Position Analysis – Second Base
The second installment of the off-season series to summarize and project how the Cubs minor league system looks on a position-by-position basis focuses on a position that has recently become one of the strongest in the organization: Second Base
If there can be considered a good luck position to play, it would be second base for the Iowa Cubs. It was quite simple in 2014: play the position, earn a promotion to the big leagues.
It began with Arismendy Alcantara, who in his first taste of Triple-A action, batted .307/.353/.537/.890 with 25 doubles, 11 triples 10 home runs, 41 RBI, and 21 stolen bases in only 89 games. Upon his promotion, Javier Baez moved over from his shortstop position and continued his assault on Pacific Coast League pitching. Baez produced a .260/.323/.510/.833 line with 24 doubles, 23 home runs, 80 RBI, and 16 stolen bases in 104 games before he was summoned to Chicago. Soon to follow were Logan Watkins and Chris Valaika. After a frustrating stint with the parent club in 2013, Watkins returned to Iowa knowing the he would be behind both Alcantara and Baez in the middle infield. Instead, Watkins embraced a super-sub role and lined up at seven defensive positions while committing only eight errors in 338 overall chances. On offense, Watkins batted .256/.327/.364/.691 with 21 doubles, four home runs, 38 RBI, and 23 stolen bases in 103 games. A major league veteran, Valaika played the role of a good soldier and plugged in holes wherever needed. Valaika started at all four infield positions and a couple of turns in the outfield. Valaika didn’t let his situation get him down as he hit .278/.344/.423/.768 with 21 doubles, 10 home runs, and 50 RBI in 102 games before he returned to the majors.
It is pretty certain that Alcantara and Baez will be part of the big league roster moving forward in 2015. What is not clear is whether Valaika will be kept around and if Watkins will be able to also make the roster. So it is quite possible that either Watkins or Valaika, or both, could also be with the Iowa Cubs in 2015.
Seemingly always on hand is Jonathan Mota. The 27-year old once again split his time between Double-A Tennessee and Iowa while lining up at all of the infield and outfield positions. In 99 games, Mota hit a combined .252/.280/.344/.624 with 13 doubles, four home runs, 28 RBI, and three stolen bases. Mota remains a good “system” player and a capable fill-in.
If things break right, Stephen Bruno could end up the Opening Day starter at second for Iowa, provided he can stay in one piece. After winning the 2012 Northwest League batting title, things have been a little bit of a struggle for the 23-year old. Bruno lost most of his 2013 season to injuries, and also had to spend some time on the disabled list in 2014. In between, Bruno just kept on hitting for Double-A Tennessee. His final numbers do not reflect his overall ability, but more of his struggles to stay in the line-up. Bruno hit .346 in May and .297 in June before losing time to injuries. Bruno finished with a .276/.346/.393/.739 line that included 26 doubles, five triples, three home runs, 42 RBI, and six stolen bases in 105 games. Bruno isn’t the greatest of fielders, with a .973 percentage last season, but he does have experience at second, shortstop, third base, and outfield while fooling around at catcher in the Fall Instructional League a couple of years ago.
One of the more intriguing players at second base this off-season will be Daytona’s Gioskar Amaya. The 21-year old put a rough 2013 season behind him and fared much better at High-A. Amaya batted .276/.379/.369/.747 with 16 doubles, three triples, four home runs, 35 RBI, and 14 stolen bases. His fielding also improved as Amaya cut down from 22 errors in 2013 to 13 and increased his fielding percentage to .972. The organization has sent Amaya back to the Fall Instructional League where he is getting a second look at catcher as well as third base. Amaya is eligible for the Rule 5 Draft, and is right on the edge in which a team might risk a Major League roster spot and a year’s development for him. If he does survive the Rule 5 Draft, Amaya has been heavily rumored to possibly be the “player to be named later” in the trade that brought LHP Felix Doubront from the Red Sox. If Amaya remains with the organization for 2015, expect him to be with Double-A Tennessee in some capacity.
What is not clear is where the organization now stands on Wes Darvill. The 2009 fifth round pick seemed to have turned a corner after a good second half showing at High-A Daytona and a trip to the Arizona Fall League in 2013. But Darvill never was able to find the rhythm at Double-A Tennessee, where he began the 2014 season, and ended up back in Daytona after 39 games. With the D-Cubs, Darvill’s offensive production was pretty much a carbon copy of his 2013 stint. Overall, Darvill was a disappointing .248/.301/.330/.631 with 17 doubles, two triples, two home runs, 37 RBI, and eight stolen bases. Seeing about equal time at second base, third base, and shortstop, Darvill saw his fielding improve at third base, but take a dip at second and short. At 23 years old, Darvill seems more of a “system” player than a prospect, but there is still some hope he can turn things around.
An unknown quantity that could turn some heads is 2014 32nd round pick Andrew Ely. A victim of the Cubs’ overcrowded lower farm system and his low draft selection, the 21-year old had to toil away in the Arizona Rookie League for 25 games after signing. Ely batted .326 with four home runs. With a pressing need for middle infielders, Ely was promoted all the way to Triple-A Iowa in late August where he held his own and hit .229 with a home run and nine RBI in nine games. For the year, Ely was .298/.348/.479/.828 with five doubles, a triple, five homers, 16 RBI, and a stolen base in 34 games. The left-hander also fielded well, with an overall percentage of .981. Just where Ely fits on the depth chart is unclear, but don’t be too surprised to see Ely at Double-a Tennessee sometime in 2015.
