Position Analysis – Shortstop
Even with three shortstops on the Major League roster there is still a lot of talent at the position throughout the organization. Next up in the position analysis series is a look at the other shortstops in the Cubs system.
There was a changing of the guard at the Major League level, and former All-Star shortstop Starlin Castro was moved to second base in order to shore up the defense. In his place, rookie Addison Russell displayed Gold Glove ability. It should have come as no surprise, as the CCO reported on Russell’s astonishing .990 fielding percentage in last season’s position analysis.
With all that talent at the Major League level, and at mid-season trade of Elliot Soto, there was a dearth of talent at both the Triple-A and Double-A levels. Minor league veteran Jonathan Mota had the most appearances for Iowa, and the second most for Tennessee. Mota posted his second best fielding average at shortstop in his career, a combined .964 as he also played five other positions (first base, second base, third base, left field, right field). The 28-year old’s offensive numbers reflected the totals of his 11-year minor league career: .252/.296/.340/.636 with 11 doubles, two triples, four home runs, 42 RBI, and two stolen bases in 103 total games.
After playing 25 games at second base in the majors the previous season and with players like Castro and Russell ahead of him, it was very curious to see Javier Baez line up 42 times at shortstop in his 74 minor league games. This was in spite of the fact that Baez had already played 330 minor league games at short and sported a substandard .940 career fielding average. Baez had a very trying season in which he could not make the big league club in Spring Training, dealt with the loss of his sister, and broke his hand. Nevertheless, Baez posted outstanding offensive numbers when he played. The 22-year old hit .289 in 28 games for Chicago and was .324/.385/.527/.911 with 14 doubles, two triples, 13 home runs, 61 RBI, and 17 stolen bases in 70 games at Iowa. As Baez’s recall to the majors became eminent, he saw more time at second and third base, flashing both exciting defensive potential and lack of experience. Moving forward, Baez will have to resign himself to no more than token appearances at shortstop and concentrate on getting better defensively elsewhere.
The Cubs filled a self-created hole at the Double-A level by signing former first round bust Ryan Dent. A 2007 selection by the Boston Red Sox, Dent had kicked around the minor leagues for eight seasons before coming to the Cubs’ system. Making about three quarters of his appearances with Tennessee and the rest at Iowa, the 26-year old’s .252/.313/.367/.680 line was the third highest of his career. Dent also had 15 doubles, a triple, five home runs, 32 RBI, and two stolen bases in 97 games. Dent was able to make a solid contribution on defense, fielding 1.000 in 32 games at second base and .966 in 35 games at short, but only .919 in 26 games at third base.
There will be a lot of front office discussion this off-season about just how to handle 21-year old Carlos Penalver. The Venezuelan is considered the best defensive shortstop in the entire organization, majors included. While Penalver’s .964 fielding average is lower than Addison Russell’s, Penalver is considered a more dynamic performer, capable of turning in highlight reel play after highlight reel play. The problem is that for the third straight season, Penalver has seen his batting average drop. Spending all but three games with HIgh-A Myrtle Beach, Penalver hit .197/.278/.260/.538. However, he was productive over that average, with 42 RBI and 11 stolen bases along with 10 doubles, four triples, and two home runs in 114 games. While Penalver may not be ready for Double-A, letting him repeat 2016 with the Pelicans could impinge on other prospects.
One of the prospects that are closing fast on Penalver is Gleyber Torres. In his first full professional season, the 18-year old was everything advertised. Playing almost the entire season for Low-A South Bend, Torres was the team catalyst, batting .293 and stealing 22 bases while batting mainly out of the two-hole. Despite 27 errors, Torres posted a .949 fielding average due to exceptional range and playmaking ability. Torres was given a week to acclimate himself to life with High-A Myrtle Beach toward the end of the regular season, and started at short for the Pelicans all throughout the playoffs. Torres’ final batting line for the season was .287/.346/.376/.722 with 24 doubles, five triples, three home runs, 64 RBI, and 22 stolen bases in 126 games. Torres is currently in the Fall Instructional League to further refine his game, and many have remarked about his mature approach on and off the field. While being cautious with their prize prospect this season, management will probably be a little more aggressive with Torres next season, possibly flip-flopping him with Penalver when he shows he is ready for Double-A. The national scouts have all taken notice of Torres, and he is pretty much the consensus top prospect for the Cubs heading into 2016. Torres is definitely the best two-way prospect at shortstop the Cubs have developed since Shawon Dunston in the mid 1980’s.
