You know it's getting tantalizingly close when this front office starts talking about position changes for prospects. They like to keep players at their "natural" positions for as long as possible -- especially when that position is a premium one like shortstop.
Today, according to Jesse Rogers of ESPN, Javier Baez will play both 2B and 3B this spring but they seem to be leaning toward 2B because that would be an easier transition for him.
I did see Baez play 3B in the AZ Fall League last year and he did struggle, but to be fair, he struggled at SS too, so that's probably not very meaningful.
I like the idea of Baez at 2B because he is such an energetic, instinctual player and the up-the-middle positions require more play-to-play involvement than 3B.
There is also the obvious issue of a lack of offensive production from Cubs current 2B, Darwin Barney. Even with his usual great defense, Barney's offense has siphoned much of his overall value. He's barely above replacement level this season even with another Gold Glove quality season at 2B.
You've seen me argue on behalf of not replacing Barney with Logan Watkins. I believe there is a substantial gap between how fans see Watkins' long term potential and the way the front office does. I don't see a change being made because the potential for upgrade is too small to warrant displacing a well-respected veteran.
I have no such qualms about replacing Barney with Baez. Baez is a pretty solid defensive SS and it's reasonable to assume he'll be as good or better at 2B. It will be a downgrade, but there is no question that Baez can more than make up that value with offense.
The move is also least disruptive as far as the Cubs current and projected lineups. The Cubs have a 23 year old SS in Castro and they have depth at 3B, starting with Mike Olt, who I believe will get the first shot at the job. Kris Bryant and Christian Villanueva aren't too far behind.
And if Baez produces at anything like we think he can, that does take some of the pressure off of production from Castro and whoever plays 3B (especially if it's Olt or Villanueva). The Cubs would get corner player power from a position usually reserved for lesser hitters.
While Baez will play 2B and 3B this spring, he will start at SS in Iowa while Arismendy Alcantara and/or Logan Watkins presumably plays 2B. The potential move of Baez to 2B does affect Alcantara, who himself is a highly regarded prospect, though not at the level of Baez. Alcantara becomes depth at 2B and he's also athletic enough with a strong enough arm to play CF. The guess is that if Watkins goes to AAA as well in 2014, he'll move around in preparation for a utility type role in the majors.
However, it shakes out, it's nice to see the Cubs making tough decisions they never had to consider just 3 years ago.