike Mayberry:

    I think he's more for 3B but I listed him as a general utilty player here. He can also play the OF and still catch in a pinch. He is a terrible hitter, though, so I'm not sure I want him playing on a regular basis.

  • I have said this before and guess this an appriate time to say it again. Barney is exactly the kind of player that provides the glue defensively and leadership that championship teams possess. Also he the type of hitter that fits well in the 8th spot role. His intangibles outwieght his weak offesive numbers in my opinion.

  • In reply to 44slug:

    He's definitely a guy who you like to have on your team. I agree with you about his defense, intangibles, leadership. The tough question for the Cubs will become whether it's worth it to keep him as his salary rises when you have young guys to replace or even surpass his on the field production -- and possibly use Barney to acquire help at another position.

  • Inge might be a good add.

  • Might fit nicely. Versatility helps

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Not sure which teams might be interested, but if Inge looks at the Cubs he might see that he could get plenty of playing time.

  • Agreed. He could see opportunities at multiple positions.

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    Ideally, in the short term, I think I would like to see Logan Watkins play well enough in Iowa to force the front office to rethink second base.

  • A good year by Watkins would give the Cubs some real flexibility at 2B for 2014, or even late 2013.

  • On a lighter note, we can be heartened that the Cubs always seem to have a surplus of two things: 1) Infielders under 5',10" and 2) Infielders with awesome names like Darwin, Zeke and Gioskar.

  • In reply to Dan Bradley:

    Excellent point :) Maybe Arismendy Alcantara will wind up at 2B as well.

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