No Shortage of Middle Infielders in the Cubs System

Historically the Cubs’ system has not been known for producing position players. Outside of Shawon Dunston, Joe Girardi, Mark Grace and Ryan Theriot, the Cubs’ organization has produced several one-year wonders and a catcher in Geovany Soto that the book is still out on.

Most that follow the Chicago Cubs know the name Starlin Castro … the soon-to-be 20-year old shortstop that reportedly possesses all of the tools to be a solid shortstop at the big league level. But other than Brett Jackson, Josh Vitters and Kyler Burke, the top prospects in the Cubs’ system are middle infielders.

The Cubs have depth up the middle with players such as Starlin Castro, Hak-Ju Lee, Darwin Barney, Junior Lake, Ryan Flaherty, Logan Watkins and DJ LeMahieu. These players could end up playing a role in the future of the Chicago Cubs, either on the field or in trades to improve the big league club … but also the athleticism it takes to play up the middle could provide options for the Cubs down the road at other positions.

A recent report in the VineLine stated, “The Cubs might have more high-ceiling shortstops coming through the pipeline than at any point in the organization’s history.”

From top to bottom there are a lot of talented shortstops in the Cubs’ system here is a look …

Starlin Castro
DOB – March 24, 1990
Bats: R, Throws: R
How Acquired: Signed as Non-Drafted Free Agent in 2006
Highest Level in 2009: Double-A (Tennessee Smokies)

2010 Prospect Rankings:
Baseball America – 1
Baseball Prospectus – 2
FanGraphs – 2
Minor League Ball – 1

Positions Played in 2009: SS (in Cubs system), SS/2B (in Arizona Fall League)

Organization Rankings:
Baseball America – Best Defensive Infielder
VineLine – Runner-up for Best Contact Hitter in System
VineLine – Runner-up for Best Clutch Hitter in System
VineLine – Best Range of Shortstops in System
VineLine – Best Arm of Shortstops in System
National Rankings:
MLB.com – 22nd Best Prospect in Baseball
ESPN – 12th Best Prospect in Baseball

Starlin Castro made a name for himself in 2009. After being named the seventh best prospect in the Cubs’ system by Baseball America prior to the season, he began the year in High Class-A (Daytona Cubs).

After a rough start, Castro put together a .302/.340/.391/.731 line in 96 games with 17 doubles, three triples and three home runs. Castro made the Florida State League All-Star team and finished the year in Double-A … before tearing up the Arizona Fall League. Castro also received an invite to XM Radio’s Future Game in St. Louis during All-Star Weekend.

Castro is not known for his patience at the plate but as a contact hitter. However, Castro’s plate discipline improved when he was Double-A. Castro showed he could hit better pitching after his late-season promotion … and some feel he could continue to make the same adjustments as he makes his way to Chicago.

Starlin Castro will be in big league camp and reportedly will be given every opportunity to be the Cubs’ starting shortstop on Opening Day. The realistic projection for Castro is to begin the year with Ryne Sandberg in Iowa.

Without a doubt, Starlin Castro is one of the most-hyped Cubs’ prospects in recent years. It will be interesting to see how the soon-to-be 20-year old handles the pressure.

Baseball Reference Page

Hak-Ju Lee
DOB – November 4, 1990
Bats: L, Throws: R
How Acquired: Signed as Non-Drafted Free Agent in 2008
Highest Level in 2009: Short-Season Class-A (Boise Hawks)

2010 Prospect Rankings:
Baseball America – 6
Baseball Prospectus – 3
FanGraphs – 4
Minor League Ball – 6

Positions Played in 2009: SS

Organization Rankings:
Baseball America – Best Hitter for Average
VineLine – Best Contact Hitter
VineLine – Best Footwork of Shortstops in System
VineLine – Best Throwing Accuracy of Shortstops in System
VineLine – Best Raw Speed in System
VineLine – Best Home-to-First Time in System

Hak-Ju Lee began 2009 as the tenth best prospect in the Cubs’ system according to Baseball America … and did not disappoint last year. Lee led the Northwest League in runs and stolen bases and finished fifth in league in batting average.

Lee projects better than Starlin Castro as a big league shortstop … and if both prospects make it to Chicago, the premature thought is Castro will be moved to second base.

Hak-Ju Lee is one of the fastest players in the Cubs system. He uses his speed both offensively and defensively, which grades as a 65 on the 20-80 scouting scale. Lee’s patience at the plate (10.6 % walk rate in his first pro-season) and ability to make contact (coupled with his speed) projects him as a leadoff hitter in the majors.

While many are focused on Starlin Castro, Hak-Ju Lee might be the best shortstop in the Cubs’ system.

Baseball Reference Page

Darwin Barney
DOB – November 8, 1985
Bats: R, Throws: R
How Acquired: 4th Round Pick of the Cubs in 2007 Draft
Highest Level in 2009: Triple-A (Iowa Cubs)

2010 Propect Rankings:
Baseball America – Projected in Top 30 – Ranked 19 in 2009
Baseball Prospectus – 15
FanGraphs – NR
Minor League Ball – Honorable Mention

Positions Played in 2009: SS/2B (Triple-A), SS/2B/3B (Double-A)

Organization Rankings:
Baseball Prospectus – One of the Best Defenders in Minor League Baseball
VineLine – Most Competitive in the System
VineLine – Best Baseball IQ in the System

Darwin Barney will be in big league camp for the second straight spring. Barney has been compared to Ryan Theriot, and the comparison at the plate is accurate. Both players get the most out of their ability but Barney possesses more of a prototypical shortstop’s arm … and has a little more range than Theriot in the field. Barney was named one of the best defenders in minor league ball by Baseball Prospectus.

Darwin Barney projects to hit enough in big leagues to be a utility player.

