Third Base Futures

The Cubs current third base situation is akin to placing a work lunch order to a place that you don’t necessarily love and aren’t sure if you even wanted. Sure, the portabella mushroom sandwich has some potential and the old standby burger and fries combo is food (technically) but you’re being forced to pick from a selection that can best be described as a plethora of mediocrity. You might be pleasantly surprised but let’s be honest, chances are slim.

The Cubs will send out some combination of Luis Valbuena, Mike Olt, Logan Watkins and maybe even the ghost of Josh Vitters‘ potential to man the hot corner in 2014.

Olt clearly has the most potential as he was a Rangers top prospect before a wayward fastball found his dome and messed with his vision. Olt always had a lot of whiff in his game as evidenced by the 20%+ K rates he had through the minors:

Year/Level K%
2010 (A-) 24.8
2011 (R) 28.3
2011 (A+) 24.0
2012 (AA) 24.0
2013 (AAA) 33.2


With the swing and miss came excellent defense, a mature approach at the plate and decent pop. Heading into 2012 Olt was regarded as the Rangers’ best prospect and one of the top talents in all of MiLB.

The potential is clearly there given Olt’s pedigree and defensive ability. Luis Valbuena is no slouch with the glove but his plan of attack at the plate limits the offensive upside he brings to the table. Luis walks well enough as he posted a 13.6 BB% last year. His patience at the plate leads to an acceptable OBP but he swings hard at every pitch he thinks he can get. He makes contact but his batting average is subpar.

I talked earlier in the week about how the situation at second base can be significantly altered by who wins the third base job. Should Olt unseat the incumbent Valbuena in 2014 it drastically alters the makeup of the infield. Logan Watkins should find playing time somewhere on this infield, albeit in a part time role.

When we extend the scope out a few years we see a logjam developing at third base. Mike Olt, Kris Bryant, Christian Villanueva and Jeimer Candelario all play third currently and perhaps Javier Baez or Starlin Castro will end up at third in the near future. Kris Bryant has a strong arm but I do wonder about his long term future at the position given the reports on his lack of feel for third. His defensive profile might be better suited for right field.

Villanueva isn’t a superstar talent. I doubt he ever develops above average over the fence power and I do wonder about his swing mechanics, but he is a very good defender and he did generate a lot of gap power at Tennessee last year (41 DO’s). Candelario is an interesting player. He has a really good idea of where the strike zone is and he’s got the lower half of a power hitter (read: Big Ass). The issue with Jeimer will be the glove as it’s uncertain whether he can stick at third base long term, but if he hits someone will find a position for him.

Then there’s the Baez/Castro situation. Both have the athleticism to stick at short but both also have error issues. Castro has cut his error rate every year since he’s been in the league but the gains have been incremental and he’s had high profile mental lapses. Javier Baez has the same error issues and his body might just outgrow the position in the long term. His lower half looks like a 3B lower half with thick thighs and big boy calves.

That’s a helluva potential logjam on paper. The situation will clear itself up as players will succeed or fail over the next few years. A few of these guys will be traded for other pieces and a few of them will not make it to the MLB level.

In the short term the Cubs are plugging a gap. 3B is fairly thin league wide. I think for now the most ideal situation is the one where Mike Olt wins the job and creates a shuffle in the infield. Over the long term the picture is a bit murkier but in a good way. There’s talent there, it just needs to shake out.

Filed under: Analysis

Tags: analysis, Baseball, Cubs, third base


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  • Murphy?

  • A good problem to have, Id bet there are 15 other teams that wish they had the Cubs minor league system. And were not even including the likes of G Torres or Jiminez yet.

  • In reply to mutant beast:

    I think it is closer to 29 teams than 15.

  • In reply to mutant beast:

    At least 28 as 30 are rated bwelow them as best miinor system.

  • He's limited with the glove, he crashed and burned in 100 MLB PA's, but man... Josh Vitters has still slashed .302/.361/.513 in two AAA seasons. He's still 24. We can't write that off so easily.

  • In reply to BenCerow:

    I think Vitters has to be considered to be effectively out of the running for Cubs 3B at this stage. Both because that's the comments that managment have floated, and because he was never going to be a solid defensive 3B guy anyway - and those breathing down his neck have the potential to be.

