The infield outlook appears muddy down on the farm.
With the conclusion of the Arizona Fall League and the Hot Stove League kicking into high gear, the Cubs appear to have more questions than answers concerning the infield throughout the system. While management grapples with the question of ‘Who’s on Third?’ for the parent club, a series of conflicting statements on a number of prospects has somewhat clouded the picture in the minor league system. Then add in the two-cents from the prospect experts and you truly have a confusing situation.
Here is a level-by-level look at the infield situation throughout the Cubs’ system. Triple-A – Iowa Cubs
The Cubs’ organization has already gone on record that third baseman Josh Vitters will begin the 2013 season with the I-Cubs. While the hole at third for the parent club suggests that Vitters will see most of his action there, management has not said in what capacity Vitters will be used. Josh Vitters has previous experience both at first base and in the outfield.
Greg Rohan ended last season as Iowa’s third baseman, and his overall numbers were .282/.349/.491/.839 with 38 doubles, 21 home runs and 106 RBI across three levels (Daytona, Tennessee and Iowa). Rohan will be 27 years old (May 11, 1986) shortly after the beginning of the 2013 season. Rohan has also spent time in the outfield and first base.
There have been several reports that Junior Lake will be moved to third base, a process he has already started in the Dominican Winter League. However, expect this transition to be gradual, with Lake seeing plenty of reps at shortstop for Iowa. The organization signed Edwin Maysonet out of the Brewers minor league system and Alberto Gonzalez, who played with Texas last season. Maysonet has seen most of his action at shortstop and has had brief stops in the majors. Depending on how management sees their backup situation, both in Chicago and at Iowa, they may also consider re-signing Alfredo Amezaga or Diory Hernandez.
After naming him their Minor League Player of the Year, the club inexplicably left second baseman Logan Watkins off the roster of the Arizona Fall League in favor of former first round draft pick Javier Baez. When Baez’s participation was cut short due to injury, Watkins replaced him and acquitted himself nicely. Watkins hit just .219 but showed an ability to work the count and get on base (.375 OBP) despite being away from baseball for approximately two months. Watkins could also see playing time at shortstop and in centerfield. Adrian Cardenas could backup Watkins but he is a free agent and can sign with any organization. Cardenas appears to have a lot of supporters in the Cubs’ system, but few appear to be in the Cubs’ brain trust.
The muddled situation at third base essentially blocks the CCO’s Minor League Player of the Year Justin Bour from advancing to Triple-A. Bour hit .283/.360/.455/.815 with 36 doubles, 17 home runs and 110 RBI in a pitching dominated Southern League last season.
Double-A – Tennessee Smokies
The Smokies appear to have one lock for their infield picture, as management has already indicated the Christian Villanueva will open the season as Tennessee’s third baseman. Acquired from the Texas Rangers toward the end of last season, Villanueva is considered to be among the top 100 prospects in all of baseball. Villanueva has hit 31 home runs over the last two seasons and brings with him a reputation of being a good defender with a quick bat.
As to who will be lining up on Villanueva’s right is a concern and the picture is a little fuzzy. Twenty-one year old Arismendy Alcantara seems to be in line for the job. Alcantara had an MVP-type season for Daytona in 2012. Alcantara hit .302/.339/.447/.786 with 13 doubles and seven home runs. Alcantara drove in 51 runs and swiped 25 bases, usually holding down one of the two top spots in the batting order. However, Alcantara’s season ended early (85 games) with a leg injury and he committed 30 errors at shortstop. Elliot Soto is probably the best defensive shortstop in the entire organization (majors included) but regressed offensively last year. After hitting a combined .271/.316/.308/.625 in 112 games (Peoria and Daytona) in 2011, Soto managed a .221/.307/.285/.592 slash line in 91 games last season (Daytona and Tennessee) Versatile back-up Dustin Harrington will also be on hand. But don’t be too surprised if either hot-hitting Tim Saunders or top prospect Javier Baez makes a push for the position in spring.
