Position by Position Spring Training Previews: Second Base

This particular position is getting near a state of flux for the Cubs.   There is the current starter coming off a bad year, a few MLB ready alternatives, and at least one top 10 prospect knocking on the door.

The Incumbent

The Cubs love Darwin Barney’s defense, especially the pitchers.  He’s also been a great influence on Starlin Castro, who continues to make strides with his own defense.

But there’s the problem with that bat.  It has regressed every season since he became the surprise starter in 2011.  It sunk to new lows last season as Barney hit .208/.266/.308.   That translates to a cringe-worthy wOBA of .252 and replacement level WAR of 0.4 overall.  That was partially aided by an impossibly low BABIP of .222.  Some of the blame goes to a drop in his line drive % and an increase in fly ball %.

You don’t need to be a professional hitting coach to know that Barney shouldn’t be hitting more fly balls.  That seemed to be a general trend with more than a few Cubs hitters last season and while it upped their power totals, there was a price to pay. BABIPs went down and so did the batting averages and BABIP.  But it may have had the greatest negative effect on Barney who doesn’t have the raw power to survive hitting too many balls in the air.

My guess is that those decreasing line drive rates and BABIP played a factor when the Cubs fired hitting coach James Rowson and with him, asst. hitting coach Rob Deer, and manager/part-time hitting coach Dale Sveum — and then hired Bill Mueller as hitting coach, a batter more known for his good approach and his all fields line drive stroke.

I think Barney is among those that will benefit most from the change.  But the question is how much?

Steamer forecasts a bounce back with Barney’s BABIP, up nearly 50 points to .271 (roughly what it was in 2012), but even that will yield only a .248/.300/.344 season.

If we want to be optimistic, we can hope that Mueller will give Barney a slight boost and perhaps get that BABIP as high as it was in 2011, which was around the league average at .310.  And then you can couple that with the one part of Barney’s offensive game that has quietly improved over the past 3 seasons — his walk rate.  Starting at 3.9% in 2011, it went up to 5.6% in 2012 and then a career high of 6.5% last season.

Hypothetically, what might happen if Barney bounces all the way back to around a .300 BABIP and continues to improve his walk rate? Let’s make it a rather modest increase and call it 7% for 2014.  We’ll also keep his ISO at last years .096.  What kind of offensive player would Barney be then?

Using Steamer’s numbers with the increased BABIP and walk rate and some quick cocktail napkin calculations, you get the following highly optimistic scenario for Barney.

.273/.329/.369 and around a .310 wOBA

That is still a below average player on offense but if you factor in what is expected to be top shelf defense, you’re looking at about a 2.6 WAR player, roughly a league average starter.  It would be a career season and a remarkable turnaround.

But obviously that’s a best case scenario and one that I doubt the Cubs are counting on.  Perhaps the biggest issue confronting Barney is a salary that will steadily escalate through arbitration.  Though the amount isn’t going to cripple the payroll, it will soon become an issue for the Cubs as to whether they want to pay even a modest salary for a defense only player, especially when we consider the aforementioned best case offensive scenario is unlikely to play out.

Barney is the 2B for now, but he doesn’t appear to be the long term solution.  If Barney rebounds on offense and draws some interest from contending teams, we may see him move on at some point this season as the Cubs begin the process of creating roster space for up and coming prospects.

But he is the 2B right now and as long as that’s the case, he’ll do what he can to hold on to it.

So what are the short-term alternatives?

  • Starting Mike Olt and moving the Luis Valbuena/Donnie Murphy platoon to 2B

We talked about this platoon in our 3B preview and, combined with the Cody Ransom interlude, this was a pretty productive platoon for the Cubs at 3B.  At 2B, those offensive numbers play even better, though the defense would take a hit without Barney there and some of that offensive value gained would be lost.

As a reader mentioned, however, it’d be roughly the equivalent of upgrading from Darwin Barney to Mike Olt on offense assuming the Valbuena/Murphy platoon production stays constant.

  • Start Logan Watkins at 2B

There was a lot of clamoring to start Logan Watkins at 2B, and rightfully so, toward the end of the season.  Barney was struggling and the Cubs were well out of contention.  It seemed worth giving him a look as the season came to a close.

With Arismendy Alcantara ready for AAA, it would seem Watkins will not go back to Iowa.   It’s hard to imagine the Cubs would be all that eager to keep Watkins on the bench and stunt the 24 year old’s development.

If we look at Steamer, which has a very limited sample size of PAs for Watkins, we’re looking at a .239/.310/.345 season from Watkins, a slightly better offensive performance than Steamer has for Barney.  Watkins is a solid defender, but like most 2Bs in baseball right now, he’d be a drop off on defense.

I think Watkins’ best scenario for playing time would be for Olt to return to AAA and for Watkins to gradually steal ABs from Barney as the season went on, perhaps with the upside of getting into a platoon situation by midseason.

The most likely scenario for Watkins, however, is as a utility player this year who can provide some speed and a LH bat off the bench.

  • Chris Valaika is primarily a 2B but has a shot at a utility role because he can man SS for short stretches.  He could also see some time against LHP if Barney is traded.  If he doesn’t make the team out of spring, the Cubs could instead send him to Iowa as MLB depth.
  • If the 3B platoon moves to 2B and Murphy struggles, there’s also Ryan Roberts, who is the better defender but did not put up the kind of offensive numbers Murphy did last season.

Down on the Farm

Arismendy Alcantara is expected to start the season in AAA and he brings a skill set that is rather unique in the Cubs organization in that he can switch-hit and has better than average speed.  Sprinkle in his ability to get on base via his bat or the walk, and you have the kind of top of the order hitter the Cubs lack right now.

Alcantara had his first full season last year at AA after injuries cut short his previous two years in full season ball.  There is no way the 22 year old is ready for the big leagues this spring.  He needs to improve his performance from the right side of the plate, cut down his throwing errors (which should go down with his move to 2B), and improve his stamina.