As reported in the analysis of second base, the Cubs are currently looking at Frandy Delarosa at shortstop in the Fall Instructional League, with the hopes he will open at the position for Low-A South Bend in 2016. However, the organization has a good fall-back option in Andrew Ely. Drafted in the 32nd round in 2014, Ely played mostly second and third base at the University of Washington. But the 22-year old adapted to the position well, fielding .978 in 32 games at Short-Season-A Eugene. It is at the plate where Ely was a slight disappointment. After playing nine games at Triple-A in 2014, Ely hit only .196 in 42 games for South Bend. Moving back down to the Emeralds, Ely’s bat picked up as he provided leadership to a young team. Cast as an unlikely clean-up hitter, Ely batted .301/.373/.441/.813 with 13 doubles, two triples, a home run, 15 RBI, and three stolen bases in 37 games. Ely also lined up at second base, third base, and the outfield, so there are plenty of ways to get his bat in the line-up should things work out with Delarosa.
It was a very disappointing season for 21-year old Ho-young Son. The South Korean had a promising 2014 and began this year as the shortstop and leadoff hitter for Short Season-A Eugene. However, Son experienced problems both at the plate and in the field, ending with him being dropped in the order and eventually demoted to the Arizona rookie league. In the AZL, Son appeared in only one game to bring his yearly totals to .230/.304/.287/.591 with seven doubles, eight RBI, four stolen bases, and an .884 fielding percentage in 40 games. There are some that believe Son projects better as a second baseman, but he will need a lot of improvement to stave off a stream of talent at both positions.
The Cubs selected Virginia Commonwealth senior Vimael Machin in the tenth round of the 2015 draft. Considered to have a below average throwing arm, the Cubs nevertheless tried the 22-year old both at short and third base, fielding a respectable .944 and .962 at each position before lining him up five times at second base, which Machin fielded flawlessly. Currently assigned to the Fall Instructional League, Machin is taking part in the Cubs’ catcher conversion program. Regardless of where he lines up, Machin will have to make great improvement in his offense as he batted only a combined .179/.268/.221/.489 with six doubles, 10 RBI, and two stolen bases in 44 games.
Switch-hitting shortstop Andruw Monasterio is starting to make quite an impression. The 18-year old was signed out of Venezuela in 2013 and played in the Venezuelan Summer League last season. In 2015, Monasterio came stateside and played with the AZL Cubs, batting a steady .252/.346/.348/.694 with six doubles, two triples, a home run, 16 RBI, and six stolen bases in 42 games. Monasterio also was good in the field, with an above average .955 fielding percentage. Presently in the Fall Instructional League, Monasterio is turning some heads with his slick fielding and outgoing personality.
The Cubs have another exciting teenager from the Dominican Republic in 18-year old Yeiler Peguero. The first year pro was highly visible in the Dominican Summer League where he hit .284/.389/.369/.758 with eight doubles, six triples, 18 RBI, and 15 stolen bases in 64 games. The switch-hitter was named a DSL All-Star and fielded .946 at shortstop while also appearing at second and third base. Peguero is another one of the young middle infielders that are impressing in the Fall Instructional League.
Seventeen-year old Rafael Narea was the primary shortstop in the Venezuelan Summer League. Narea started the year off hot at the plate but cooled to a final .212/.356/.249/.605 line with four doubles, a home run, 18 RBI, and seven stolen base in 63 games. Narea needs to work on his .893 fielding average, and has taken a few turns at first, second, and third base.