The next fast-rising prospect at the second base position could be 22-year old Chesny Young. Drafted in the 14th round out of Mercer College in 2014, Young lit up the scoreboard after a two game warm-up in the rookie league. Assigned to Short-Season A Boise, Young hit .354 with nine RBI in 15 games before he was bumped up to Low-A Kane County. The quick rise didn’t seem to faze Young as he went out and batted .324 with another nine RBI in 27 games for the Cougars. All combined, Young went .327/.384/.409/.793 with nine doubles, two triples, 18 RBI and three stolen bases in 44 games. The Cubs moved Young around in the field, playing him at second, third, and shortstop with the bulk of the duty at second base, fielding .987 in 32 games. Young is being further evaluated in the Fall Instructional League and looks to be a good bet as the Opening Day second baseman for High-A Myrtle Beach in 2015.
Consistent can be the best way to describe 2011 tenth round pick Danny Lockhart. The son of Cubs’ scout and former major league infielder Keith Lockhart had a breakout sea son in 2013, hitting .290 in 67 games. While the 21-year old spent some time on the disabled list in 2014, he maintained the offensive production he established the previous year, batting .292/.352/.373/.724 with four triples, 31 RBI, and 13 stolen bases in 93 games, mainly for Low-A Kane County. The lefty also improved in the field to a .983 percentage at second base. Lockhart also lined up 11 times at shortstop, and there has been talk that he might be at shortstop as he progresses to High-A Myrtle Beach next season, due to the overload of second basemen and the possible lack of readiness of some of the shortstop prospects.
Twenty-one year old David Bote may be reaching a crossroads of his career. An 18th round pick of the 2012 draft as an infielder, he ha s played every position (including pitcher) except catcher during his career. Bote opened the 2014 season with Low-A Kane County, but could not crack the starting line-up and floundered in a reserve role, batting .210 with a home run and 21 RBI in 58 games. Bote was then sent back down to Short-Season A Boise where he lined up at six different positions, but the story doesn’t end there. Toward the end of the season, Bote was called up to Triple-A Iowa, who was in need of middle infielders. To everyone’s astonishment, Bote went 4-for-12 with a home run and three RBI as he played in four games. For the season, Bote was a combined .235/.345/.343/.688 with 23 doubles, four home runs, 40 RBI, and 13 stolen bases. Bote also cleaned up his defense, fielding .977 in 53 games at second base. A player that appears to have offensive potential, Bote will have to find a way to tap into that in order to advance. Otherwise, Bote may end up as a “system” player.
While lining up mainly at shortstop for the 2014 season, it appears that the future home for Bryant Flete will be second base. Signed as an international free agent in 2012, the 21-year old is considered a dynamic performer. Flete opened the 2014 season with the AZL Cubs in the rookie league, but was promoted to Short-Season A Boise after 19 games. Facing Northwest League pitching, Flete had his ups and downs both offensively and defensively. Playing mainly second base in the rookie league, Flete moved over to short for the Hawks, but moved back to second base upon the promotion of Gleyber Torres. Always a somewhat erratic defender, Flete posted a .944 average at second base and fielded .927 at shortstop. Between the two stops, the left-handed batter hit .273/.363.317/.680 with eight doubles, 19 R BI and five stolen bases in 55 games. Fete is considered to have untapped offensive potential, but he will have to improve his overall game in order to fend off some rapidly advancing prospects behind him.
The VSL Cubs had essentially a three-head second baseman in Danny Gutierrez, Henrry Pedra, and Jesus Gonzalez. The 23-year old Gutierrez can be considered more a roster filler than a prospect, as he used his experience and maturity to bat .285.355/.350/.705 with 12 RBI and seven stolen bases in 36 games while fielding .923. Twenty-year old Pedra has a little more upside, playing mainly second but also lining up at four other positions. Pedra had nine stolen bases to go along with 10 RBI and a .254/.318/.297/.614 line in 46 games and a .948 fielding percentage at second base. The 18-year old Gonzalez has made some progress in his second professional season, but still has a way to go. Gonzalez hit .224/.275/.259/.534 with four RBI and two stolen bases in 39 games, and had second base fielding average of only .892.
The DSL Cubs had a very young team in 2014, with their starting second baseman being 19-year old Franklin Tineo. Tineo hit only .213/.317/.281/.598 with nine doubles, a triple, 15 RBI, and six stolen base in 56 games of his first professional season. Tineo fielded a respectable .962 in 32 games at second. Eighteen-year old switch-hitter Frandy De La Rosa spent most of his time at designated hitter after escaping a fiery crash in the off-season and played both second and short when he did play the field. However, De La Rosa’s game plays more to second, as he fielded .958 there opposed to .892 at shortstop. De La Rosa had a very good season at the plate, batting .281/.336/.402/.737 with 19 doubles, four triples, a home run, 50 RBI, and 12 stolen bases in 61 games.