Alcantara is a quick-twitched, high energy athlete with a rather slight build.  He wore down a bit by the end of the season, but after making through the year in one piece, then getting just limited action in winter ball, he should be ready for a fresh start next season.

Defensively, he needs to work on slowing the game down and improving his footwork.  He has more than enough range and arm strength for the position.  He just needs to be more consistent.

Even with improvement on defense, offense will be his calling card.  He has the potential to be a dynamic offensive player  When he’s ready, he should add OBP skills, speed, and some surprising pop, as shown by his solid showing at AA last year (.271/.352/.451 with 15 HRs and 31 SBs in just 37 attempts).  Professor Parks of BP called him “Jose Reyes light”.  I’m sure Cubs fans would be thrilled if he could add anything near that kind of dynamic at the top of the order.

Javier Baez is a SS right now and the talk is that barring any unforeseen changes, he will learn a new position as he gets closer to the big leagues.

Moving to 2B, however, is a double-edged sword.  On the one hand, you can take advantage of his instincts and high energy style of play with a more demanding, more involved defensive position.  His expected big power numbers would also play up at 2B.

The downside is with more involvement comes greater opportunity for injury.  He will have to deal with more baserunners, including some with his back turned as he moves to the bag on potential DP ground balls.

Thankfully, the Cubs don’t need to make that decision now, but don’t be surprised if they get a sneak peek this spring with Baez getting some innings at both 2B and 3B.

The Cubs picked up Walter Ibarra, Edgar Gonzalez, and Jeudy Valdez for minor league depth purposes.  They should start the season in AAA or perhaps AA in Valdez’s case and be ready in the event the Cubs run into injury problems in the middle infield.


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  • One of my favorite things our new FO does that our old one didnt is creating depth and a competition for every spot. Not only in the lineup, but we have multiple guys competing for bench spots too. Competition brings the best out of people.

  • Agreed. Bench spots and even spots for minor league depth. It goes back to how well this FO prepares.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I miss Nefi Perez and his 2/$5M salary...

    Oh, and the fact that he didn't need to look at the lineup card everyday...knowing he'd be penciled into the 1 or 2 spot in the batting order...

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    my dream lineup scenario for the Cubs in a few years would
    be like this:
    1. Almora CF
    2. Alcantera 2B
    3. top hitting lefty for LF
    4. Bryant RF
    5. Rizzo or Vogs 1B
    6. Baez SS
    7. Candelario 3B
    8. Castillo C
    good lefty righty balance with power up and down the lineup
    bench: Lake,Bruno,Sweeney,Valbuena & a catcher.
    (you would have available to trade: Castro,Soler,Schierholtz
    & Villanueva, Olt). Its fun to dream!

  • In reply to bleachercreature:

    It might be wise to switch Almora and Alcantera.
    I would also plan on Baez batting third. Soler would replace Baez in the sixth spot as the Cubs like a low payroll.

    Olt may give Candelario competition by establishing himself at third in 2014. He is a very good thirdbaseman defensively and can hit if his vision problems are behind him.

    A question. Who is bruno you list as a bench player?????

  • Sorry...I have to disagree with this. I do not feel good about our depth and competition at second base. Only 1 person that I am excited about and AA will not be up until the end of this season at the earliest. It does no good to have a bunch of below average 2nd basemen battling for the starting spot. Who can get excited about that list?

  • In reply to WaitTilNextYear:

    It's not like we have potential all-stars at every position competing with top 100 prospects. Out of Barney / Murphy / Valbuena / Roberts / Watkins i think we can piece together a decent 2B based on match-ups and who is hot. Maybe Olt takes third by storm and our Valbuena/Murphy platoon puts out league average production. That would be an upgrade over last year. Ryan Roberts has had some decent years, he could make the team and put up solid numbers. And there is always the idea that Barney will see the walls closing in and he will have a year closer to the optimistic prediction John made.

    Im not saying we are going to have the best 2B production in the league, but i feel better going in with 3-5 guys competing for 1-2 spots than just handing it to Barney and hoping he can bounce back.

    P.S. i agree about AA, i love his toolset. Hopefully by next year 2B will be a strength thanks to him.

  • True.....Hopefully some can emerge and be solid and hold it down. Those guys are all nice pieces to have coming off the bench. I just worry that our offensive production is gonna struggle again.

  • John, you are dead on here! Dead on!!! My hope for the future is for Alcantara to blossom even more, gain strength, and have the ability to put up his AA numbers in the pros. He fills SO many needs. Top of the order LH bat, speed, good power at 2nd, base stealing ability, high OBP and, hopefully the ability to become an above average defender. He sounds like the perfect #2 hitter for me.

    The other point you make, which has been a worry of mine, is Baez's injury exposure at 2nd. IIrc, there was a study done a few years back that stated that after catcher, 2nd base had the shortest career longevity of all the other positions. I know, and respect, positional value, but for my money, I'd rather have a few more years of Baez's bat (I predict he ends up @ 3rd), than the few extra WAR if he was at 2nd.

  • In reply to djriz:

    I predict he ends up a SS. Pure speculation on my part is Castro will be traded in a year or two after he returns to his normal production. Baez will take over and do very well.

  • In reply to djriz:

    Excellant response. I could not have said it any better myself. It is good to see someone totally agree with me.

  • With all of the speculation about who will be called up to the majors this season, what are the chances of seeing Alcantara called up? I see him as a possible lead off hitter the Cubs really need.

  • In reply to 1945AD:

    I think he needs more development time. I wouldn't call him up until September barring extraordinary circumstances.

  • I'd feel better about tying up a lot of the club's offense at 2B if MLB would address the takeout slide.

  • In reply to Eddie:

    In Re: Javy Baez.

