In the past four years, the Cubs have drafted players with offensive skills first. The organization thinks that they can teach top prospects defensive skills with greater efficacy than the instruction the players have received prior to their acquisition. As a result, the Cubs take a “hit tool first, glove/arm second” approach in the early rounds.
The Cubs have a variety of players with myriad skill sets who can play second base. It is not a cookie-cutter position. While there is depth, there is no one who stands out playing the position, but that could all change by the end of 2016 as the Cubs have a lot of potential ready to break out.
Current Major League Status
Along with centerfield, second base is probably the most up-in-the-air position heading into the 2016 season. When the playoffs ended, Starlin Castro was entrenched, but looking over his shoulder was none other than Javier Baez. Barring a trade, it is likely Castro’s position to lose, as Baez still has to prove himself a bit more at the major league level. Hiding out in the weeds is none other than Tommy LaStella, who was injured most of the year but has a solid contact-oriented approach.
His impact won’t be felt immediately, but Gleyber Torres could throw a wrench in the future second base plan. Currently a shortstop who will start 2016 at High-A Myrtle Beach, it’s not inconceivable to think that Torres would move over to second base — where he has yet to play an inning — at some point. A solid-but-not-spectacular fielder, Torres and his bat may play better at second base. However, the Cubs are going to give him all the time he needs to play shortstop. He has a plus arm and smooth actions, but his range is limited and his internal clock is occasionally late for routine plays.
His natural right-center to right-field stroke is designed to hit for a high average, and as his body matures he could develop moderate power. He led the South Bend Cubs in RBI from the second spot in the lineup. When 2016 begins, he’ll only be 19 years old and his bat can improve upon last year’s full-season debut where he hit .287 with 64 RBIs across two levels. With Addison Russell locked up through 2021, Torres might be the safest bet to move into second base in late 2017 or early 2018 when he will only be 21/22 years old. Wow!
Other Potent Prospects
Ian Happ has yet to play a game at second base for the Cubs in the minor leagues, but he spent most of September and early October learning the position at instructs. He’s the perfect example of a player the Cubs think they can turn into a decent defender with professional instruction. If they can, it empowers Happ a great deal. Out of all the second baseman in the Cubs minors, he is the one with the most power potential. If he can play good D at second, his bat and power make him a possible All-Star. He will start 2016 at Myrtle Beach, playing alongside Gleyber Torres. Seeing him play in the OF vs. Beloit last summer, it was evident that he’s a pretty good athlete with decent speed and instincts in the field.
A 14th rounder out of Mercer, Chesny Young had a huge year in the Carolina League, which included setting a record 44-game on-base streak. He finished the season with a .321/.390/.386 line in 130 games mixed between South Bend and Myrtle Beach. The Pelicans positioned him in a variety of ways, as he spent time at LF, RF, 3B, SS, and 2B. His natural position in college was 3B, but the Cubs are trying to increase his versatility to make him more valuable. He’s about an average glove at 2B and 3B at the moment.
At the plate is where he excelled this year, dominating the lower levels with his good barrel control and feel for the strike zone. The reason he isn’t viewed that highly as a prospect is because he hasn’t shown much pop, and as he gets to higher levels pitchers will challenge him in the strike zone more. This offseason he’s been working to put on muscle in hopes of improving his power production. He’s a very level-headed ballplayer who comes with a plan every day he’s in the weight room and ballpark, and because of those intangibles we believe he can squeak out a utility role in the majors.
For a first-year player in the Arizona Rookie League, and in the Cubs organization, 18-year-old Carlos Sepulveda showed himself to be very good defensively. Signed as an IFA in early 2015, Sepulveda is still a little raw in the sense that he’s a new player in the organization and still isn’t physically mature. In 2016, the 19-year-old will begin playing at short-season Eugene, where he will get to play every day. He’s going to hit for high average and he’s going to make plays in the field, but he’s not going to hit for a lot of power. Sepulveda is just a basic all-around good baseball player. The Cubs may have found a nice little gem here.
Frandy Delarosa played at Eugene in 2015. As good as things were at the plate for most of July and August, they were just as bad in the field. At the beginning of the year, Delarosa made the switch from SS to 2B on the fly. He struggled to make routine decisions — such as being cut off man or backing up throws to bases — when the ball was in play to the outfield. On the other hand, you also have to remember he’s also only 19 years old and has not had a lot of gameplay. However, his average went from .200 to .280 in a month; he can clearly hit. While he has a lot of offensive firepower, probably second to Happ in the system, Delarosa has to learn the ropes at second. If he can play good defense in 2016, he could shoot right up the rankings.
Stephen Bruno and Logan Watkins – This could be their last year in the system. Nice guys, great teammates, but they have not really separated themselves from the pack.
PJ Higgins – Nice debut in 2015. Interested in seeing how he does over a full season. In 36 games, he hit .299 between Arizona and Eugene.
David Bote – Had a good second half in 2015 with the bat, getting 4 HRs with 28 RBI and hitting .270 for South Bend. Hit a very nice .308 against lefties.
Daniel Lockhart – The glove is definitely there, but the bat is lacking. He hit a disappointing .223 in 2015 after a .292 campaign at Boise and Kane County in 2014. He was part of two championship teams, providing key defense up the middle. He’s able to put the bat on the ball at a good rate, but doesn’t have the power or speed to have a big enough impact on the field.
With the amount of depth at the position, it wouldn’t be surprising if one of the guys listed had a breakout year next season. Outside of Happ, none of the current second baseman in the Cubs system have significant impact potential, but a few of them could carve out roles on the 25-man roster. Due to the Cubs’ overload of infielders, some of these players may be used as trade bait in the future, but they all could provide some value to the Cubs in one way or the other.