Cubs Organizational Depth: Infielders

Chicago Cubs

I may be beginning to sound like a broken record in this series, but the potential roster stability the Cubs could enjoy over the next few years is astonishing. If the mix of players the Cubs currently have assembled works out well, there is no reason they can't keep them all together. Of the projected 25-man roster only reliever Justin Wilson and backup catcher Chris Gimenez are to become unrestricted free agents after the season. Four more relievers (and Drew Smyly) are scheduled for free agency following the 2019 season, but by that point the stockpile of young arms the Cubs have assembled in the Minors the past few years should be breaking through as replacements for the departing pitchers.

if_salariesThe only other position player besides Gimenez who will see his contract run out in the next two years is veteran utility man Ben Zobrist. With Addison Russell, Javier Baez and Ian Happ taking on more regular duties in the infield, and Tommy La Stella emerging as a lethal bat off the bench, Zobrist's role figures to be reduced in his final seasons anyway. If he becomes just a bench bat by the time his contract expires the Cubs will have plenty of internal options to replace him. However, if he remains a vital on-base cog in the lineup, the team may have to look outside the organization for a better fit as Zack Short is the only infielder in the upper levels that boasts a great eye at the plate.

Iowa Cubs

David Bote possesses a similar athletic skill set to Tommy La Stella, but his plate discipline is less keen, and as a right handed hitter his impact potential as a pinch hitter more limited. Still, he can serve as useful insurance for both La Stella and Zobrist the next few years.

iowa_if

Chesny Young

Chesny Young

He doesn't offer much with the glove and his hit tool may come up a little short in a regular role, but Jason Vosler offers potential for some left handed pop off the bench. If Chesny Young offered a bit more range and enough arm to play SS on a semi-regular basis his prospects would be greatly improved. He offers consistent defense at 2B and just enough athleticism to cover every position on the field except catcher but is sub optimal at SS and CF which unfortunately where his bat would be enough to carry him. He makes frequent contact by looking to drive the ball back up the middle or into the RCF gap but his power is lacking. Pitchers aren't afraid to throw him a strike because they know the worst that is likely to occur is a single.

Depth options: Mike Freeman, Ryan Court, Stephen Bruno

These three are all useful AAA producers. If the Cubs should need to call on any of them this season it means a rash of injuries has befallen the squad. With Bote and Vosler joining Young in Des Moines this season, the club has superior depth available than it had last season. Although, if Young is unable to build upon his disappointing 2017, Mike Freeman would once again be in line as the emergency shortstop. Should Baez or Russell suffer a long term injury the Cubs would likely go outside the organization for a replacement.

Tennessee Smokies

Zack Short (by Stephanie Lynn)

Zack Short (by Stephanie Lynn)

While the Iowa infield could showcase multiple prospects on a daily basis, that is not the case in Tennessee. Both Zack Short and Vimael Machin could begin 2018 in Myrtle Beach after spending only a partial season there. I do expect Short to spend the majority of the year being tested in AA though. The Cubs lack potential top-of-the-order hitters among their infield prospects. Short is the exception. His plate discipline rivals any hitter in the system with the possible exception of Mark Zagunis. He runs well enough and also packs enough punch at the plate to rack up double-digit steals and homers in a season.

tennesseeif
Machin doesn't possess any standout tools but has a knack for making good, hard contact. His athleticism falls below what is required at SS so he will need to maximize his hit tool moving forward.

Depth options: Carlos Penalver, Kevin CorneliusTrent Giambrone, Jesse Hodges

Trent Giambrone flashes enough pop and athleticism that he is worth keeping an eye on moving forward. He is best suited to play 2B, but was forced to cover SS quite often at Myrtle Beach last season. With Short and Smokies veteran Carlos Penalver around to handle those duties this season Giambrone can focus more of his efforts on his offensive game and see if he can lock in a bit more consistency at the plate. Jesse Hodges is fun to watch and has a decent hit tool but lacks the needed pop and athleticism to be more than an org player at 3B.

Myrtle Beach Pelicans

Austin Upshaw (by Rikk Carlson)

Austin Upshaw (by Rikk Carlson)

Austin Upshaw alternated between 1B/2B/3B after signing as a 13th round draft pick last season. I wouldn't be shocked to see him get a look in the corner outfield as well. It is difficult to say at this point where his best defensive fit will be in the future. The most intriguing aspect of his game is his offense anyway. Upshaw has the potential for solid across the board skills as a left handed hitter. If he proves he can handle multiple positions it opens a lot of options as a bench bat down the road.

