Position Analysis – Second Base
Next up in the position analysis is second base, a position that became a little tarnished, but still holds a lot of potential.
Problems developed at second base for the Major League level almost before the season began after Javier Baez could not secure a roster spot in the spring, and was sent to Triple-A. Shortly after the season began, off-season acquisition Tommy La Stella went down with an injury. After a couple of weeks, the parent club made an SOS call to Iowa for shortstop Addison Russell to take over after receiving only five starts at the position. The big league club flip-flopped Russell and former All-Star Starlin Castro in the middle of the diamond in August. Both Baez and La Stella were able to contribute in the majors late in the season.
Through it all, once hot prospect Arismendy Alcantara saw his star lose its shimmer. Alcantara caught the fancy of new Cubs manager Joe Maddon as a potential multi-position threat. But after Alcantara batted only .077 in 11 games with the Cubs, he too was also shipped to Iowa. While Alcantara also played 36 games in the outfield, six at third base, and three at shortstop, he led the parade of 10 players lining up at second base with 74 appearances. The 23-year old hit only .231/.285/.399/.683 with 20 doubles, 10 triples 12 home runs, 36 RBI, and 16 stolen bases in 120 games while fielding a paltry .964 at second base. As of now, Alcantara’s future with the organization is uncertain.
With the second most starts at second base for the I-Cubs, veteran Chris Valaika once again was a good soldier for the organization. A Major League veteran, Valaika plugged in holes wherever needed, starting at all four infield positions. Valaika hit .266/.323/.401/.725 with 22 doubles, a triple, seven home runs, and 41 RBI in 106 while playing solid defense at every position. The 30-year old played on a one year minor league contract, and went through the last few weeks of the season on a knee that will require surgery. Valaika’s return is uncertain, but he is a nice insurance policy to have around.
Signing as a free agent in late August, 30 year old switch-hitter Emilio Bonifacio did what you would expect of a Major League veteran in the final weeks of the minor league season. Bonifacio hit .469/.544/.510/1.054 with two doubles, three RBI, and six stolen bases while splitting his 13 games between second base and the outfield. It is doubtful that he will remain with the Cubs, unless he signs a desperation minor league contract before Spring Training.
Disappointing is the best word that describes Tennessee’s Stephen Bruno 2015 season. The 2012 Northwest League batting champion has struggled his whole career with injuries, but was relatively healthy for the season. Spending some minor time on the disabled list at the start of the year, Bruno hit just .263/.335/.336/.671 with 17 doubles, a triple, two home runs, 48 RBI, and nine stolen bases in 105 games. Bruno isn’t the greatest of fielders, with a .975 average last season and some distant experience at shortstop, third base, and outfield. While the 24-year olds’ numbers may be good enough to see him at Triple-A next season, he has a long way to go to show that he’s more than an average to above average minor league player.
The front office surprised many minor league followers by jumping Bryant Flete all the way to Double-A Tennessee early in 2015. Signed as an international free agent in 2012, the 22-year old had only played in Short-Season Class A prior to this season. Facing Southern League pitching, Flete suffered offensively. The left-handed batter hit .195 in 44 games for the Smokies before being sent all the way down to Low-A South Bend in late July. The struggles at the plate for Flete continued with the SB Cubs, as he batted an overall .166/.261/.221/.482 with four doubles, a triple, a home run, 10 RBI and a stolen base in 58 games. Splitting his time almost evenly between second base and shortstop, with seven games at third base thrown in, Flete posted a .970 average at second base and fielded .927 at shortstop. Flete is considered a dynamic performer with untapped offensive potential, but he will have to improve his overall game in order to fend off some rapidly advancing prospects behind him.
One of those fast-rising prospects is soon to be 23-year old (October 6) Chesny Young. Drafted in the 14th round out of Mercer College in 2014, it was somewhat a surprise that Young started the year at Low-A South Bend after hitting as combined .327 between Short Season-A and Low-A. The setback didn’t seem to faze Young, as he went out and batted .315 in 28 games for the SB Cubs. Promoted to High-A Myrtle Beach in mid-May, Young went out and hit .321/.394/.388/.782 for the Pelicans and won the Carolina League batting title. Young finished the season with a combined 23 doubles, four triples, a home run, 44 RBI and 21 stolen bases in 130 games. The Cubs player development department moved Young around in the field, playing him at first base, second, third, short, and the outfield. Young was up to the challenge, as he fielded no lower than .986 (at first base) at any position and recorded four outfield assists. Young is being further evaluated in the new Advanced Fall Instructional League and was named The CCO’s Minor League Player of the Year.
Starting the bulk of the games at second for High-A Myrtle Beach, 2011 tenth round pick Danny Lockhart will now have to find his offensive game in order to keep up with other prospects. The son of Cubs’ scout and former Major League infielder Keith Lockhart, the 22-year old snuck into MLB Pipeline’s Cub Top 30 Prospects for a short time this past season. However, the lefty could not repeat the .290-plus batting averages he posted the past two seasons. Lockhart hit .223/.271/.301/.573 with 18 doubles, four triples, two home runs, 34 RBI, and nine stolen bases in 118 games for the Pelicans. Lockhart contributed to the best defense in the Carolina League, fielding .980 at second base and displaying exceptional range. Lockhart also lined up six times at shortstop, and has played third base in the past.
