Cubs prospects Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Albert Almora, and Mike Olt have all impressed so far this spring. Additionally the Cubs have Jorge Soler, who hasn't set the world on fire, but he has still impressed manager Rick Renteria. Then, of course, you have core pieces like Starlin Castro and Welington Castillo.
If you haven't seen the pattern yet, you'll note that they are all RH hitters. Anthony Rizzo is the only LH hitter who is penciled in the lineup for the next few years. While that's not a huge concern, most managers prefer to have some balance. At the risk of looking too far ahead, I thought it might be a good idea to take a look at some options.
Having just turned 30, Schierholtz probably isn't a long term option for the Cubs and he's pretty much cemented in as a platoon player at this stage in his career. Still, Schierholtz showed he could be a real threat against RHPs, hitting 20 HRs in 439 PAs and slugging just a tick under .500. While the Cubs would likely prefer a younger, full-time player, Schierholtz could end up being a late bloomer and bridge the gap until a long term solution can be found.
Sweeney is just a year younger than Schierholtz but could also be a late bloomer. He also showed well vs. LHP in limited play and has better potential to be a full time player. He also adds value in that he is a solid runner and can play CF. What Sweeney has lacked despite his good size is HR power. There were glimpses of it last season and perhaps if he can be a 20 HR guy with an average OBP or better, he can fill that void as the young RH hitters begin to populate the lineup over the next few years. Statistical projections, however, aren't so optimistic, so Sweeney will have to continue to improve and refine his skills.
Near MLB ready minor league options
An interesting wildcard, he was once frequently mentioned along with Josh Reddick as 2/3 of the future Red Sox outfield. Reddick blossomed after being traded to the A's and perhaps Kalish can do the same with some health and his own change of scenery in Chicago. He's likely ticketed for Iowa to get some ABs and catch up after playing just 93 games since 2010. The talent is there but Kalish has missed a lot of development time. If he can return to his previous form, the potential is for a corner OF"er with a solid approach and average tools across the board.
If Olt and Baez continue to build on their spring success, Alcantara appears to be the odd man out. However, he's an excellent athlete who is likely capable of moving to the outfield if necessary. But the question isn't so much whether he can defend, it's more of a question of whether his bat can carry the position, particularly if he plays LF where teams normally desire an OF"er. However, if Baez is at 2B, he makes up for some of the power void and perhaps the Cubs could live with a speed/OBP type in the OF. It should also be noted that Alcantara has been much more effective as a RH hitter.
The one-time top Cubs prospect has fallen on hard times as he continues to struggle to make contact. His future is now in serious question. Everyone knows what Jackson can bring -- speed, average to above average power, good defense, and good OBP skills. The problem is none of it matters if he can't make more consistent contact. It'd be a major surprise at this point if he can re-establish himself and put himself back on the Cubs radar, but his strong mental makeup and work ethic ensures he'll do whatever it takes to make it back. Whether that's enough remains to be seen.
Long term minor league options
Having lost another 30 lbs., Dan Vogelbach is looking about as svelte as we are ever likely to see him. What he has lost in sheer mass, he will gain with better flexibility and rotation. It should also result in better range at 1B. But therein lies the rub. The Cubs lone LH hitter, Anthony Rizzo, also plays 1B. Despite slimming down, it's very unlikely Vogelbach can play the OF at anywhere near an adequate level by today's standards. The best hope for Vogelbach is that the NL adopts the DH.
Like Alcantara, Candelario is a switch-hitter and has the potential to put up good OBP numbers and average power -- perhaps a bit better. Candelario is a 3B and he has improved at that position with a lot of hard work. Most scouts believe he can stay there, though he probably won't win a Gold Glove there. A position switch seems unlikely as Candelario has a thick lower half and doesn't have the kind of speed you would like in an OF'er. He does have the advantage of playing 3B and if Olt falters or moves to the OF, Baez moves to 2B, and Bryant moves to RF, he could sneak in at the 3B spot down the road.
Outside the organization: Trade/Free Agent candidates
It's difficult to pinpoint trade candidates at this point, but there were whispers this offseason that Carlos Gonzalez could be made available if the Rockies decide to go into rebuilding mode. He's still young at 28 and has a few prime years left. He'll likely be costly but the Cubs have the payroll flexibility to take on his contract, which could lessen the prospect haul for the Rockies if their priority is to save money.
Rasmus is 27 and is a tremendous 5 tool type talent with a solid approach -- but he's been inconsistent and was traded to the Blue Jays after reportedly clashing with then Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa. After two mediocre seasons, Rasmus broke through with a 5 WAR season last year. Whether that's a sign of things to come or just another high point in a roller coaster career (he also had a 4 WAR season in 2010) remains to be seen. Whether he's made available depends on how competitive the Jays are -- and whether the Cubs consider acquiring a player who is in his last year before free agency depends on how well the Cubs are doing and how confident they are about signing an extension.
The Cubs front office is very familiar with Chase Headley and they continue to keep a friendly relationship with the Padres. Headley is a switch-hitter with very good plate discipline and average tool across the board, though he did hit 31 HRs 2 years ago. Perhaps with a move to a less spacious stadium like Wrigley, Headley can consistently put up better power numbers. There are a couple of drawbacks. One is that he plays 3B and the other is that he is a free agent after this season, so unless the same scenario that we laid out for Rasmus happens for Headley, then it's unlikely the Cubs would trade for him. They could wait until he becomes a free agent, when he'll be 31 years old, but that may also depend on how close the Cubs think they are to contending. On the bright side, Headley is a good athlete and those type of players tend to have longer longevity. It also means he is capable of playing the OF, as he did earlier in his career. He is not an ideal solution, but could end up being a solid fit depending on how the season plays out for the Cubs and their young talent.
There is no question Kung Fu Panda can hit, get on base, and hit for some power. The question is whether the Cubs will need a 3B because it's unlikely Sandoval can play anywhere else except for 1B, which is already taken. Even if a 3B spot opens up, it's also questionable whether the stocky Sandoval can stick there long term.
What the Cubs have right now are options and time to sort things out, so there is no real rush to fill this void. They can wait to see if current players like Sweeney can bridge the gap or perhaps a flyer like Kalish or a position change candidate like Alcantara comes through and becomes a solution. Maybe the NL adopts the DH soon-- but if none of these things come to pass, then it seems very likely the Cubs will have to look outside the organization to add balance to their lineup.
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