  • In reply to Eddie:

    Agreed. Even violent sports have limits as to what you can do when your opponent is in a vulnerable position. Barreling into a guy's legs for example, when his back is turned is celebrated in baseball as gritty, yet is penalized in a game like football. I always found that kind of strange.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Bet it changes, and soon. Baseball waited until Ted Lilly retired and then promptly outlawed running over the catcher. The takeout slide will be addressed next.

  • In reply to Eddie:

    I hope so.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    2nd basemen and Shortstops are taught from a young age on how to avoid a sliding runner. If they don't learn to get out of the way it's their fault for getting hurt. Breaking up a double play is an big part of the game and should not be removed. Sports can not and should not be 100% safe.

  • By the end of the season, if not sooner, we should know who our
    2nd baseman and 3rd baseman will be for the future. Ours can
    be included in package trades

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    I think there will be some movement at both of those positions. The Cubs have a lot of pieces now, so they'll start putting the puzzle together very soon.

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    There is no reason Bryant, Olt, Baez, Alcantara and Castro can't all be on the team at the same time if they all pan out offensively. They could all even start if necessary: Bryant-3B, Baez-SS, Castro-2B, AA-CF, Olt-LF. Hell, even Villanueva can hang around as a backup. All of them are good athletes that can play multiple positions. You can always find a place and a roll for bats.

    Cubs can buy pitching in FA the next couple of years. The FA market for hitters is completely drying up though. I don't want to trade our position player depth. Did STL trade Craig when they had Pujols. Carpenter when they had Freese? Adams when they had Craig? Nope.

  • I am hoping they keep Barney around a little longer. If the price doesnt get too high, he could be a valuable bench piece. I would love Alcantara to start in a platoon with him, or barney could be a late innings defensive replacement; which would keep Alcantara more fresh. Also I think barney could help Alcantara's defense out too. Who better to learn from than a GG winner. Barney's arb numbers are gettin too high for a backup, so it would likely need to be a release and re-sign situation.

  • I agree with your thinking here. If Alcantara is to be everything that we hope that he can be, than that is asking an awful lot from a young ballplayer. Keeping Barney would allow him to ease into this important role.

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    I think Olt's performance will tell a lot about Baez. If Olt takes third base an runs with it this spring, it makes sense to move Baez to second base. But if Olt's eye problems continue, then I think moving Baez to third makes sense for the reasons you gave above. (And if Starlin has another down year, all bets are off.)

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    In reply to Mike Moody:

    What if Olt fails, but Villanueva has a good year at Iowa? That's another scenario that could bump Baez off 3B. Villanueva is either going to make it as a starting 3B, or get traded, or fail.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Olt affects Bryant, not Baez. Baez is and should stay as a MI.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to mjvz:

    There are two options at middle infield, SS and 2B. We'll assume SS is taken, and that seems fair at least for the next season. So 2B is the only option left. John gave some reasons above why putting Baez there might be a bad idea. So if he can't play SS and 2B is a bad idea, 3B is the best option left.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    I don't agree with John on this one. Baez can handle either SS or 2B without issue. Injury can happen anywhere. Getting an elite caliber bat like Baez in the lineup at either SS or 2B is WAY more important than trying to mitigate his injury risk. Moving him to 3B wastes value.

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    In reply to mjvz:

    Injuries *can* happen anywhere, but the point is that injuries to a second baseman are more likely than injuries to a third baseman. On top of that, defense has to be considered. Olt is certainly and Baez is probably a better defensive third baseman than Bryant, who is a better outfielder than he is a third baseman.

  • In reply to mjvz:

    The only thing that matters is getting Baez's bat in the lineup. Value is always relative. It doesn't exist in a vacuum. Hypothetical: Let's say Bryant needs to move to the OF and Olt doesn't make it. Maybe playing Baez at 2B means having to play Christian Villanueva at 3B, where maybe his bat doesn't necessarily play well. What if you got more total value by putting Baez at 3B and Alcantara at 2B than you would with Villanueva at 3B and Baez at 2B. That's just one scenario but there are a lot of things to consider when you decide who is going to play where.

    And besides, it is isn't just me. It is a genuine concern within the Cubs system. The greater likelihood of injury is a factor here.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Oh, I agree there are situations where moving Baez to 3B is the best solution. There could be situations that arise where the team may be better served by having Baez play LF. But it should be one of, if not the last option.

    I have stated many, many, many times whenever people have brought up trading Baez that he is far and away the one guy among the big 4 that you don't trade because he can play any of the 7 positions in the field. He can be the one to fill any hole the team ends up having. But the time to decide that is not now. Keep him at the more difficult defensive positions until he either proves he is incapable of playing there or it is determined the team would be better constructed by moving him to 3B or LF. Moving him to 3B right away limits both options and value.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to John Arguello:

    How about Castro at 3B or the OF and Baez stays put at SS with Alcantara at 2nd since they are familiar already with eachother being the DP combo in AA and AAA this year. I think that is the direction the organizations is trying to go imo because why would you split Alcantara and Baez up if they are both progressing at the same level. Olt is more trade value as well as Villanueva. Bryant will be in the OF with Almora and Soler in the future. Thoughts?

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    The Giants kept Buster Posey at C as much as possible (despite it being way worse than 2B injury wise) because as a catcher Posey is a perennial MVP candidate. Same thing with Castro. As a SS/2B he is a perennial MVP candidate.

  • In reply to mjvz:

    That should say Baez, not Castro is a perennial MVP candidate there.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to mjvz:

    And the Astros moved Craig Biggio off of catcher (ironically, to second base) to minimize injury risks -- and he rewarded them with a Hall of Fame caliber career. The examples cut both ways.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Mauer is moving off full time this year as well. I imagine Posey will as well in the near future.

    I'm not going to rule out Baez playing 2B, there is some support for it, but I know this for certain, the decision won't be made strictly on position value.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Mauer is over 30 and they waited until the injuries started catching up before they moved him. And once the Giants move Posey, it means they will have to get rid of or move Belt off of first base, which makes them a worse team.

