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.
The 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.
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.
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.
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.
Depth options: Carlos Penalver, Kevin Cornelius, Trent 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 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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.