The biggest hole for Tennessee will be second base, as incumbent Matt Cerda yo-yoed between the Smokies and Daytona last season while hitting a combined .241/.374/.317/.691. Cerda has also seen action at third in his career. Both Soto and Harrington could also be plugged in, but outfielder Rubi Silva, who led the minor league system with a .296 average, may also see a lot of time at the position. Silva struggled in the AFL but hit a combined .296/.315/.412/.727 with 15 doubles, 14 triples and five home runs in stops in Daytona (111 games) and Tennessee (20 games)
As stated in the Iowa Cubs section, it looks like Justin Bour will be returning to play first base for the Smokies this season. With the release of Daytona’s 2012 first baseman Rebel Ridling, the only other option could be last year’s 40th round draft pick Jacob Rogers.
High Class-A – Daytona Cubs
One of the more interesting scenarios for minor league fans next year could be the infield for the Daytona Cubs, as they presently appear to have more bodies than positions available. The intrigue should center on the shortstop position, where the CCO’s Short Season Player of the Year Tim Saunders has seemed to earn the starting nod by hitting a combined .381/.431/.536/.967 with 13 doubles, five home runs and 17 stolen bases in 49 games over three levels. However, management has flip-flopped more on what position Javier Baez will play than a politician at election time. Right now its shortstop, so Saunders may have to bide his time at second, third, or the outfield. Baez hit a combined .294/.346/.543/.888 with 13 doubles, six triples, 16 homers and 46 RBI in 80 games, but struggled with the D-Cubs last season (.188/.244/.400/.644 with three doubles, a triple and four home runs in 23 games) and had a hot-and-cold performance in the Arizona Fall League. Also available could be the Northwest League batting champion Stephen Bruno, who lists shortstop (along with second base, third base, outfield, and catcher) on his resume. Bruno, the Cubs’ seventh round pick last year, hit .361/.442/.496/.938 with 19 doubles, three triples and three home runs in 67 game with the Boise Hawks.
Javier Baez has also been tried at third base, a position he clearly has no taste for, but that doesn’t mean he won’t see action there in 2013 for Daytona. Seeing the bulk of the third base duty should be Dustin Geiger. The native Floridian tied for second in the entire system with 17 home runs last season, despite missing eight weeks with a hand injury. As stated above, Saunders and Bruno, if he makes the club, could also see time at third.
Returning to play second for the D-Cubs should be Ronald Torreyes. The 20-year old struggled in the first half of 2012 but rallied to post a .264/.326/.385/.711 slash line with 23 doubles, five triples, six homers and 13 stolen bases. Like at third, Saunders and Bruno may also line up at second base. The biggest question mark may be Zeke DeVoss. Management singled out DeVoss following the season, but the pure facts are the he posted a mediocre .249 batting average and committed 28 errors at second. DeVoss swiped 35 bases and had a .382 on-base percentage plus he hit 24 doubles, seven triples and six home runs in 125 games for the Chiefs.
First base also appears to be up in the air, with no clear candidate. Paul Hoilman set a Northwest League record with 17 home runs in 2011, but sat most of the second half of 2012 with an injury. Prior to that, Hoilman only hit eight homers with a .237/.326/.392/.718 line in 109 games for Peoria. The last player taken by the Cubs in the 2012 draft, Jacob Rogers had a fine showing by hitting a combined .326/.462/.507/.970 with 11 doubles, four home runs and 27 RBI in 42 games. Geiger also has some experience playing first base.
Low Class-A – Kane County Cougars
There doesn’t seem to be a lot of controversy for the Cougars’ infield, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot of interest. All five of the infielders for the Boise Hawks (including utility man Stephen Bruno) were listed among the top pro prospects in the Northwest League for 2012. Because of the proximity of the cities, the quintet has even received some comparisons to the storied 1970 Spokane Indians squad (Bill Buckner, Steve Garvey, Davey Lopes, Tom Paciorek, Bill Russell, and Bobby Valentine). As of now, the only real intrigue will be whether the 22-year old Bruno’s .361 batting average will give him a free pass to Daytona or not.