    And I think I have stated my preference for Baez staying at SS and Castro moving to 2B or traded on many occasions. But in the (admittedly likely) event the team keeps Castro at SS, I can't see any reason to move Baez to 3B when we have so many other options to play there AND the team can take advantage of the positional value of keeping him in the middle of the diamond.

  • In reply to mjvz:

    Well, I can tell you without hesitation the preference is 3B, but they'll let it play out.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Biggio suits my argument more than yours. If they were terrified of him getting hurt, they would have moved him to CF, not 2B.

    2B is not C. C is much larger short and long term injury risk and on top of that, the player requires days off too. 2B does not require days off and how many players have actually had their career ruined by a takeout slide? I can't think of one.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    That pretty much sums it up in a nutshell.

  • Bryant at 3B, Baez at SS, Castro at 2B and Alcantara in the OF in 2015. Alcantara has the best quick twitch athleticism of the group but he is the least natural baseball player of the group. Alcantara could make an even quicker transition to the OF than Lake and he has a more complete offensive game than Lake does too.

    Would love to see the team move Castro over when Baez comes up later this year. Keep Barney around to pal around with Castro and help him with the transition and then jettison him in the offseason. If Castro struggles at the plate again this season, then I would be willing to deal him in the offseason and keep Alcantara at 2B.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to mjvz:

    I personally don't like the idea of moving Castro to 2B. His bat doesn't play there. His defensive problems aren't due to a lack of range or arm strength, the main triggers usually why players move from SS to 2B. It's concentration; he'll have fewer chances at 2B, but it won't really solve alot of problems.

    I think a more likely scenario would be Castro traded to a team that thinks they can get more out of him

  • In reply to Zonk:

    Castro's bat absolutely plays at 2B. The offensive bar at 2B is barely above that of SS in recent years.

    It may be better in the longterm to trade Castro to a team that needs a SS. If his offense rebounds he would be able to bring back a nice haul. But Castro has always profiled best defensively as a 2B. He could be an excellent 2B. I think he is a borderline athlete for SS and would be able to handle the position if he possessed the instincts (and concentration), but I don't think he does. Baez is similar athletically, but he does possess the instincts and also has the type of personality that wants to be on the center stage and play the most important position.

  • fb_avatar

    Jim Callis says the Cub's best fielder at SS is.....Darwin Barney

    He's clearly overexposed as a starter, but as a UT guy, he is perfect.....good defense, good attitude, professional, and can make some contact with the bat

  • In reply to Zonk:

    Exactly. I would love to see a Contending Cubs team with Barney on the bench as the go-to defensive guy in the middle infield,... but he's likely going to be relatively pricey to keep around for an all-glove, no bat UT in a couple of years.

    Then again - IF the rest of the offense is underlain by a productive Soler/Bryant/Almora/Beaz/Castro/Rizzo/Alcantara/Castillo (or some variation on that) position combo, the team can also absorb an all-glove, no bat kind of defensive specialist.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to Zonk:

    I think that's just plain silly. Barney might make a relatively error free SS, but he does not possess the arm or the range that Castro has. Starlin led the league in assists, putouts, TC and Range Factor in both 2011 & 2012. In fact, in 2012, Castro accounted for 154 more defensive outs than did GG winner Jimmy Rollins. Castro also made 15 more errors, but that still means he accounted for 139 outs that Rollins didn't, or about one extra out per game played. To suggest that the little kid with the unusual name could play SS better on the MLB level, without actually having seen him do it is just ludicrous, if you ask me.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to Mike Partipilo:

    Hey, I'm just passing along what Jim Callis said about Barney at SS. He knows more than a little bit about baseball, and Barney came up as a SS.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to Zonk:

    Oh I know, Zonk. But Callis doesn't watch the both of them 150 or so times a year like we do either. No disrespect to him, but I think he's off the mark here.

  • John, since they have so much talent in the infield should it
    influence their drafting in the 3-10 rounds of the draft

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    I think the later you get into a draft, the more you can start thinking about organizational need, so I'd say yes unless there is a great player in the 3rd round that's head and shoulders above everyone else left. You take that player regardless of position. But in general, I agree. Take the BPA in the first and 2nd rounds, then you can focus a bit more on need.

  • Barney with a line even approximating "273/.329/.369 and around a .310 wOBA" would be more than acceptable IMO,.... at least as a means to buy time for the youngsters down in AAA, and to increase his potential trade value (if traded indeed he might be) to a contender come July.

    My guess though,... the "248/.300/.344 season" is more likely what we see from Barney,... and if that happens fully expect Valbuena, or Watkins, or Roberts to see ever increasing playing time to compensate for the offensive hole. The Cubs are going to have a hard enough time regularly scoring runs without the offensive weakness that Barney at ~0.240 BA brings to the table.

  • In reply to drkazmd65:

    I agree. The Steamer projection sounds about right. My BABIP adjusted projection is unlikely. strictly a best case scenario situation.

  • "It's hard to imagine the Cubs would be all that eager to keep Watkins on the bench and stunt the 24 year old's development."

    But a utility guy will mostly be on the bench, so that is also preparation for his future.

  • In reply to ddevonb:

    I agree. I don't have issue with having a 24 year old who projects as a utility guy actually playing that role.

  • In reply to ddevonb:

    He still needs to develop as a hitter -- at least enough to where he can stick as a utility guy. Can't do that if you don't get a chance to hit.

  • Having Rob Deer as your hitting coach is kinda' like having ChiChi Rodriguez as your swing coach ... he may be a great coach but you don't want to copy the way he did it.

  • In reply to Jim Hickman:

    Yea - can't argue with that statement at all Jim.

    That was a signing that really made me scratch my head,.... why would you hire a hitting coach who as a player tended to be among the league leaders in Ks every year and who struggled to ever hit more than his body weight?

