Position Analysis – Second Base
The third position analysis report stays on the infield and moves to the left. After taking a look at the catchers and first basemen in the Cubs system, today, the CCO focuses on a position that is among the best in the entire system: Second Base.
Like a jackknifed semi on a busy highway during rush hour, the second base position threatens to be the biggest pile-up of talent for the organization unless the front office does something to relieve the pressure.
That’s because with Javier Baez and Tommy La Stella already on the roster, management went out and signed veteran Ben Zobrist. While the move looked good when both Baez and La Stella were injured early, matters got very complicated as La Stella refused a temporary assignment back to the minors. Now, the position looks to belong solely to Baez, as Zobrist has shifted to left field in the playoffs. But moving forward, how the playing time will be allotted could be interesting to follow.
Looming large despite his slight frame is 24-year old Chesny Young. For the second consecutive year, Young finished the season his league’s leading hitter as he batted .303/.376/.387/.763 with 25 doubles, two triples, four home runs, 37 RBI and 16 stolen bases in 126 games for Double-A Tennessee. His double, home run, and stolen base totals all represent career highs. What’s more, Young proved very adaptable. After winning the organization’s prospect of the month in April by hitting .402, Young slumped a bit before regrouping and ending the season on a .349 tear. Young was equally effective batting leadoff or second, reflecting his career 147:128 strikeout to walk ratio. That adaptability also showed in the field, as Young posted a .989 fielding percentage at second base and then moved over to both shortstop and third base to accommodate another prospect, along with a few turns in the outfield. Young has the type of natural hitting ability and calm under pressure that could lead to yet another batting championship when reaching the majors.
The player Young had to move over for was 2015 first round draft pick Ian Happ. The ninth overall pick had a very nice season after signing, and then made a trip to the Fall Instructional League for a crash course in playing second base. Opening with High-A Myrtle Beach to start 2016, the 22-year old had some ups and downs before turning it on toward midseason and hitting .296 for the Pelicans. Promoted to Tennessee, the switch-hitter had a lot more difficulty as he batted .262, buoyed mainly by going .591 in seven June games. For the season, Happ was .278/.365/.445/.810 with 30 doubles, three triples, 15 home runs, 73 RBI and 16 stolen bases in 134 games between Myrtle Beach and Tennessee. The biggest concern for Happ is defense, for he has shown to be lacking. As a second baseman, Happ fielded an almost appalling .969 with 13 errors. The hope is that Happ will improve after such a short time at the position, but the effect is that his defense as an outfielder has suffered. Over all three positions, Happ dropped to .915 from .966 in 2015. Given the amount of talent already in from of him, one wonders how long the second base experiment with Happ will continue, and whether both Happ and the organization would not be better off with him concentrating on playing the outfield.
The Cubs will probably be saying goodbye to a couple of longtime farmhands in Logan Watkins and Stephen Bruno this offseason. The 27-year old Watkins is a six-year minor league free agent who will be probably looking for better opportunities. Working his way back from a serious leg injury, the 2012 Cubs Minor League Player of the Year batted .261/.314/.353/.667 with 14 doubles, seven triples, a home run, 42 RBI and 15 stolen bases in 108 games for Triple-A Iowa. The left-handed-hitter played six positions and is considered from an above average-to-outstanding second baseman, shortstop, and centerfielder. Injuries have marred the 25-year old Bruno’s career, as he was limited again in 2016. Bruno was only able to participate in 35 games last year between Short Season-A Eugene, Double-A Tennessee and Iowa hitting .272/.343/.359/.702 with three doubles, a triple, a home run, 11 RBI and two stolen bases. Considered only an average defender at best, Bruno is Rule 5 Draft eligible. As a player with a batting title stapled to his résumé, it makes Bruno attractive to an organization looking for depth in the minor league phase.
As the season drew to an end, there wasn’t a hotter hitter in the Carolina League than the 23-year old David Bote. Along with teammate Yasiel Balaguert, Bote took on a heavy leadership role once High-A Myrtle Beach lost two high profile middle infield prospects at midseason. Through Bote’s excellence on and off the field, the Pelicans won their second straight Mills Cup Championship. In 2016, Bote was once again used as a rover throughout the system, plugging holes at whatever level needed him. Seeing time with Iowa and Tennessee as well as Myrtle Beach, Bote hit .328/.399/.492/.892 with 26 doubles, three triples, six home runs, 45 RBI, and six stolen bases in 91 games. While Bote is versatile defensively, playing second, third, and first base with experience in the outfield, hitting and leadership are his biggest assets. It would be great if the Cubs could retain him as a mentor to other prospects, but he may be too attractive in the Rule 5 Draft.
With a promotion to Myrtle Beach at midseason, Bryant Flete seemed to turn around a career that has stumbled around for a few years. The 23-year old is now one of the hottest hitters in the Venezuelan Winter League, playing both second base and left field. A slashing player both at the plate and in the field, Flete combined to hit .246/.324/.365/.689 with 17 doubles, six triples, six home runs, 49 RBI and eight stolen bases in 115 games with both Low-A South Bend and the Pelicans. Better suited for second base, Flete has nevertheless played an adequate shortstop along with looks at third base and in the outfield. The fact that Flete seems on the verge of breaking out may put him on teams’ radars when the Rule 5 Draft comes around.