The Cubs pushed a 20-year old Carlos Sepulveda aggressively last season after he acquitted himself quite well as a teenager in the MWL the season before. A slow start in Myrtle Beach and nagging injuries led to essentially a lost year as he finished the season rehabbing with the AZL squad and then missed fall instructs with another injury. His hit tool is legitimate as he can spray lines drives all over the diamond with the best of the Cubs prospects. The question becomes whether he is strong enough to take full advantage of this skill. He needs to develop consistent gap power moving forward.

myrtlebeachif
It would an aggressive move to see Wladimir Galindo sent to Myrtle Beach right out of the gate. He gained limited experience in South Bend before a leg injury cut short his season. If he is fully healed I wouldn't rule it out though because he showed off a vastly improved offensive game in comparison to the free swinging approach he took with Eugene in 2016.

Yelier Peguero

Yelier Peguero

Andruw Monasterio received a midseason look with the Pelicans last year before returning to South Bend. He should be ready to take on the full time SS role this time around. At the plate he combines a solid eye with a line drive swing. A guy to keep an eye on is Yeiler Peguero. He surprised many by winning the 2B job with South Bend out of spring training as a 19-year old, then used a hot start to propel himself into a MWL All-Star berth. He cooled off a bit as the season progressed but the team stuck with him through slumps. He may be undersized, but he flashes above average plate discipline to go with solid extra base pop from both sides of the plate.

The Pelicans infield lineup on most nights may not have much name recognition but they are all legitimate prospects, even if their ceilings are relatively modest.

Depth options: Adonis Paula

Adonis Paula has bounced between South Bend and Myrtle Beach the past two years, filling in at the corner infield spots wherever needed. He always seems to have a big smile on his face so he is an easy guy to root for but his role is that of an org player.

South Bend Cubs

Monasterio, Narea, Paredes,, and Ademan taking drills at SS

Monasterio, Narea, Paredes, and Ademan taking drills

The main attraction will of course be young shortstop Aramis Ademan. He was ranked as the club's top prospect by a couple of national publications this offseason. Still just a teenager, he struggled at the plate in his first taste of the Midwest League late in 2017, after earning All-Star honors with Eugene in the Northwest League. He is only an average runner whose range will never be spectacular at shortstop but the shows soft hands and smooth actions necessary to remain at the position. At the plate he shows the ability to take a walk as well as drive the ball into both gaps with regularity.  Ademan also flashes enough power to his pull side to project 12-15 homers in the future.

southbend_if
There is no question the ball jumps off the bat of Austin Filiere. He works deep counts and profiles as a potential three true outcomes hitter. The question is whether the one negative outcome in that equation (strikeouts) will skew the results. It was a big jump in competition from M.I.T. to the NWL last year but I have concerns regarding his ability to adjust to quality offspeed pitches. Joining Ademan and Filiere as a starter in the South Bend infield is another 2017 draft choice, Jared Young. His Eugene tenure started slowly as he hit below .200 the first month after signing but he turned it on late in the season and entered the NWL playoffs as the Emeralds hottest hitter.

Jhonny Bethencourt

Jhonny Bethencourt

Rounding out the infield mix will be Jhonny Bethencourt. As a utility man for the Emeralds he drew walks and laced line drives all over the diamond as one of the most consistent offensive threats for the team throughout the season. His defensive struggles when manning the left side of the infield are worth noting however. He committed 12 errors in just 22 starts at SS and 3B. Rafael Narea proved far more reliable at all three infield spots. He is a slick fielder with a nice line drive swing and a good eye at the plate but his lack of power is a real issue.

Depth options: Ramsey Romano

I didn't get much of a look at late round pick Ramsey Romano last year. He served as corner infield depth with both the AZL and Eugene ball clubs after signing and figures to hold a similar role with South Bend this season.

Comments

Leave a comment
  • Excellent analysis, Michael! Love reading this stuff. This whole group looks like they won't turn heads much in terms of their prospect ranking (except for possibly Ademan), but a lot of them look to me like "baseball rats" that this organization loves. I would not be surprised to see a few of these faces in the MLB in the not too distant future.

  • In reply to HefCA:

    While they may not have high ceilings, I do think Bote, Short, Upshaw and Ademan are good bets to contribute in some way at the MLB level. No prospects are sure things, but they have high floors imo. Sepulveda is not on the same level as those guys physically, but he has a lot of natural ability, and is a grinder type that could overachieve.

  • I am hoping Chesny Young returns to a normal offensive year for him in the .300/.370/.380 range. Add this to his versatility and he is someone to keep an eye on.