  • I don't get the Logan Watkins love, sorry but if a guy hits .243 in AAA that doesn't do much for me. Really happy that he walked a lot in the minors but without the serious threat of power and the fact he'll be facing better pitchers that walk rate likely goes down.

  • In reply to ruby2626:

    We talk about Watkins future role as almost certainly a utility player or a part time stop gap solution at 2B. If that's love, then I love a whole lot of players in baseball. Disclaimer: I did like Davey Rosello when I was a kid.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    There were several less than star players that I liked as a kid too. I think we all do that. For whatever reason, I really liked Cubs/Astros SS Rob Sperring. This guy was so awful at the dish that he made Darwin Barney look like Rod Carew. But I liked him anyway. A couple of my other childhood favorites were Braves pitcher Mike Beard (possibly because he looked somewhat like my older brother) and Dodgers OF/C Joe Ferguson.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to Mike Partipilo:

    First game I ever attended at wrigley-august 10, 1974 vs giants. Reuschel started and Sperring hit a double and homer! I was 10 yrs old and he immediately became my favorite Cub. And it didn't last long- he sucked.

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    I think Castro eventually gets traded. I'm not a Castro hater, I think he'll play close to the projections-.280/.330 and will have more value marketed as a shortstop with a team friendly contract. I think Baez will stay at short, Olt at 3rd and alancantra at 2b.

  • In reply to Dale Miller:

    I think that's certainly possible, but that is likely contingent on Baez, Alcantara, and at least one 3B prospect projecting as an above average MLB regular.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    After reading the comments in the last 6 months it seems most have soured on Castro. I'm not one of them. The question I have is who is projected the better defensive SS Baez or Castro. I think its Castro and if he hits like hes capable we have a potential all-star SS for years. Many teams would love Castro including the Cards,Pirates and Reds.

  • In reply to Dale Miller:

    Thats kinda the feeling i've been getting too. I think he will definitely have a bounce back year, but i think he will be traded for an ace.

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    In reply to Dale Miller:

    the key word is "eventually." It makes no sense to trade him now when you really don't know what you have in Castro, Olt, Alcantara, Baez, and Bryant. I don't mind trading Castro at some point but I think it should be done when there is obvious overlap and depth and a specific need. People always refer to Theo's trade of the Boston icon Nomar Garciapara, but that was done when Theo knew what he had in Nomar, knew what he had on the team, and what he didn't have.

  • In reply to SKMD:

    Agreed on all counts. And don't forget also that Garciaparra was 30 and steadily losing his SS skills when he traded him.

  • In reply to Dale Miller:

    This. And IMO this is happening by July. Alcantara is a better hitter than Barney now and AAA is more a proving ground than a development league. If Alcantara, Baez and Castro are all hitting 270/340 by late June and Darwin is hitting like Darwin...

  • If Alcantara comes anywhere close to that 'Jose Reyes Lite' comp, then the Cubs are really on to something. A switch-hitting, high OBP, leadoff guy with pop? With who could potentially be behind him, Alcantara might lead the league in runs pretty quickly. Even with the big four coming quickly, that guy could prove to be just as important to the Cubs' rebuild. Excited to see what happens.

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    "273/.329/.369 ...you're looking at about a 2.6 WAR player"

    I don't have an opinion on the VHS/Betamax battle between fangraphs WAR and BBref WAR, but BBref gave Barney a 4.8 WAR in 2012 with the following line: .254/.299/.354

  • In reply to SKMD:

    B-WAR formula tends to overvalue defense, though I keep hearing they're tweaking it. Personally, I am a bigger fan of f-WAR for just about everything, so you'll always see me using that metric.

  • If Olt gets over his eye problems and if he wins the 3b position, he'll only be keeping it warm for Bryant or Baez.

  • In reply to clarkaddison:

    A healthy Olt is a potential 30 HR guy with solid OBP numbers and above average defense. If he wins the job, then Bryant will play the OF and Baez is capable of playing just about any position on the field. That is assuming both those players reach their own potential.

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    In reply to clarkaddison:

    I think if Olt even comes close to living up to his potential, he'll lock down the 3B job, Baez will move to 2B and Bryant will be in RF.

  • This posting deal keeps getting worse for Rakuten. From MLBTradeRumors, via Kiley McDaniel:

    The posting fee will actually be split into four payments over 18 months, Major League sources tell Scout.com's Kiley McDaniel. According to McDaniel, the payment schedule breaks down as follows:

    10 percent of posting fee due within 14 days of the submission of the posted player's contract (for the Rakuten Golden Eagles, that would mean $10MM on Feb. 7).
    17 percent of the posting fee due within six months of the submission of the posted player's contract ($3.4MM for the Golden Eagles on July 24).
    17 percent of the posting fee due within 12 months of the submission of the posted player's contract ($3.4MM for the Golden Eagles on Jan. 24, 2015).
    16 percent of the posting fee due within 18 months of the submission of the posted player's contract ($3.2MM for the Golden Eagles on July 24, 2015).

  • In reply to Eddie:

    Yeah, they're really getting screwed here. Not only is it getting cut down to 20M max, but now they lose some of that time value.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I despise the commissioner's office (and ownership generally), so it would suit me just fine if Tanaka and Rakuten work out some kind of kickback scheme that undermines this arrangement.

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    Could be interesting for the Tanaka sweepstakes.


    If A-Roid only gets a 100 game suspension, his huge contract would be something the Yankees still need to consider before throwing more money at a bloated payroll that the Yankees currently have.

  • In reply to bocabobby:

    It took Bud Selig and the Yankees to turn Alex Rodriguez into a sympathetic figure.