A player whose career has seemed to stall is that of Daniel Lockhart. That is because the son of Cubs’ scout and former major league infielder Keith Lockhart has not developed in any area other than defense. The 23-year old had snuck into MLB Pipeline’s Cub Top 30 Prospects for a short time in 2015, but his lack of offense has really pulled his grade down. In 89 games with both Tennessee and Myrtle Beach, Lockhart batted .226/.273/.318/.591 with 13 doubles, three triples, two home runs, 28 RBI and eight stolen bases. Lockhart has averaged around .980 at second base the past three seasons, along with playing shortstop and third base. Without a defined hit tool or game changing speed, Lockhart may be only a system player unless he is able to step up.
A player that seems on the verge of being considered a top prospect is 20-year old Carlos Sepulveda. One of the first players Cubs’ scouts signed out of the Mexican developmental leagues, Sepulveda stood out on a team loaded with talent. With a roster full of high impact bats, Sepulveda emerged as the leadoff hitter by batting .310/.366/.373/.739 with 14 doubles, two triples, a home run, 24 RBI and four stolen bases in 80 games for Low-A South Bend. Despite only a .975 fielding average, several coaches and members close to the SB Cubs raved about Sepulveda’s defense. If Sepulveda can be successful in slowing the game down for himself, you could be looking at a top 20 player.
Another promising youngster is 19-year old Yeiler Peguero. The Dominican national made the jump from the DSL straight to Short Season-A Eugene, bypassing the rookie league. A switch-hitter, Peguero batted .260/.326/.336/.662 with 11 doubles, three triples, a home run, 25 RBI and six stolen bases in 68 games. Originally a shortstop, Peguero fielded .977 in his first extended look at second base while posting a .948 average in 24 games at short. Going forward, Peguero has defensive versatility and is just touching on his offensive potential.
A 25h round draft pick, Trent Giambrone may be a player that can advance rapidly. The 22-year old brings experience as a two year starter for Delta State (MS) after being a JUCO transfer. Giambrone was named his conference’s Outstanding Defensive Player of the Year as well as winning a Gold Glove at second base. After signing with the Cubs, Giambrone was assigned to Short Season-A Eugene and played 29 games at second, fielding .992 as well as posting a .923 average at third base and .945 at first. The 5-foot-8, 175-pounder packs some punch at the plate as he went .292/.404/.433/.837 with 12 doubles, four home runs, 22 RBI and six stolen bases in 51 games. Giambrone may get his feet wet at Low-A South Bend to start 2017, but has the potential to move quickly up the chain.
Somewhat of a disappointment was 21-year old Edgar Rondon. After posting big time numbers in the Dominican Summer League last year, Rondon slipped a little in the Arizona Rookie League. Rondon hit only .247/.358/.292/.651 with two doubles, a triple, nine RBI and five stolen bases in 34 games. Rondon also left little to desire on defense, fielding only .934.
A little more promising was Jhonny Bethencourt. Playing for the AZL Cubs directly from the Venezuelan Summer League, the 19-year old hit .235/.353/.313/.666 with three doubles, three triples, 13 RBI and seven stolen bases in 39 games. Bethencourt split his time almost evenly between second, third, and shortstop and fielded .967 at second, .906 at third and .949 at shortstop. For such a big jump in competition as well as his first time away from home, Bethencourt performed well enough to keep a close eye on, as he is bound to repeat the Rookie League.
The Cubs splurged in the international free agent market to bring in a bevy of teenaged talent, with the most promising being Venezuelan Yonathan Perlaza. The 17-year old was assigned to the D-1 club in the Dominican Summer League and hit .256/.311/.386/.697 with 12 doubles, four triples, three home runs, 18 RBI and 17 stolen bases in 60 games. Perlaza saw the most time at second base, but also had extensive action at both third and short, fielding .959 at second, .929 at third, and.935 at shortstop. While Perlaza still has some work to do defensively, you have to like the offensive potential as he grows and matures.
Perlaza shared time at second base on D-1 with Orian Nunez. While Nunez was primarily the team’s third baseman, that was more out of necessity as he projects better at second base. Turning 18 years old at the beginning of September, Nunez batted .278/.344/.394/.738 with 16 doubles, two triples, a home run, 29 RBI and 12 stolen bases in 61 games. Nunez fielded only .835 at third base, but improved to .961 at second base. With Nunez, settling on one position may lead to improved numbers. His RBI total was second on the team, projecting Nunez as a clutch hitter to watch.
Seventeen-year old Luis Diaz was a little more under the radar than his fellow teenage prospects as the primary starter at second for the D-2 team. Diaz hit .251/.335/.314/.648 with nine doubles, three triples, 21 RBI, and 23 stolen bases in 64 games. Diaz played 48 of those games at second and fielded .956. While there is some work to do offensively and defensively, you have to like the speed numbers as Diaz will not turn 18 until April of 2017.