Cubs prospect Logan Watkins might be a long shot for a major league job this year, but it doesn't mean he can't make a good impression this spring. In fact, he probably already has, scoring 670 in manager Dale Sveum's annual bunt tournament. Now I have to admit I don't follow the tournament, but I'm told that's an extremely high score. What's important here, though, is that he has Sveum's early attention this spring.
Watkins certainly caught the front office's eye last year when he was named the organization's Minor League Player of the Year. He's also considered to be the Cubs top 2B prospect by Baseball America.
But all of that may not even be half the battle. There's the issue of having a Gold Glove defender at 2B starting in Chicago right now in Darwin Barney. Despite Barney's weaknesses on offense, his defense is so good that his WAR last season of 2.5 is that of an average MLB regular. That may not seem insurmountable, but when you consider how few prospects actually make the majors at all, you realize that making it and becoming a league average starter is a pretty daunting task for any prospect.
Then, of course, there's the fact that Watkins has yet to play a single inning at the AAA level and while the Cubs have said there are always exceptions, they want all of their prospects to play a full year at that level. Anthony Rizzo did it as has Brett Jackson. Jackson is likely to open up the season at AAA again as he refines his new swing.
Even without that organizational philosophy, Watkins has been a level-to-level player anyway, so there's really no reason for that not to hold true again this season. If he were to jump to the majors this season both Oliver and ZiPS see him being similar on offense to Barney right now -- but Barney's defense puts him comfortably in front when you look at WAR. This is not to say Watkins isn't a good defender, but Barney is an elite 2B right now.
Logan Watkins: .243/.312/.347 line, .293 wOBA, 0.7 WAR
Darwin Barney: .267/.313/.357 line, .294 wOBA, 1.9 WAR
Logan Watkins: .245/.315/.354 line, .295 wOBA, 1.7 WAR
Darwin Barney: 270/.308/.360 line, .292 wOBA, 2.3 WAR
But that doesn't mean he can't make it difficult for the Cubs with a great spring. It doesn't mean he can't put himself on the short list and position himself for a call-up should the Cubs need an infielder later in the season.
Today he will lead off for the Cubs White Team in today's intrasquad game and get a chance to build on that first impression. There's a good chance he will -- one way or another. We can expect Watkins to grind out ABs, play good defense, run the bases well, and -- if given the opportunity - show how versatile a player he can be. Watkins can play 2B, but he also plays a solid CF, and can fill in at SS when needed. He's also played well in LF and RF -- and has the arm strength to play 3B. And he's going to do it all with an infectious, high energy style of play. Those kind of things are going to endear him to Sveum even if he goes 0-4 today.
It's hard to say what Watkins' future role will be with the Cubs. He could certainly challenge Barney for the starting 2B job in 2014 -- maybe even Brett Jackson and/or Matt Szczur for the CF job -- but even if he doesn't start right away, Watkins can still be a valuable member of the team. It isn't hard to envision Sveum placing high value in a lefty bat off the bench with speed, OBP skills, good defense, and the ability to play all over the field. He can do anything Joe Mather or Brent Lillibridge can do but the difference is he has the upside to be more -- to be a starting player who can potentially fill a long term hole in the Cubs leadoff spot.
It's that upside, however, that will likely keep him in AAA for the majority of 2013. You want him to get plenty of reps at that advanced level of competition -- and a good season will put him in prime position to compete for a job in 2014.
But that doesn't mean he won't force everyone to pay attention in 2013.