This is the 4th in a series of position-by-positional analysis of the Cubs organizational depth. Yesterday we covered one of the deepest positions (2B). Today it's a position in which the Cubs have a lot of depth, some top talent, yet no certain answers. It's one of the reasons you can't rule out the idea of the Cubs dealing for a long term solution such as Mike Olt.
Offensive outlook (Bill James' projections)
- Ian Stewart: .238/.327/.427 with 6 HRs, .189 ISO, and .317 wOBA
- Luis Valbuena: .253/.330/.402 with 7 HRs, .149 ISO, and .320 wOBA
- Josh Vitters: .251/.293/.411 with 15 HRs, .160 ISO, and .305 wOBA
Not much to choose from here as all project to be below average on offense, though Stewart and Valbuena figure to be above average on defense. We also have to take into account that Ian Stewart's projections are heavily affected by his last two seasons. Many think that those seasons were hampered by a lingering wrist injury. If that's the case and Stewart comes back strong, healthy, and gets his timing back then we could conceivably see something closer to the 2009/2010 Ian Stewart. That guy hit 44 HRs, though he was still not a middle of the order type guy. His wOBA (.337/.338) and RC+ were slightly below average.
Luis Valbuena could offer similar defense and on-base numbers to Stewart, though he doesn't have the same power potential. He'll be ready to step in and play should Stewart falter or get hurt again.
Either player's value could be enhanced in a platoon type role and the in-house RH candidate is Josh Vitters, though he's likely to start the year at AAA. By midseason, Vitters could find himself competing with another 3B prospect, Junior Lake, to get the call to Chicago. James likes Vitters power (15 HRs), but his OBP is a dreadful .293 and the wOBA mark of .305 is well below average.
If the Cubs go with Stewart or Valbuena, they'll get above average defense either way. Stewart has a lifetime UZR/150 of 3.2, including 9.4 last season. Valbuena has been even better, posting a career UZR/150 mark of 11.2 at 3B, including 6.7 last season. Vitters is a below average player on defense.
The Cubs don't have a lot of depth in the IF, as we talked about yesterday with the 2Bs. Spring invitee Edwin Maysonet could keep the defense respectable at 3B though he won't produce much on offense. We mentioned Brandon Inge as a possible RH 3B with some versatility. We can't forget Jeff Baker as well. He is a versatile player who hits lefties well and is still a FA.
Josh Vitters and Junior Lake will provide depth internally and will be a call away at Iowa.
As mentioned earlier, the Cubs could instead try to deal for a long term solution, as they did with Anthony Rizzo last offseason. Mike Olt is a name that has come up in the past, as is Nick Castellanos. Of the two, I prefer Olt, who is more athletic and possesses better plate discipline. He's also the better defender by far. It may take a healthy Matt Garza to pry him loose.
Most MLB ready prospect: Josh Vitters. Vitters had his best offensive season at Iowa where he put up a line of .304/.356/.517 with 17 HRs. He started slowly and will get a chance to repeat that league next season, at least half of it. Historically, Vitters has started slow when faced with the challenge of a new league and his start at Iowa and then Chicago were no exceptions. Next year he'll get his second go-round and the hope is that he's made the necessary adjustments. Defensively, you hope he'll be average.
Top MLB prospect: If you're looking strictly at 3B candidates, then the top prospect distinction goes to Christian Villanueva, who has solid tools across the board but doesn't stand out in one particular area. His greatest value may be on defense and if he can hit for a decent average (.270-.280) with 15-20 HR power, he can be an average to above average player there. If you're looking for a conversion candidate and a higher ceiling prospect, then Javier Baez is your guy, but we'll cover him in depth tomorrow when we look at the SS position.
Others to watch: Junior Lake is closing in on Vitters and may pass him next season. The two are different kinds of players with Vitters relying heavily on his bat and Lake relying on his athleticism to help him contribute in all areas of the game. Ultimately, Lake's chances may depend on his defense, his improving plate discipline, and whether he can develop the power to match his strong 6'4" frame.
Jeimer Candelario may end up being the best hitter in this bunch. He held his own as an 18 year old in SS Boise. The switch-hitter has quick wrists and a good feel for hitting. His strike zone discipline dropped off a little but the NWL is a pretty big leap from the DSL, so Candelario struggled to adjust early, but then seemed to regain his batting eye as the season wore on.
Also keep your eye on: Greg Rohan, Dustin Geiger, Ben Carhart, Jesse Hodges, Luis Acosta, Marck Malave