Third base has been somewhat of a black hole throughout the Chicago Cubs’ history. For every Ron Santo, Stan Hack and Aramis Ramirez, there has been a Chris Stynes, Ken Reitz and Kevin Orie. That all changed this season with the debut of likely superstar Kris Bryant who helped third base become a strength again for the club. The position batted a phenomenal .280/.368/.503 with 28 home runs, 104 RBI and 12 stolen bases. Let’s take a look back at the hot corner.
Aside from the surprise playoff run, Kris Bryant was probably the biggest story of this season. After nine Spring Training home runs and a .425 batting average, there was much hand wringing among the fan-base and the media when Bryant was sent down to begin the season. Although the front office deemed the reasoning for more development time, the extra year of control likely played a large factor.
Instead, Mike Olt was deemed the starter and managed just two hits in 13 at-bats, with one being a home run. The front office’s hand was forced with Bryant when Olt was hit by a pitch and suffered a wrist injury that would effectively end his Cubs career. When Bryant came up, he went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts, but those days were few and far between as Bryant became a consistent and potent middle of the order bat that paired perfectly with Anthony Rizzo.
Bryant set single season records with 26 home runs and 99 RBI, most ever by a Cubs rookie. He was the Cubs best hitter during August and September with a .967 OPS. In total at third base, Bryant batted .287/.381/.521 with 26 home runs, 94 RBI and 12 stolen bases. He surprised many scouts by fielding a solid 5.4 UZR/150 rating, above average for the position. Bryant also spent some time in all three positions of the outfield and could end up seeing more time in the outfield, possibly in in center field, but if not, there’s no doubt that he will be the starter at third next year.
If Bryant does spend most of his time in the outfield, two players could be in line for more starts as options at third base, Tommy La Stella and Javier Baez.
If not for losing La Stella to injury before Olt’s, Bryant may have spent more time in the minors. In his 12 games at third, La Stella didn’t show much with the bat or the glove, batting just .150 with three RBI and fielding way below average. His left-handed bat and on base skills will give him a role on this team and will get better at third with more time. On the other hand, in Baez’s 11 games he was just the opposite.
In just 27 at bats Baez got 11 hits, with five of them being doubles. He also showed a great glove and it may be his best position long term due to his size. However, Baez could be on the trading block to acquire more pitching. If he stays, he might be the starter at second base, but could also continue to move around the infield.
Chris Coghlan, Arismendy Alcantara and Jonathan Herrera also spent time at third last year. Herrera actually finished second with 16 games played, but opted for free agency and with no clear role will likely not return. Coghlan and Alcantara could factor into some time at the position depending on their roles moving forward. Coghlan is currently the team’s main utility player, but will need some more practice in the infield to get better defensively while Alcantara needs to improve his stock with the organization after a rough year at Iowa.
The front office could also turn to free agency to pick up an additional veteran utility man like Joaquin Arias, Gordon Beckham or Mike Aviles to fill Herrera’s old role.
With many players positional status up in the air at the moment, it’s hard to say who will be starting at third base. Kris Bryant is probably the best option, but we will have to wait to see how the front office makes over the roster before we know for sure.
Cubs 2015 Position Reviews
• Follow Chris on Twitter: @TheChrisKulawik