Baseball Reference Page

Ryan Flaherty
DOB – July 27, 1986
Bats: L, Throws: R
How Acquired: Supplemental Pick (Round 1) of 2008 Draft
Highest Level in 2009: Low Class-A (Peoria Chiefs)

2010 Prospect Rankings:
Baseball America – 9
Baseball Prospectus – 10
FanGraphs – 7
Minor League Ball – 9

Positions Played in 2009: SS/2B/3B

Organization Rankings:
VineLine – Best Power Hitter in System
VineLine – Best Range of Third Basemen in System

Ryan Flaherty was drafted out of Vanderbilt as a shortstop but many feel he could end up as a productive third baseman or second baseman at the Major League level. Flaherty possesses a shortstop’s arm and has shown enough range, and power at the plate, to play at the hot corner.

One of the biggest pluses with Ryan Flaherty is his versatility in the infield. Flaherty played 19 games at third base, 55 games at second base and 40 games at shortstop in 2009.

Flaherty struggles against southpaws and got off to a slow start in 2009. But the bottom line with Flaherty is he can hit and hit with power. Flaherty finished in the top five in the Midwest League in home runs, RBI and total bases. Flaherty could get lost in all of the talent in the Cubs’ system unless he takes his game to the next level in 2010.

Ryan Flaherty should begin the year with the Daytona Cubs … and finish the season with the Tennessee Smokies.

Baseball Reference Page

Logan Watkins
DOB – August 29, 1989
Bats: L, Throws: R
How Acquired: 21st Round Pick of the Cubs in 2008 Draft
Highest Level in 2009: Short-season Class-A (Boise Hawks)

2010 Rankings:
Baseball America – 7
Baseball Prospectus – 13
FanGraphs – 9
Minor League Ball – 12

Positions Played in 2009: 2B/LF

Organization Rankings:
VineLine – Best Contact Hitter in System
VineLine – Best Range of Second Basemen in System
VineLine – Best Arm Strength of Second Basemen in System

Logan Watkins might not be as flashy as some of the middle infield prospects in the Cubs system … but he is solid. The Cubs pick of Watkins in the 21st round of the 2008 draft has been labeled as a steal.

Watkins is a contact hitter with a low strikeout rate with the ability to get on base … but possesses little to no power. He put together an impressive line of .326/.389/.391/.780 in 72 games last year with 14 doubles and two triples.

Watkins played two games in left field for the Boise Hawks in 2009 … and spent five games in the outfield in 2008. Watkins figures to begin the year with the Peoria Chiefs.

Baseball Cube Page

DJ LeMahieu
DOB – July 13, 1988
Bats: R, Throws: R
How Acquired: 2nd Round Pick of the Cubs in 2009 Draft
Highest Level in 2009: Low Class-A (Peoria Chiefs)

2010 Rankings:
Baseball America – 10
Baseball Prospectus – NR
FanGraphs – NR
Minor League Ball – 10

Positions Played in 2009: SS/2B

DJ LeMahieu could be one of the prospects to watch in 2010. LeMahieu is similar to Ryan Flaherty but with less power. LeMahieu is a contact hitter with power potential. He has good plate coverage with a good eye … his smooth, level swing produces a lot of line drives.

After signing with the Cubs, LeMahieu began his pro career in Rookie Ball in Arizona. After just three games (.417/.429/.583/1.012) he was promoted to Peoria (Low Class-A) and continued hitting.

In 38 games for the Chiefs, LeMahieu put together a .316/.371/.368/.740 line with four doubles and two triples. He figures to begin 2010 with the Chiefs.

With the depth in the Cubs’ system, DJ LeMahieu could end up at third base.

Baseball Reference Page

Junior Lake
DOB – March 27, 1990
Bats: R, Throws: R
How Acquired: Signed as Non-Drafted Free Agent in 2007
Highest Level in 2009: Low Class-A (Peoria Chiefs)

2010 Rankings:
Baseball America – Projected in Top 30 – Ranked 14 in 2009
Baseball Prospectus – NR
FanGraphs – NR
Minor League Ball – NR

Positions Played in 2009: SS/2B/3B

Organization Rankings:
Baseball America – Best Infield Arm
VineLine – Best Arm Strength in Organization – possibly in all of baseball

Junior Lake is one of the least talked about prospects in the Cubs’ system that could have one of the biggest upsides. The soon-to-be 20-year old struggled at the plate in Peoria last year (.248/.277/.356/.642 with 19 doubles, seven triples and seven home runs in 131 games).

Lake has a cannon for an arm (graded at 65 on the 20-80 scouting scale prior to the 2009 season) and could end up in centerfield down the line. Coupled with his speed, Lake could be an above average centerfielder if the Cubs decide to move him. Lake has the tools, and like the other middle infielders in the Cubs’ system is a big-athletic player at 6’3″ … but he has a lot of work to do at the plate.

Baseball Reference Page

Other players to keep an eye on up the middle … Tony Thomas, Matt Camp, Blake Lalli and Wesley Darvill.

The Cubs’ front office and big league coaches will get a first hand look at many of the top prospects in the system this spring. The following players received non-roster invites to big league camp:

Pitchers – Andrew Cashner, Casey Coleman, James Russell, Thomas Diamond, Jeff Kennard, J.R. Mathes, Vince Perkins
Catchers - Robinson Chirinos, Steve Clevenger, Chris Robinson
InfieldersDarwin Barney, Starlin Castro, Blake Lalli, Kevin Millar, Chad Tracy, Josh Vitters
OutfieldersMatt Camp, Brett Jackson, Bryan LaHair, Bobby Scales, Brad Snyder

Cubs 40-man Roster
Cubs Non-Roster Invitees to Major League Spring Training

Related Articles on the Cubs’ Farm System

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