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Cubs Thu Sep 12 2013

Prospect Positional Issues Piling Up For Cubs

Cubs_200.pngHaving too many high-quality prospects is never a bad thing. A good chunk of them won't amount to much in the major leagues, so hoarding a large amount of them just betters the organization's chance at hitting big on a few.

Four of the Cubs hitters are almost guaranteed to be consensus Top 20 ranked in baseball when the lists come out (from MLB, ESPN, Baseball Prospectus, Baseball America) in the winter. And depending how things break after the Arizona Fall League, the number of Cubs prospects in the Top 100 could be as many as nine(!!!).

The only problem with all that talent is finding a place for them all to play. You'd think with four, full-time minor league clubs on top of their summer league team in Boise and instructional league squads in Arizona, that wouldn't be an issue. But it is.

The only top-flight player that will start next season lower than Double-A is Albert Almora, who after getting injured late in the year in Kane County, will get a chance to finish his fine season in the Arizona Fall League. Unless he has an epic collapse there, he'll likely start the season in high-A Daytona.

Jorge Soler (OF), Javier Baez (SS), and Kris Bryant (3B), will also compete in the AFL, and according to management, will all get time at other positions than the ones they've been playing. Soler will pretty much stick to the outfield corners, but Baez will get some time at third base and possibly second, while Bryant will take some reps in the outfield to go along with his drafted position at the hot corner.

Some believe that Baez at third and Bryant in the outfield is their destined positions. Baez committed 44 errors at shortstop combined in Daytona and Tennessee, and though his athleticism points to him being able to handle the spot, he may not play a clean enough game to defend the middle of the diamond. There's also the Starlin Castro problem -- who's signed through 2019 on a modest contract. Despite his struggles at the plate and in the field this year, he'll get another full term playing shortstop at Wrigley before the Cubs talk about either moving him to second, center, or to another team.

If Baez is forced to move to third, that would push Bryant to right field. He can handle the hot corner just fine, but some guys are forced to change positions to do what's best for the team. Though each of them will move around a bit in the AFL, they'll likely start next season at the positions they were signed at. That too, leaves questions.

Christian Villanueva, the third basemen seen as the prize in the Ryan Dempster to Texas trade last year (though Kyle Hendricks might've passed him), is already manning the position. Though he committed 24 errors, he's viewed as a solid defensive prospect that could do OK handling the bat. He struggled in his first full season in double-A, going .261/.317/.459 and striking out almost once per game. The team probably doesn't want to move him off third, but they might not have much of a choice.

Mike Olt, the former top prospect in the Ranger system that was pulled away in the Matt Garza trade also plays third, and is pretty darn good at it. He was considered an untradeable asset coming into the season, but vision problems and an organization change saw him hit just .201 with 132 Ks in just 107 games. Squint hard enough, and you can see the guy that hit .288/.398/.579 in double-A in 2012 with similar strikeout problems. My guess would be the Cubs open up with him at third base in the majors to see exactly what they have.

If third base in the upper levels of the minors gives you headaches, don't look at shortstop either. Baez will likely start there in Tennessee next year, which forces fellow Top 100 prospect Arismendy Alcantara to move as well. He played SS most of the year for the Smokies, but had a rough time with the glove as well, botching 33 balls. He's almost universally considered a second base prospect, so he'll likely just switch over to there in Tennessee, or maybe jump to Iowa after his solid .271/.353/.451 and 31 steals put him on a number of people's prospect lists as a soon to be 22-year-old.

It's a good problem to have too many prospects, and not enough spots to fill them at their natural positions. Jed Hoyer and Theo Epstein will have to spend the winter figuring out how to get all those bats into the lineup when it's time to come to Wrigley.

 
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