It seems as if 22-year old David Bote has reached a turning point his career. An 18th round pick of the 2012 draft, the front office has always been intrigued by Bote’s offensive potential. Finding a place on the diamond was a tougher challenge as Bote lined up at every position except for catcher. Bote opened the 2015 season with Low-A South Bend as a reserve, but the team turned to him more and more as injuries and promotions took its toll. Bote was prepared, playing first base, second, third, outfield, and even pitching six innings. Primarily used at second base (57 games), Bote had his best defensive season, fielding .992 while being a perfect 1.000 at first base and .923 at third. For the season, Bote hit .251/.328/.384/.712 with 20 doubles, two triples, six home runs, 41 RBI, and five stolen bases. Bote also provided leadership for a young squad, and his efforts were rewarded with a reserve spot on The CCO’s All-Prospect Team. Moving forward, Bote appears to be a solid utility player for Myrtle Beach next season.
The Cubs were able to get a lot of mileage out of several 2015 draftees, including 12th round pick P.J. Higgins, 24th rounder Sutton Whiting, and 27th round selection Angelo Amendolare. A former catcher, Higgins saw time in both Arizona and with Short Season-A Eugene, playing 20 games at third base, 11 at second, and five at shortstop. The 22-year old hit very well, going .299/.351/.445/.797 with eight doubles, three triples, two home runs, 15 RBI, and four stolen bases in 36 games overall. Higgins has been invited to the Fall Instructional League, where the goal is to keep him working on his versatility.
Twenty-three year old switch-hitter Whiting was the first player the Cubs called on from the draft to plug holes, seeing playing time at four different levels. Whiting mainly played second base (11 games) but also lined up at short three times and in the outfield twice. It was Whiting performance at Double-A Tennessee that took everyone by surprise, batting .438 in eight games. Including Myrtle Beach, Eugene, and the rookie league, Whiting hit .254/.361/.324/.685 with three doubles, a triple, two RBI, and six stolen bases in 30 games. Not invited to the instructional league, it remains to be seen whether Whiting is just a roster-filler or has a future in the organization.
Amendolare also had a surprise bump in the organization, as the 22-year old saw his first game action with Triple-A Iowa. Amendolare returned to the AZL Cubs after eight games, but finished the season at Low-A South Bend. Through it all, Amendolare hit well, batting .271/.388/.318/.706 with four doubles, 12 RBI, and a stolen base in 30 games. Amendolare also walked (14 times) more than he struck out (10 times), a trait that impresses the top brass. The 5-foot-9, 170-pounder is built for second base, where he played 15 games and fielded .923. But Amendolare also had three starts at third base and four in the outfield, so the front office is keeping their options open.
Nineteen-year old switch-hitter Frandy Delarosa has shaken off injuries and is starting to show some of the potential he displayed when he was signed in 2012. The primary starter for Short Season-A Eugene at second base, Delarosa showed he had some work to do defensively as he fielded only .943. Delarosa had a very good season at the plate, batting .273/.315/.367/.682 with 20 doubles, two triples, 30 RBI, and 11 stolen bases in 62 games. Delarosa is currently in the Fall Instructional League where he is getting another look at shortstop.
Signed out of Mexico, 18-year old Carlos Sepulveda had a very good first professional season. Assigned to the AZL Cubs, Sepulveda had a dynamic showing both offensively and defensively. In 44 games at second base, Sepulveda fielded and astounding .991 and was a respectable .941 in four games at shortstop. At the plate, Sepulveda was not overwhelmed as he hit .281/.351/.308/.659 with five doubles, 25 RBI, and six stolen bases in 47 games. The left-hander is in the Fall Instructional League where he is already impressing onlookers with his glove.
Twenty-year old Dominican Edgar Rondon had an impressive start to his career, as he was the primary second baseman for the DSL Cubs. Rondon led the D-Cubs in hitting, as he batted .322/.437/.466/.902 with eight doubles, seven triples, a home run, 27 RBI, and 12 stolen bases in 52 games. It is on defense where Rondon needs work, as his .962 fielding percentage in 47 games has room for improvement. Rondon also played shortstop ten times and fielded .947.
The VSL Cubs 21-year old Henrry Pedra essentially acted as a coach on the field for a young squad. Pedra spread his time over first base, second, third, and the outfield, batting .209/.308/.2587/.556 with nine doubles, 20 RBI, and 10 stolen bases in 59 games and a .986 fielding average at second base.
Pedra acted as a good buffer for 18-year old phenom Jhonny Bethencourt. The V-Cubs leading hitter, Bethencourt went .319/.410/.398/.808 with 11 doubles, three triples, 15 RBI, and 15 stolen bases in 61 games. However, Bethencourt can use a lot of work defensively as he fielded .941 in 49 starts at second base. Bethencourt also saw time on the outfield, but wasn’t much better, fielding only .905 in 14 appearances. Bethencourt is in the Fall Instructional League, usually a good sign that the organization has big plans for a player.