  • I must say I worry the love for Arismendy Alcantara may be little out of proportion. Don't get me wrong, I root for all our prospects, but when you study his resume so far, there's nothing over-the-top here. Love that he switch hits, has some speed and a little pop at the plate (if you can call 15 HRs a little pop). But if you compare his minor league numbers to Barney's or Theriot's or Mike Fontenot's, and you don't see one player clearly outshining the others. (If anything Fontenot had the best plate numbers, and Alcantara the best SB numbers, which could go down as his power numbers go up.) I worry/suspect this adds up to the Cubs long-term 2B solution will come outside the organization via trade or free agency. Maybe not this season but down the road.

  • In reply to SkitSketchJeff:

    There is a whole world of player evaluation that goes on beyond basic minor league stats.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Illuminate us then. The above article really only covered stats and his defensive liabilities. I've no desire to run Alcantara down, but "a quick-twitched, high energy athlete with a rather slight build" sounds an awful like Theriot to me as a minor-league prospect. Same height and weight as Theriot and Barney too. Hoping for something better than those two, who also initially interested me as top-of-the-order spark-plugs until they lost the spark and started going for homers.

  • In reply to SkitSketchJeff:

    I wouldn't call Theriot a quick-twitch athlete. And Alcantara is producing numbers at a younger age and higher levels than those guys did. But even so, I think its more likely that Alcantara winds up having a career like those two than him fulfilling the ceiling of Jose Reyes light. I also don't think that Theriot or Barney ever had that kind of ceiling. It's still wait and see. This year is very exciting because it should show us a lot about a number of very exciting prospects as well as young major leaguers currently on the team.

  • In reply to SkitSketchJeff:

    Theriot didn't have the athleticism, bat speed, hand strength, arm strength, range, running speed, or baserunning instincts that Alcantara does. Theriot was more of a gritty ballplayer. He was by no means a fluid athlete. He didn't have good instincts. Theriot does not compare well here. He was a grinder type, which is ok, but that is not the kind of ballplayer Alcantara is. Evaluating players is a complicated process, one that even veteran scouts are always striving to understand. I have a lot of respect for what they do and their deeper understanding of the game. I do my best to see a lot of live games and ask a lot of questions of those who know more than I do. It's a perpetual learning process. Nobody ever masters it completely --- and that's what I love about baseball.

    Statistics play a role too, but the important, predictive stats used tend to gravitate toward things a player can control. And even those stats don't really carry equal weight until players get to the AA level.

    I write about this kind of thing all the time because I like to share what I've learned over the years of having the good fortune to be able to talk with baseball people. That is not to say I still don't have a lot to learn. We all do. That's what makes baseball the great game that it is.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    RE: Theriot, that's all true. He did have a good batting eye though, good approach at the plate, and excellent pure hit tool. Just no power at all.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Great reply. But aside from the mild speed and power differences though, it will be nice to see all of Alcantara's reported potential translate into results. I'm rooting for it, but as someone who has waited for more than a few super tool-sy Godots from the Cubs farm system (and Godots with far more impressive numbers than Alcantara's), I'd much rather see strong production than promise at the higher minor levels. It's also good to remember that Fontenot, Theriot and Barney were very well thought of at early points in their careers -- well thought of enough to be drafted in the 1st, 3rd and 4th rounds respectively. In hindsight, it's easy to run them down as being obviously more limited prospects, but all three rose pretty much the exact same pace as Alcantara.

    Also calling Theriot as only "more of a gritty player" does overlook the speed and baserunning ability he came up with. He stole more than 30 bases in the minors twice and more than 20 in the majors four times. So it's not possible to put up those numbers if he lacks both speed AND baserunning ability. And his 2008 was pretty much everything you'd like from a table-setting No. 2 hitter: .307/.387/.745 and 200-plus total bases. (His OBP was 8th best in the NL that year.) Those are very respectable Tom Herr-like numbers. Theriot just couldn't do it for as long, and his arm and defensive range was always better suited for 2B.

  • In reply to SkitSketchJeff:

    Theriot is widely regarded as one of the worst baserunners in the history of baseball. Theriot made the most of his ability (except for the baserunning) but he had nowhere near the talent to work with that Alcantara does. Nowhere near the same functional strength and speed. That's not to say Alcantara will make the most of his ability, though he's a better bet than most because of his good mental makeup, but they do not compare as ballplayers on a physical level.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Not to be a Theriot defender, because I soured on him sooner than others and his regular baserunning blunders were among the reasons, but really: "one of the worst baserunners in baseball history" is a bit of an exaggeration. When he came up, his baserunning style was a spark and often times smart. On Cubs' teams that were lethargic, station-to-station on the basepaths, he would at least put some pressure on the defense. He lost the calculated smartness after his first couple years. It was almost like he knew drunk Wrigleyville would always love "The Riot" if dirt was on his chest. But one can't deny that "one of the worst baserunners in baseball history" was in 2007 28 for 32 in stolen bases. And then soon after he became one of the most thrown out baserunners in baseball. So a tale of two players.

  • In reply to SkitSketchJeff:

    Well, Theriot may have had a decent year or two, but he's still not a similar player to Alcantara.

  • In reply to SkitSketchJeff:

    2B and 3B are the two positions I am not worried about. The Cubs have multiple options and have a player at every level of the minors that could potentially handle each position.

    2B: Baez, AA, Darvill, Bruno, Amaya, Hernandez, Lockhart, Penalver all have MLB potential and are in full season ball in the minors.

  • In reply to mjvz:

    Agreed. Lots of depth/options at those positions. Not to mention that Fontenot and Barney were such dissimilar players to Alcantara in terms of size, tools, athleticism, approach, and age per level. It's not a useful comparison.

  • In slight defense of Barney's season last year, after he gashed his knee open in a meaningless spring training game in Houston he never was able to get going after he got off the disabled list.Don't know if this really had a long term effect on his batting, but I wonder.

  • In reply to kevie:

    I'd forgotten about that. Maybe. Even still, there isn't a whole lot of upside if he's 100% healthy.