It would be hard not to notice the mammoth Dan Vogelbach, as the soon to be 20-year old struck fear into the hearts of pitchers everywhere. Vogelbach hit a combined .322 with 17 home runs and 62 RBI in 61 games, and most importantly, a .410 on-base percentage. He will be backed by Rock Shoulders, who tied Vogelbach for the Boise team lead with ten homers, along with 37 RBI and a .250 batting average. Shoulders also saw playing time in the outfield, and has previous experience at third base and catcher.
The youngest player of the bunch is 19-year old switch-hitter Jeimer Candelario. The third baseman hit .281 with six homers while leading the Hawks with 47 RBI. However, he will have to improve his defense (committed 20 errors last year) if he wants to remain at the position.
The organization appears to be developing a sparkling double-play combination of second baseman Gioskar Amaya and shortstop Marco Hernandez. The rangy 19-year olds showed both a lot of potential and areas they need to improve. Amaya seized the leadoff spot early in the season and responded by hitting .298 with a .381 on-base percentage, eight homers, 33 RBI, and 15 stolen bases in 69 games. However, he committed nine errors and fielded only .968. The switch-hitting Hernandez was just a shade behind Amaya offensively. Hernandez hit .286/.310/.416/.726 with 12 doubles, four triples, five home runs and eight stolen bases with 38 RBI in 67 games for Boise (combined .258/.287/.373/.660 with 14 doubles, seven triples and seven home runs in 110 games). Considered a slick fielder, Hernandez will have to improve on his 22 errors and .926 fielding percentage to live up to that reputation.
As far as the reserves are concerned, holdover Wes Darvill was pressed into service at third base as result of the injury to Dustin Geiger. At times, Darvill looked out of place while others showed remarkable range and play-making ability. The slow developing prospect appears to be more at home at shortstop. Brad Zapenas sat out most of 2012 with an arm injury, and is considered a defensive standout at short, second and third. Twenty-two year old Ben Carhart, the Cubs 35th round pick in 2012, will probably skip Boise after posting a .353/.419/.456/.875 line for the AZL Cubs with 21 RBI in 35 games. And although he is now considered a catcher, Willson Contreras moved there after playing third base in 2011 and is now considered a jack-of-all-trades, backing up both corner infield and corner outfield positions. Contreras has also developed as a clutch hitter and was second on the Boise Hawks with 39 RBI.
Short Season-A – Boise Hawks
Last season, the Cubs used players for the Dominican Summer League, the Arizona Rookie League, and the draft to fill out the roster for Boise. With no indication that the formula will change, here’s a look at the potential infield roster for the Hawks based on players already in the system.
After struggling early in the season, ceding first base to Dan Vogelbach and playing the outfield, Trevor Gretzky bounced back nicely to hit .304/.372/.330/.703 in 35 games. The 19-year old is a good athlete with a large frame that could develop some power down the line.
Signed as an undrafted free agent, Canadian high schooler Jesse Hodges had a favorable showing the in the Fall Instructional League and is the odds on favorite to open for the Hawks at third base, at this time. Also seeing time in the infield should be Daniel Lockhart and David Bote. Both 19, they have played second, short and third but project more as middle infielders. Both have reputations as good defenders that need to develop more offensively.
Shortstop should be in the hands of 18-year old Carlos Penalver. The Venezuelan teen batted .273/.364/.341/.705 for the AZL Cubs and has something to work with at shortstop, fielding .937 with 14 errors in 42 games.
Also high in consideration should be 19-year old Dominican League players Jenner Emiterio and Bryant Fleet. Emiterio batted .283 while playing second, short, and outfield for the Cubs-1 team in the DSL last season. The switch-hitting Fleet had a .296 average with a .419 on-base percentage while primarily playing second base for C-2.
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