Second base has drawn a lot of attention lately. Part of it is due to the frustration with Darwin Barney's offense, but it also has partly to do with the emergence of some pretty good minor league depth at the position. We will only talk about the guys who are primarily 2Bs today, but there is also depth at SS, and some of them could slide over if no solution arises from the 2B prospect pool.
We are also using this position as more of a catch-all for utility prospects, of which the Cubs have several at the up-the-middle infield positions. As always, this is not an exhaustive list and that's not to say there aren't other players with a chance, but these are the players that are further up the depth chart right now in terms of level and/or upside.
Current Cubs starter
Darwin Barney, 27, Chicago (MLB)
.211/.258/.320; wOBA .251; RC+ 51
Barney has had a nightmarish year at the plate, hitting just and the clamoring has begun for his replacement. While Barney is never in the lineup for his offense, this level of production is hard to carry in any offense. Like all stats, you have to be careful not to get wrapped up in any snapshot photo as the defining moment of value on a player. Many of Barney's peripherals are the same and a dismal .224 BABIP has played a role in his poor season. Part of that low BABIP may be from Barney himself, who is hitting more fly balls this season, something he can't really afford to do with his lack of natural power. At his best Barney likes to go the opposite way and shoot line drives and gaps through the right side. Even at his best, however, Barney is a .260-ish hitter with little power, mediocre OBP skills, and average speed on the bases. He is in for his stellar defense and while it isn't up to the historic standards he set last season, Barney is still an elite 2B. His UZR/150 is at 15.5, not far off from the 17.2 mark he put up last year, so we are still talking about a tremendous asset for a team that teaches it's pitchers to pound the lower part of the strike zone and induce groundball contact. But Barney does have to hit better to be able to hold off the incoming wave of 2B prospects.
Arismendy Alcantara, 21, Tennessee (AA)
.269/.345/.441, wOBA: .356, RC+: 125
We've had our eye on the quick-twitched, live bodied Alcantara for a while now but he's surpassed my expectations as a hitter so far. As a hitter he has quick hands and strong wrists and makes easy hard contact consistently. As he continues to mature physically, much more of those hits are going for extra bases and some are even leaving the yard. His 13 HRs are more HRs than he's had in the rest of his career combined and his ISO is at a very solid .173 for a middle infielder. Another facet of Alcantara's game that has developed is plate discipline. Alcantara has nearly doubled his walk rate from last season -- from 5.3% to an even 10% this season. It's actually a process he started last year and it began to show up in July last season at Daytona, but an injury cut his season short. Getting on base makes Alcantara all the more dangerous because of his plus speed, something he has used to steal 26 bases in 29 attempts. Alcantara is a hard worker with strong instincts for the game -- two traits that have helped him to learn a new approach quickly while seamlessly adapting and adjusting to each level. There are a couple questions Alcantara needs to answer. The first is defense where Alcantara has great range and a strong arm (it was voted the strongest infield by Southern League managers in Baseball America's Best Tools survey), but he tends to get sloppy with his footwork and rush throws. That problem should be abated somewhat with the transition to 2B, but Alcantara needs to continue to slow the game down before he's ready for the big leagues defensively. He also needs more reps as a RH hitter, a side from which he's only hitting .228/.307/.342. When he improves on those two things, he will be a dynamic offensive player with a solid glove at 2B.
Other Prospects of Note:
Gioskar Amaya, 20, Kane County (A)
.269/.344/.399, wOBA: .344, RC+ 110
Amaya is an intelligent, instinctive player with a quick bat that sprays line drives from gap to gap with occasional power to his pull side. He's a natural hitter who is learning plate discipline despite being one of the young players at each level he's been assigned. His walk rate is a respectable 8.4% this year. Amaya doesn't stand out in anyone area, nor is he going to wow you from a physical standpoint, but he's a good athlete with solid tools across the board. He runs fairly well (13 SBs) and he's a good defender with good range at 2B. He needs a little polish defensively and he'll learn to finish plays better with experience, but he has shown flashes of being a plus defender down the road. The upside isn't as high as it is with Alcantara, but Amaya is just as good a bet to keep succeeding as he moves up the minor league ladder. His ceiling is a solid starting 2B in the big leagues.