  • In reply to kevie:

    I was a Barney fan until last season, but he struck me as sullen and lacking focus and professional passion at times last season. I think he resented not being approached for an extension and considered a core player after winning the Gold Glove in 2012. He did a number of things he thought showed him being committed -- going to so-called "Camp Colvin" and adding bulking the two consecutive off-seasons. Being a go-to-interview subject. Handling stepping aside for Castro at SS with professionalism and continuing to help Castro's transition. Not saying any of that should supercedes doing it on the field, but I feel that all contributed to his apparent fall off in attitude and passion. I'm hoping he has a comeback first half, can be traded, and then benefits from a change of scenery. I'm sure Theo/Jed are hoping the same.

  • In reply to SkitSketchJeff:

    No one looks particularly happy after fouling out or tapping to second, a common outcome for a Barney at-bat.

    But sullen? I never picked up that in his body language.

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    In reply to SkitSketchJeff:

    Darwin Barney gets consistent praise for his professionalism, attitude, and overall clubhouse presence. The fact that he moved to a new position and played it nearly flawlessly is a testament to his focus and preparation.

    He isn't the most talented player, and can't hit much, but I don't think anyone has ever questioned his effort and attitude

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    In reply to SkitSketchJeff:

    I'm not trying to nit-pick, but Barney didn't "step aside for Castro", he was lapped by a better, younger player. Barney was the SS at AAA Iowa when Castro was promoted to the majors from AA. When Barney finally got the call a few months later, Castro was already established as the MLB shortstop. There was no stepping aside, a lesser player was moved to an available position.

    That said, the situation shows the ineptness of the Hendry organization. As soon as it became obvious that Castro would be the Cubs shortstop, the organization's other MLB ready SS (Barney) should have immediately gotten innings at 2B.

  • In reply to Mike Partipilo:

    "Stepping aside" was perhaps an overly felicitous phrase. But that spring training of Castro's rookie year, Barney went out of his way to help Castro improve his defense. Castro himself has publicly noted this about Barney and thought it was a class move since Barney was essentially helping Castro jump over himself. What I'll never understand is why the Cubs then didn't immediately move Barney to 2B at Iowa to start getting reps under his belt while paying for a HOF 2B in Sandberg. Such was that poor development thinking of the Hendry years.

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    In reply to SkitSketchJeff:

    Good post. Well said on both points.

  • In reply to SkitSketchJeff:

    Many things that went on in the Hendry years make no sense to me,.... that's one example of a blunder that is on 'the list'.

  • In reply to drkazmd65:

    What blunder? If only Barney got more AAA reps at 2B he would have become a great defensive second baseman? We would have won a GG? He would have tied the MLB errorless streak?

    Whatever they did or didn't do, it clearly did not hinder Darwin's defensive development.

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    In reply to Nondorf:

    Well, instead of being shaky with the glove, as he was in 2011, he might have been a gold glove winner a year earlier. Besides, the point is that nobody in that organization was thinking a step ahead.

  • Off Topic but John the sign on the right that counts down the time until Cubs Pitchers & Catchers report is wrong.

    I believe the sign ends on February 12 at 6 PM Central Time

    BUT the Cubs (as officially reported today) Pitchers & Catchers report on February 14 and the whole team reports on February 19.

    In other words...Time to get a new countdown sign!


  • In reply to Ghost Dawg:

    Carrie Muskat said the 13th, so I went with that, but not sure why it came out February 12th. I'll check on it again.

  • When reading about Alcantara and realizing he's going to be 22 in AAA and coming off the year he had in AA, I get excited. A little too excited perhaps. The ideas of an infield filled with above average to star players within a year or two and possibly even having excess to trade away for pitching or other holes is thrilling to contemplate.

    But there is a law of averages on prospects fulfilling their promise. If more than half of the big 4 make above average starters in the bigs, the Cubs developmental and scouting staffs will have done an excellent job. If than can get 2 or 3 of Alcantara, Edwards, Johnson, Candelario, Vogelbach, Vizcaino and Villanueva to be meaningful contributors to a major league team (average starters/MOR pitchers/above average relievers), they will have done an equally excellent job.

    Let's hope the developmental and scouting staffs are truly excellent, but I have to talk myself down sometimes...

  • My dream future lineup scenario is like this:
    1 Almora-CF
    2 Alcantara-2B
    3 Baez-3B
    4 Bryant-RF/LF
    5 Rizzo-1B
    6 Soler-RF
    7 Castro-SS
    8 Castillo-C

    With Trea Turner drafted and waiting to take over SS after a Castro trade and Hopefully Vogelbomb ready to take DH when the NL adopts it. Pitching would work itself out and you can always buy yourself a pitching staff when ready to contend e.g. Tanaka, Q.O. guys in 2015/16. Chances are slim it works out that way but that should be the goal/plan for now. What do you think?

  • In reply to Rudy:

    Mine is close to yours:

    1. Alcantara-2B
    2. Almora-CF
    3. Bryant-RF
    4. Baez-SS
    5. Rizzo-1B
    6. Soler-LF
    7. Olt-3B
    8. Castillo-C

    Outfield backups: Lake , Hannemann
    Infield backups: Watkins, Candelario
    Catcher backup: Willson Contreras
    Possible DH: Vogelbach

    I want one of Beede/Newcombe/Rodon/Hoffman instead of Turner this draft and I also want to trade Castro, after he returns to form, for a young SP. That will give us two TOR SPs to add to Tanaka. Gets the rotation in pretty good shape to go with a pretty decent lineup.

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    In reply to John57:

    These are fun, but the chance that we have all 8 of our future starters currently in our system is pretty thin. Here's my dream for 2015:
    Gardner lf
    Almora cf
    Baez ss
    Headley 3b
    Bryant rf (or Soler, whichever develops quicker, and I dont think it a foregone conclusion that will be Bryant)
    Rizzo 1b
    Castillo c
    Alcantara 2b

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    In reply to Matt McNear:

    In this hypothetical, Castro would have beenmoved for SP. This is still probably too optimistic, but it sure is fun to dream thes things up!

