First off, congrats to Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and Frank Thomas for their election to the Hall of Fame. All three are worthy choices though I think there are at least 10 more who deserve enshrinement.
Now on to the Cubs article of the day...
Yesterday we combined the LF and CF previews because there is some fluidity there as to who will play each position between Ryan Sweeney and Junior Lake. There is also some bleed over into RF, so for this piece you may have to reference that particular article if you haven't already read it. I considered doing the OF in one big group but the sheer list of names quickly made it apparent that such a piece would become unwieldy.
So, I slightly modified my article from what I had originally intended. Instead of calling this strictly RF, I went with RF/CF as I did with LF/CF. Think of it as covering both the left-center field and right-center field gaps. Once again we have corner outfielders who are also capable of playing CF. And, of course, most RF'ers can play LF too, so think of these players as pretty versatile on defense.
So here we go with the RF-CF preview, but keep in mind that some of the names in the LF-CF are also a factor here.
I don't want to get too much into RF because I covered the potential Nate Schierholtz-Justin Ruggiano platoon in depth about 3 weeks ago. Both players are capable defenders who have pronounced platoon splits over their careers and if anything, the trend is moving even further in that direction. I think this platoon is a lock and has the potential to be a productive one for the Cubs. Shieriano Ruggholtz should be a middle of the order bat on this team capable of hitting 30 HRs combined to go with good defense and acceptable OBP numbers. The combo won't produce a star player, but it should provide value, power, and a solid stop-gap solution until the prospects are ready.
Ruggiano has additional value in that he can play a passable CF, though you probably don't want him starting there on a full-time basis. If that happens, we can be sure the Cub got bit by both the injury and regression bugs, so that won't be a good thing. Still, it's good to have a solid , esperienced insurance policy like Ruggiano just in case it does.
MLB players vying for a role
All of the candidates we mentioned in this portion yesterday apply here as well. Casper Wells, Aaron Cunningham, and Darnell McDonald are all capable of playing a solid defensive RF if need be. But there are a couple of others I haven't mentioned yet.
Maier is a LH hitter who can man all 3 OF positions defensively. He has 360 games under his belt and a career line of .248/.327/.344. Because he's entering his age 31 season and will turn 32 mid-season, we can be pretty sure that this is the player Maier is right now. This is not an upside play. He is who he is at this point and that is a 5th OF'er who can fill in occasionally at any position against both righties and lefties. Oddly enough, Maier has a reverse platoon split in his career with an OPS of .708 vs. LHP and .658 vs. RHP with the significant difference being that he slugs better vs. lefties.
As a veteran player who would likely be a sparingly used 5th OF'er rather than a platoon player, I think he is good competition for Darnell McDonald should the Cubs decide that Ryan Sweeney will be a full-time player in the OF. Maier knows his role and could add value in that he can defend all 3 OF positions adequately and provide solid OBP numbers when he does start.
Neal's chances took a big hit when the Cubs acquired Justin Ruggiano, Casper Wells, and Aaron Cunningham this offseason. He is most similar to Cunningham and perhaps Josh Vitters, in that he is still young (Neal is 26) and was a very good hitter in the minors who didn't hit for much power. The difference is that Cunningham has the better approach and at this point, he's the better defender than Neal (or Vitters, for that matter), especially with injuries robbing Neal of his arm strength.
It will be a battle for Neal to get even a spot in the organization. I see his primary competition for a job to be both Cunningham and Vitters, but Neal's relative youth and history of success in the minors gives him a shot to stick around. His best opportunity may come if the Cubs decide they need the 40 man roster spot and deal Vitters, figuring they have a similar player in the organization in Neal who doesn't take up a 40 man roster spot at this point.
Down on the Farm
Again, many of the names from yesterday's list apply here. Brett Jackson, Matt Szczur, and Jae-Hoon Ha are capable of competently defending all 3 OF positions. Additionally, Kris Bryant and Jorge Soler have enough athleticism and arm strength to play RF, who many consider the tougher of the two OF corners. Josh Vitters may be able to do it as well. He does have enough arm to make all the necessary throws.
Since I won't go into those players again, I want to focus on a couple of different players for this section who I think profile well as right fielders...
Kalish was once the 5th rated prospect per Baseball America and 4th per Baseball Prospectus (right between Josh Reddick and Anthony Rizzo) in a strong Red Sox farm system. Back then Kevin Goldstein felt Kalish had the potential to be a .280 to .300 hitter and a power/speed combo that could yield 20/20 seasons. He considered him to have star potential if he could stay in CF.
Those questions about staying in CF have only increased since then. Kalish has suffered through numerous injuries and age has filled him out physically. At this point, he's probably a corner OF'er but he is still a good athlete capable of playing the more demanding RF position.
The power numbers, however, will likely be short of what you ideally prefer in an OF corner, so Kalish will have to add to this offensive value by getting on base and thankfully, he does have a good approach at the plate that should allow him to supplement his batting average with a fair amount of walks.
As long as he has retained his good athleticism, and the word is that he has, then Kalish can also add value by being a superior defender. He may not be an ideal fit in a corner, but if he is fully healthy and plays up to his ability, he can still be better than average.
Kalish is probably my favorite under-the-radar signing in an offseason that has featured nothing but under-the-radar signings so far. It's no risk, as he's on a minor league deal and doesn't even take up a 40 man roster spot, but the reward potential is an average to above average long term corner OFer. The fact that he does it from the left side makes him even more valuable to an organization that is loaded with RH hitting prospects.
Kalish will turn 26 before the opener this year so he's just about to enter his prime. We could see him manning RF full time by 2015, when he'll be entering his age 27 season. If the Cubs trade Schierholtz at the deadline, a distinct possibility as a soon to be 30 year old entering the last year on his contract, it could come even sooner than that.
Silva is a long shot to make the majors in 2014 but he should start the year in AAA after spending all of 2013 and part of 2012 in Tennessee. the 24 year old Silva is a LH hitter with intriguing raw tools. But he could potentially sabotage his solid hit tool because of an extremely aggressive approach at the plate.
He makes hard contact and has the good speed to leg out hits, though that speed doesn't translate well to stealing bases. It does translate, however, when he plays the OF, where Silva is an excellent defender with perhaps the best pure OF arm strength in the minors. He can play all 3 OF positions well and provide some occasional pop to go with his above average raw speed.
I think he can provide the same basic skill set as Jackson but is the better hitter right now despite BJax's better approach. The high energy, quick-twitched Silva may be best suited for coming off the bench to provide an occasional spark. I do not see him as a starter because I think he will be exposed with significant playing time. In my opinion, he'll be better off as a pinch-hitter, defensive replacement, and occasional starter providing you match him up against pitchers who aren't as capable of exploiting his aggression.
Filed under: position by position analysis