Logan Watkins, 23, Chicago (MLB)/Iowa (AAA)
.243/.333/.379. wOBA: .324, RC+ 89
Watkins is the current understudy to starter Darwin Barney and he's getting a taste of MLB life while Luis Valbuena is on the shelf. He's likely to return to AAA if and when Valbuena returns in August but Watkins will be up in September regardless. Watkins is another athletic player but he's more of a grinder and not as fluid as the two players above him on this list. Like Barney, he has struggled with the bat this year at Iowa despite playing in the hitter friendly PCL but when he's right, Watkins is a line drive hitter with surprising pop for a player his size. He has filled out physically and doesn't run as well as he did at the lower levels, but he is still an above average runner. Defensively he can make all the plays and projects as an above average defender in the big leagues, though not at the level of Barney -- but, of course, very few are. Watkins won't hit for high average but he has the plate discipline to supplement his OBP with walks. One pattern with Watkins is that he has struggled a bit early at each level, which may be part of the reason the Cubs are giving him an early taste of the big leagues. I don't know if he can overtake Barney by Opening Day next season but if Barney continues to struggle on offense, it's not hard to envision Watkins beginning to steal some ABs as the year goes on. He'll have to impress quickly, however, if he gets the chance. Alcantara is right on his heels and will likely start the year at AAA next year. One scenario is the two splitting time at 2B next season as both are smaller-framed, high energy players who could wear down over the course of a long season as everyday players.
Stephen Bruno, 22, Daytona (A+)
.362/.436/.478. wOBA .424; RC+ 166 (78 PAs)
Bruno is a natural, instinctive hitter who hits line drives and makes contact very easily. He was picking up right where he left off in Boise where he put up very similar numbers as the ones above over the course of the short season. Bruno suffered a UCL injury and required Tommy John surgery and may not make it back this season, but he'll be ready to go next season where I assume he'll repeat the FSL. In addition to being a good hitter, Bruno is an underrated athlete with good instincts who can play all over the baseball field and was even briefly tried at catcher last fall. If he can remain healthy, he's a good bet to move up through the ranks and get to the big leagues in some capacity.
Tim Saunders, 23, Daytona (A+)
.226/.316/.321; wOBA .304; RC+ 86
Saunders was a surprise last season as a 32nd round pick out of Marrieta College, a small school in Ohio. He's an athletic player with good speed that can play at a number of up the middle positions. He started off well then sustained an injury running into the CF wall and never quite recovered. He has been out again recently and his season has been limited to 226 PAs. When healthy, Saunders is a line drive hitter with an improving approach at the plate. The ceiling for his future role is that of a utility player who can play SS, 2B, 3B, and CF and offer some speed and a decent stick off the bench. His mental makeup is off-the-charts and I think we'll see him rebound next season.
Wes Darvill, 22, Daytona (A+)
.244/.331/.385; wOBA 332; RC+ 104
All the injuries at Daytona have given Darvill an opportunity and he is starting to take advantage of it. Drafted as a gangly 17 year old in 2009, Darvill has seemingly been around forever but hasn't come close to fulfilling the promise that the Cubs scouting staff saw in him. He has filled out and is closer to 190 than his listed weight of 175 and has shown flashes of being the kind of player the Cubs envisioned early on, but he's been inconsistent. He's another athletic player capable of playing multiple positions but has the size to perhaps have a bit more pop than the previous two players on this list.
Daniel Lockhart, 20, Boise (A-)
.303/.356/.333; wOBA 336; RC+ 109
You should start to see a pattern here as Lockhart is yet another athletic player with strong makeup/instincts who can play multiple positions on the field. It's the type of player the Cubs scout well and often draft in the mid to late rounds. Lockhart has a nice line drive stroke and makes contact easily. He has a decent approach but he's aggressive in the strike zone and makes contact easily, which may be part of the reason his walk rate is a bit low for now (6.6%). Lockhart is the son of former MLB player Keith Lockhart and it shows up in his instincts and feel for the game. The Cubs thought enough of Lockhart to give him brief taste at Iowa when a shortage of middle infielders arose and Lockhart more than held his own, getting 4 hits in 9 ABs.
David Bote, 20, Boise (A-)
.239/.323/.371; wOBA .334; RC+ 107
Another kid with athleticism, strong mental makeup, and versatility on defense, it's difficult to say that Bote can play 2B on an everyday basis, he had some issues with errors in the infield and has been playing more OF of late, but he definitely qualifies as a guy who projects as a utility type player. Bote has solid plate discipline and isn't the biggest guy but he's shown some surprising pop at Boise with 5 HRs and an ISO of .132. That kind of offense isn't going to play in the OF, but if Bote can play some 2B and 3B as well, the combo of versatility, patience and pop give him a chance to move up the ladder.
Frandy De La Rosa, 17, DSL
De La Rosa has not played much this year and I don't know if that is because of injury or that the Cubs decided to hold him back after he struggled early. He is a switch-hitting infielder who has a polished swing and he can square up the baseball consistently, often making hard contact. It's been a struggle so far in his first season but the Cubs also liked De La Rosa's strong mental makeup, so he should be able to adjust in time. He's not going to stick at SS because his arm strength is fringy, but 2B is a possibility and he should have the bat to carry the position.
Filed under: 2013 position-by-position depth charts