    But if he tears the cover off the ball - he does have to be considered as a factor to make the team somewhere,....

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    In reply to drkazmd65:

    agree with above

  • In reply to SKMD:

    I agree with the two MDs.

  • In reply to drkazmd65:

    Vitters posted great numbers last year in shortened time in AAA. If he can prove that his 2012 MLB problems (.121 avg, .202 SLG) were just growing pains, he could prove an interesting development. Giving up on such a potentially talented hitter before he even hits his prime makes no sense, especially when we reflect on all of the success that the Cardinals have had bringing up 27-28 year olds from their minor league systems to become instant contributors (Freese, Craig)/MVP Candidates (Carpenter) in the past 5 years.

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    In reply to BenCerow:

    I am/was a huge Vitters fan until he bailed on the winter league last year - I still haven't heard a good explanation of what happened there. Whether he gave up, was tired of playing, was asked to leave or a combination of the above, doesn't look good on a resume'

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    In reply to BenCerow:

    He's also no longer considered a third baseman. I do believe he also closer to looking for his next job than he is to playing in the majors. Roosevelt Brown hit a combined .355 over his three years at AAA.
    Baseball history is filled with guys who, if you only looked at their AAA stats, would seem to be HOFers. LaHair, Jeremy Reed, Ryan Sweeney, Roosevelt Brown, etc

  • I can still see Ryan Roberts (Tat-Man) winning a good portion of the playing time at 3B. He's a good defender over there, takes walks, has reasonable power potential and is a good base-runner. Overall, he's a very fundamentally sound player. He's likely to hit for a low batting average though, like most of this team. He certainly hits left-handed pitching better than right-handed pitching but there are few guys on this team that hit right-handed pitching well. Only Schierholtz, Rizzo and Kottaras have above a .750 OPS combined over the last three seasons against right-handed pitching.

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    In reply to stephenwdavis:

    IIRC there's only a couple of position player 25 man roster spots up for grabs - Bonifacio probably gets one, I doubt Roberts brings enough to the table to be worth a 25 man spot. Especially if Barney steps it up.

  • You missed Murphy and Roberts. Two guys who are much more likely to get the nod than Watkins, who most likely has options.

  • In reply to givejonadollar:

    Murphy's likely the AAA Caddy guy, ditto with Roberts. Logan Watkins is thrown in there because he has at least some sort of remote shot at sticking with the club beyond 2015.

  • Cubs currently have a bottom five 3B situation, hopefully it will be top five when Baez/Bryant hit their prime.

  • I look at it another way. Depth at 1st base as well.

  • Actually 3rd base was one of the most productive positions for the cubs last season. Why do they play 6 games in phoenix today but cubs are double postponed? They forget to order a tarp for the new park.

  • Agreed. 3B was one of the Cubs most productive positions in 2013 and collectively they played at an above league average level -- and well above average when it came to power and defense.

  • I don't think we have depth at 3B. We have plenty of people who play a poor 3b. Yes we have Bryant who looks like a solid and safe bet. Candelario and Villanueva are average prospects but maybe several years away. Olt is already injuried so who knows about him. Vitters, Watkins, Murphy, and Valbuena are not a good option. Just because you have a bunch of pennies doesn't make you rich.

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    I hope and want to belive that Olt's vision problems are behind him, but I can't help thinking about last year at this time when everyone was saying Jackson's new swing was supposed to show strides of improvement and win him a starting outfield spot. We all know how that turned out.

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    In reply to gas34:

    Yeah. He got hurt before he got a chance to fine tune the new swing to game action. That's how it turned out.

    Olt is a completely different situation.

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    In reply to Marcel Jenkins:

    I know Olt's situation is completely different but all the talk about how everything is fixed reminded me of Jackson

  • I am not sure we have a lot of depth at 3b. But more like below average options to play 3b. Bryant is a safe and solid bet to a good player. Villanueva and Candelario r prospects that are couple years away from being ready. Olt is injuried so who knows. Watkins, Murphy, vitters and valbuena are not very good options. Just because you have a lot of pennies doesn't make you rich.

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