Position Analysis – Shortstop
The position analysis series stays in the infield and moves to the left side of the second base bag with the report on how the minor league system looks on a position by position basis. Today, the CCO focuses on the shortstop position, which has a lot of talent at both the top and bottom of the system, but in the middle, well …
The Cubs have a Gold Glove candidate in Addison Russell entrenched at shortstop and utility player Javier Baez has shown he can play well there, as well as veteran Ben Zobrist having experience at the position. It appears that the team is set at the Major League level as long as the roster remains unchanged during the off-season, which the front office has not shown any indication there will be changes made to the middle infield.
It appears that the front office can roll the dice with the minor league system rather than rely on some marginal players that most Major League teams said no thanks to. That’s what the Cubs did at the Triple-A level last season, bringing in Munenori Kawasaki and Kris Negron. Both were 30-plus years old and did not dominate a level that they were at least five years older than the league average, hitting in the .250 range.
Another reason, besides the Major League depth, is the presence of Chesny Young. Then 24-year old has demonstrated that he can handle shortstop for an extended period, and brings a career .314/.384/.390/.774 batting line to Triple-A Iowa in 2017.
If the worst happens at the Major League level and the big league club needs someone who can back-up at short for a small period of time, they may turn to Carlos Penalver. The Venezuelan is considered to be a top defender at shortstop, drawing comparisons to countryman Omar Vizquel. The 22-year old was really effected by the subpar play at first base for Double-A Tennessee, posting a career low .937 fielding average. Penalver struggles at the plate, but his .211/.265/.268/.533 line actually was a slight improvement over the previous season. However, Penalver experienced a large drop in his stolen base total, swiping only two last year while hitting 21 doubles, a triple, and 33 RBI in 118 games. Penalver is Rule 5 eligible, but because of his offense, it is most likely the Cubs will have him for one more season before he becomes a minor league free agent.
The organizational depth took a major hit at midseason when Gleyber Torres was dealt to the Yankees. However, the organization has a good fall-back option in Andrew Ely. Selected in the 32nd of the 2014 draft, Ely played mostly second and third base at the University of Washington. Beginning the season with Low-A South Bend, the 23-year old played second, third and short while batting .295 in 44 games. Promoted to High-A directly following the trade, Ely eventually took over the position and hit .237 in 60 games. For the year, Ely hit .263/.340/.334/.674 with 18 doubles, three home runs, 28 RBI and eight stolen base in 104 games. Ely is steady but not dynamic, lacking any special qualities as a hitter or defensively. For now, he is good minor league depth that can provide maturity as a slightly over-aged prospect that will probably open with Double-A Tennessee in 2017.
The shortstop position at High-A Myrtle Beach looks wide open at this point, and may end up in the hands of 17th round (2016 draft) pick Zack Short. The 21-year old from Sacred Heart University hit a combined .290 with 15 home runs and 99 RBI in 171 games over three years there. After signing with the Cubs, Short spent 14 games with the AZL Cubs before being sent to Short Season-A Eugene. Short was able to take over at short and move Yeiler Peguero back to second base, batting .236 in 39 games. All combined, Short hit .257/.427/.339/.766 with nine doubles, a triple, a home run, 31 RBI and 15 stolen bases in 53 games. What stood out for Short was his 33:47 strikeout-to-walk ratio as well as his speed numbers. Short fielded only .941 in a scant 41 games, and is expected to improve on those numbers.
Challenging Short for playing time would be Vimael Machin. A shortstop by trade, the 23-year old saw more action at second base (21 games) and third (13 games) than short (five games) in 2016. Machin was a rover throughout the system last year, with stops at both Short Season-A Eugene and Triple-A Iowa before settling at Low-A South Bend. All totaled, the left-handed hitter batted .267/.377/.311/.688 with six doubles, 17 RBI and five stolen bases in 49 games. Machin is considered a solid defender at all three positions that lacks top arm strength, with some experience in the outfield. Machin projects as a solid system player that can back up several positions at several levels.
The prospect trail at shortstop picks up again with the switch-hitting shortstop Andruw Monasterio. The native of Venezuela blew the doors off of the Northwest League when he batted .324 with 12 RBI in 17 games for Short Season-A Eugene. That warranted a quick bump up to Low-A South Bend, where Monasterio hit only .216 in 48 games before ending the season injured. Altogether, Monasterio went .247/.294/.308/.602 with eight doubles, two triples, a home run, 23 RBI and eight stolen bases in 65 games. On defense, Monasterio was a little out of control as a member of the Emeralds, but settled down once paired back with a familiar partner in Carlos Sepulveda. His .965 fielding average with South Bend was more reflective of Monasterio’s ability than the .899 for Eugene. Monasterio will not turn 20 until late May, so a repeat of the Midwest League to start 2017 seems in order.
Pushing Monasterio will be his replacement for the Midwest league playoffs, Isaac Paredes. One of the passel of teenaged prospects signed this past off-season, Paredes is also one of a growing number of quality players signed out of Mexico. At only 17 years old, Paredes was placed directly into the Arizona Rookie League, where he batted .305/.359/.443/.802 with 14 doubles, three triples, a home run, 26 RBI and four stolen bases in 47 games and was named the CCO Short-Season Player of the Year. A squatty 5-foot-11, 175-pounds, Paredes has the same type of ‘bad body’ that many thought of Javier Baez. While some insist that Paredes will eventually move to second or third base, he acquitted himself defensively with a .949 average in place where he was nearly three years younger than the league average. It won’t be until Spring Training is over that the fate of Paredes for 2017 will be known. While all signs point to Parades opening for Short Season-A Eugene, an assignment to Low-A South Bend to begin the year would not be a surprise.
The Cubs liked shortstop Delvin Zinn so much, they drafted him twice. Selected in the 28th round in 2015, Zinn opted to go to Mississippi State out of high school. However, Zinn transferred after only one semester to Itawamba Junior College where he batted .411 before being taken in the 23rd round this year. The 19-year old played in only 11 games after signing and batted .182/.206/.212/.418 with a double and two RBI. Zinn is considered to be a good defender with both a plus-arm and plus-speed. How he develops remains to be seen, but Zinn looks to be a good bet to open with Short Season-A Eugene.
Improving by leaps and bounds was 18-year old Rafael Narea. After a rather unimpressive first season in the 2015 Venezuelan Summer League, Narea stepped up his game as the primary shortstop for the Cubs-1 team in the Dominican Summer League. Fifty-one seemed to be the key number for Narea, as he improved his batting average 51 points to .263/.402/.306/.708 with seven doubles, a triple, 17 RBI and 27 stolen bases in 63games. Narea also improved his fielding 51 points to post a .944 average. Narea’s best asset is his speed, and with his development can be a player to watch in next season’s Arizona rookie league.
Another teenaged shortstop signed this past year was Aramis Ademan. Considered the best defensively of the bunch, the 18-year old held his own at the plate for Cubs-2 of the Dominican Summer League. The left-handed hitter batted .254/.366/.316/.682 with five doubles, four triples, 16 RBI and 17 stolen bases in 59 games. While only posting a .918 fielding average, Ademan is said to have great instincts and the best feel for the shortstop position out of any of his cohort.