  • Liked the chart of the current Cubs IFs there Michael. That Bryant/Russell/Baez combo is going to get interesting (and expensive) going into 2021 and 2022. Hopefully by then guys like Aramis Ademan and Carlos Sepulveda, or IF's as yet undrafted/unsigned develop enough to start filling the holes. You have to figure that the Cubs won't be holding onto all of Bryant/Russell/Baez and Rizzo at the end of that window.

  • MLB.com published their Top 30 Prospects list for the Cubs today. Of the infielders from this article Ademan ranked 2nd, Bote 15th, Short 23rd and Galindo 26th. Happy to see Short get some prospect love from a national publication. Feel like other outlets have been overlooking him.

  • After having a glut of SS in the system pre2015 seems that position is really lacking any athletes with plus speed/range and top flight arm strength throughout the system. Maybe some of the short season, DSL kids can step forward. Nice having both Russell and Baez be so young and capable of playing an elite level SS at the MLB level. Gives the organization time to find some new gems in the future.

  • In reply to CubFanStuckInStl:

    Ademan and Short are both legit SS that can also hit. They will not be plus defenders at the position but they won't be liabilities.

  • In reply to Michael Ernst:

    I'm actually pretty comfortable projecting one of those two to take over in case one of Russell or Baez departs a couple years down the road.

  • fb_avatar

    I have always thought of Chesny Young having a better than 50 hit tool and plate discipline. I buy what you are saying about his lack of power starting to catch up to him. In the lower minor leagues he could rack up BB against guys who maybe don't have great control. But those types are getting fewer and further between in AAA. These guys can pound the strike zone and "dare" him to hit it for a single because they don't have to fear him doing much more damage than that. Could he develop in to a 30-doubles type hitter or is he just a proto-typical "slap" hitter?

  • In reply to Joel Mayer:

    Young is an interesting case. There could be a 60 hit tool in there. He rarely whiffs and does a decent job of barreling the ball up. But his approach is pretty limited in my eye. He just doesn't turn on a ball often enough for my tastes. I love a good opposite field gap approach, but when the opportunity presents itself to drive a ball to your pull side you have to take it. I feel like Young tries to take every single pitch in every situation that way.

    As for his plate discipline, I've talked about it a lot over the past couple of years trying to prepare fans that his walk rates would decrease. He works the count well and rarely chases out of the zone early in an at bat, but there a few things holding him back from achieving a lot of walks:
    1) His lack of power means more advanced pitchers are going to challenge him in the zone more often rather than risk walking him. 2) He makes contact relatively easily, so while he may take a strike or even two, once he gets into swing mode he generally puts the ball in play
    3) He doesn't take borderline pitches when he gets to two strikes. He does expand the zone a bit in that situation and look to put the ball in play rather than take the occasional called third strike. He'll fight off some breaking balls out of the zone while waiting for a better pitch, and due to points 1 and 2 above, a ball in play is the usual result. So he will take a walk on a 3-0 or 3-1 pitch, but once he gets to 3-2 or 2-2 you'll rarely see him walk unless the pitches miss the zone by a mile.

  • fb_avatar

    First, thanks Michael for these articles. They really put our prospects in prospective. I am a bit underwhelmed though. It doesn't seem like we have anyone on the level of a Russell or Baez (maybe Adelman) but no-one with a very high ceiling and no one with any speed either. We don't have a leadoff man with the infielders also. I would think that some of these prospects can play, but no one with a "wow" factor.

  • In reply to Jonathan Friedman:

    Definitely no one on the level of Russell or Baez.

    Short is the closest thing we have to a prototypical leadoff man. He has a great eye and can also run a bit. He could be a .350 OBP with 15/15 potential if he reaches his peak.

    Ademan has some top of the order potential as well. He'd be more geared towards average than walks. A .290/.350/.400 line not out of the question. He's not going to be a great SB threat though.

  • Thanks for another outstanding effort, Michael. I've always stressed the importance of watching these kids play. Numbers can only tell you so much, especially in the varying degrees of competitiveness (plus and minus) in the minor leagues. You obviously watch these prospects, and that insight comes through in your analysis. We appreciate your dedication and desire to share.

    I want to share a fun piece I found on ESPN. Sam Miller wrote a satirical exercise titled "Put me in, Coach! How much embarrassment would you be willing to endure to play major league baseball?". It's very personal, yet obviously pokes fun at tanking in general and the Marlins (and Derek Jeter) specifically. A thoroughly entertaining read. Check it out.

  • Great set of articles and projections. I am going to put them on a spreadsheet and see how the rosters round out.

  • It looks like time to get back to the ‘best college bats’ available in the first two rounds of the draft.

Leave a comment