Unusual Spring Training Battle Ahead

Spring training is less than three months away, but a spring training battle for playing time is likely to emerge. The situation can be projected ahead based upon the unusual situation the Cubs have in their roster. The Cubs are flush with infield prospects that are within a year or two of contributing to the major league team. The open spots that remain on the infield are third base and second base. It is unlikely that the Cubs will sign a free agent infielder with three top 100 prospects able to fill those two spots in the next two seasons. The Cubs have offered contracts to Luis Valbuena, Donnie Murphy and Darwin Barney.

Luis Valbuena and Donnie Murphy made up one of the most productive positions the Cubs had last season. Despite the lack of a regular third baseman, the Cubs received some of the best production in baseball from the position. A surprising year from Cody Ransom was part of that platoon early on, but Murphy showed surprising power in his limited time up. The numbers will likely drop a little next season given the unsustainable HR/FB% Murphy showed in his limited time up, but the Valbuena/Murphy platoon should continue. The question is where.

Mike Olt‘s eye issues might finally be behind him, and if so might provide a real value with good patience, power and defense at the hot corner. The chances of him being a true elite player is probably slim at this point, but a guy that is an above average player is not completely unrealistic. The other issue is that Cubs have a glut of 3B prospects with Christian Villanueva and Kris Bryant likely to play 3B in the upper minors. Mike Olt is expected to compete for the 3B job, but he shouldn’t be competing with the platoon of Valbuena/Murphy. The competition should be with Darwin Barney.

Luis Valbuena and Donnie Murphy are both capable of playing 2B. Valbuena has been playing 2B in Winter Ball, which shouldn’t be read into too much since MLB teams have little control over Winter League teams. Darwin Barney was brought back which was the right move given his skill set and his cost, but a starting spot should be in question at this point. Some have made the argument that Darwin Barney should be played to showcase his skills. That a hot start might sway teams to trade more for the future utility player. Teams at this point know what Darwin Barney is though. He is never going to hit enough to be an asset with the bat. The real question is what is Darwin Barney’s ability to handle shortstop at the major league level. Barney’s abilities, or lack there of, matter a lot less if he plays a gold glove shortstop. We are unlikely to find out the answer to this question with Starlin Castro on the roster, but there is a strong chance that Barney provides more value to this roster as the first true backup shortstop this team has had in a long time.

The question that will have to be answered this spring training is are Mike Olt’s eye issues truly fixed. IF they are there is no reason that he shouldn’t be given the chance to win the 3B job. That job should come at the expense of Darwin Barney. If Olt’s eyes aren’t fixed than perhaps Barney’s glove just might win this unusual spring training battle.

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