  • John, why are Barney's arbitration years bad for us financially as opposed to it being good with samardjai?

  • In reply to MyersTech:

    Because Samardzija is the more valuable and more difficult to replace asset. Keeping him under control for as long as possible is a good thing. Even if the intention is to trade Shark (I don't believe it is) his arb salary will never rise above his worth or become a hindrance to trading him. Barney on the other hand, is a player that at best is a low end starter though better suited as a utility player, but because he has been forced into a starting role for lack of better choice in his pre-arb years his salary will balloon beyond his worth. MLB teams do not pay all glove/no hit players big salaries unless they play C/SS/CF. Barney @ 1.5M is a player nobody wants.

  • The new manager will factor into this equation too. Dale managed old school and allowed Barney to scratch and claw for a second gold glove despite his declining offense. This factored into the decision to relieve him of his position since his primary mandate was to develop players. Renteria may also come to feel that Barney's defensive abilities outweigh his offensive deficiencies, but he also may not. Any MLB second baseman can make most of the plays regardless. Do Barney's intangibles belie his #'s or don't they? I tend to think they don't. Players like Omar Vizquel continue to improve offensively while maintaining their status as a gold glove caliber fielder. Jose Iglesias was traded by Boston, so you can draw some conclusions on how that org. values defense only players. Meanwhile, Barney has neither the fluidity or athleticism of either of those players.

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    Add Jeff Passan to the "Trash RIcketts" brigade. This is getting old.

    @JeffPassan: When Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer arrived, they could not have envisioned this. The blame on the Cubs' woes goes solely and directly to owner.


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    Hey John love coming to this site. It's very refreshing to see actual fans be able to communicate and give opinions without being ridiculed. I was wondering why no one seems to mention how Baez and Alcantara spent AA as the DP combo and will start next year at AAA together as well. Doesn't it seem like common sense that the organization is allowing them to build chemistry and grow together for the majors? My honest opinion is the "plan" is for Castro to move to 3B. If Olt is stellar and regains form he is either trade bait or will move Castro to the OF or he will play OF. I believe the future OF is Bryant in LF, Almora in CF, and Soler in RF. The infield would be Castro/Olt at 3B (one will be traded), Baez at SS, Alcantara at 2nd, and Rizzo/Voglebach at 1st with Castillo Catching. Thoughts??

  • In reply to Jorge Soler:

    I like what you are saying, and a big part of it will be Olts performance. I think Castro would be traded before movws to the OF, as he has much more value at a premium position.

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    In reply to Jorge Soler:

    Very interesting perspective. That plan could very well be a part of Epstein and Hoyer's step of possibilities.

  • In reply to Jorge Soler:

    I see two problems with moving Castro to 3b. First, it reduces his value if the Cubs want to later flip him. Second, I don't know that Castro's bat plays well at third base. Even if he returns to form, you are really looking for run production out of your third baseman.

    Honestly, talking positions at this point is fun, but in the long run we just want these guys to rake. The positions will figure themselves out.

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    In reply to Jorge Soler:

    That's an interesting idea, but I firmly believe there are only two possible scenarios regarding Baez and Castro: either Baez becomes our shortstop and Castro is traded, or Castro stays as the shortstop and Baez moves do 2B or 3B. In other words: I don't think Castro changing positions makes much sense. If they go with Baez at shortstop, Castro would be more valuable for the assets he could bring in a trade.

    (That's all presuming Castro rebounds this season, and I think he will. If he doesn't, then I have no idea what could happen. I just hope the FO isn't forced to sell low on him.)

  • Injury would be more of a factor for Baez if he moved to 2B than normal second baggers because he has less experience. I'm all for getting him more experience at 3B and 2B but if he's going to be a full time 2B in the bigs, he needs to have at least a full season at that position in AAA, in my opinion.

    One thing is for sure: Whoever plays 2B will need to hit better for the Cubs to improve. I love great defense but Barney's hitting was so bad it was clearly detrimental to the team. If he could just get close to average production you could carry his bat with a stronger lineup. But factoring in the his coming arbitration there is no doubt, in my opinion, that he will be traded or released after this season UNLESS he greatly improves his hitting, which is unlikely.

    Also, I'd like to make another point. It's a nice reference when building a roster to use a certain standard for hitting performance based on position but I do not think it should be adhered to religiously. There is more than one way to skin a cat. For example, if a team started a great fielding 3rd baseman who hit for a high average with a good OBP (but had less power that most 3rd basemen show), you could still keep him there and make up the power at another position. Or, if the rest of the team is strong you can carry somebody who maybe doesn't profile as having ideal production at a position.

    Personally, if I was building a team (scary thought) I would look for a balance of power, speed and OBP throughout the lineup regardless of position. For me pitching and defense is first priority. Great pitching and a solid defense can give you a chance to win every game, in spite of a lack of offense. In a perfect world a team would have both. Oftentimes what a GM wants and what he can get are two different things, whether it be through the drat of free agency. For that reason I think it's always important to be willing to think outside the box.

  • If anybody is interested, this page has updated stats for every Cubs player/prospect that played in the Winter Leagues or AFL this offseason...


    Some highlights:

    Kris Bryant: .364/ .457/ .727
    Albert Almora: .307/ .342/ .480
    Dallas Beeler: 4-1 / 2.49 ERA /

    Junior Lake: .343/ .386/ .457
    Carlos Pimentel: 5-0 / 1.67 ERA / 1.09 WHIP

    Ryan Searle: 2.73 ERA / 0.85 WHIP / .185 AVG / 30K - 5BB - 33IP

    Luis Valbuena: .311/ .440/ .467
    Frank Del Valle: 2.17 ERA / .191 AVG

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    In reply to Ghost Dawg:

    Good stuff. thanks for sharing

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