Joe Maddon met with the media at the start of Spring Training and admitted that he had “no idea” who will be the starting third baseman on Opening Night. The Cubs have a ton of options, but ultimately whoever wins the job will only be keeping it warm for super prospect Kris Bryant. Let’s take a look at who has the best chance of winning the job out of Spring Training.
When Luis Valbuena was traded during the off-season, Mike Olt became the player with the most starting experience at third base with a whopping 52 games. He ultimately won the job in Spring Training a year ago but fumbled it batting .152/.213/.376 with four doubles, 11 home runs, 29 RBI and 70 strikeouts in 165 at bats. He was sent to the minors and came back in September and batted .263/.370/.368 while showing a better approach at the plate. Olt is going to have to be better with the glove as well as he was below average last season defensively. If Olt can hit better in the spring, he’s going to have a role on this team as a backup at first, the outfield corners and if he plays his cards right, the mainstay at third.
If Olt isn’t ready, Tommy La Stella may get a shot even though he has never played third. La Stella has played exclusively at second, but as an average fielder there with an average arm, should be able to be serviceable. La Stella has no problem hitting though and owned a career .320/.409/.473 line in the minors and batted a decent .251 in his rookie year last season. He’s not a power guy though and would either bat at the top of the lineup due to his plate discipline or low in the order. Like Olt, he’s got a good chance of making the roster and will probably get a few starts at third.
Arismendy Alcantara is also in contention for starts at third assuming he can make better contact than he did last season. He’s currently slated to be the team’s super utility player playing all over the infield and outfield. In the minors, Alcantara played 51 games at third base, but was horrible at fielding there. He’ll most likely get some reps in the spring to get reacquainted and if he holds his own, get some time there because he can switch hit.
Non-roster invitees Chris Valaika and Jonathan Herrera will be the fallback options as a utility player and starts at third should Alcantara not prove he’s ready. Both are above average fielders at the position.
All eyes during spring will be on Bryant who has vowed to force the front office to put him on the Opening Day roster with his play. Recently voted by Baseball America, FanGraphs and Keith Law as the top prospect in baseball, Bryant will be with the Cubs at some point this season, the question is when. It may come down to his defense at third which has gotten better, but still needs some work.
Scouts say that he still has issues on back handed stabs and slow rollers and may need to eventually be moved to the outfield. That may be enough of an excuse to send Bryant to the minors for a month to delay his service clock and gain an extra year of control.
However, there is no doubt that Kris Bryant is ready with the bat. In a season split between Tennessee and Iowa, Bryant slashed .325/.438/.661 and crushed 34 doubles, 43 home runs, 110 RBI and 15 stolen bases. The power certainly stands out, but Bryant struck out 162 times last year and may need a little work on his plate discipline as well even though he walked 86 times.
Third base is really Kris Bryant’s position to lose and until the front office decides he’s ready to have it will be filled out by some combination of Mike Olt, Tommy La Stella and Arismendy Alcantara.