Last week, we looked at the first baseman in the Cubs organization. The Cubs didn’t have a lot of depth at that position. This week’s outlook for second baseman is quite the opposite. The Cubs have a variety of players with a myriad of skill sets who can play second base. It is not a cookie-cutter position. Theo Epstein, Jason McLeod, Jared Madison, and other scouts drafted players with offensive skills at second base. It’s come out in the past couple years with the selection of Kyle Schwarber in 2014, and Ian Happ in 2015, that the Cubs think they can teach top prospects defensive skills better than the instruction the prospect received the college/previous level. As a result, the Cubs look for a hit tool first, glove/arm second.
Along with centerfield, second base is probably the most up in the air position with the Cubs have heading into the 2016 season. As the season ended, Starlin Castro was the man on the spot. However, looking over Castro’s shoulder was none other than Javier Baez. It’s possible the Cubs could move one or the other this winter to help require a front end starter for the rotation. The uncertainty of the position is not disconcerting at this moment. I think their plan is on keeping both players. I think they like the versatility that Baez brings and they also like with Starlin did in August and September.
I think by 2018, Gleyber Torres could throw a wrench in the second base plan. Currently a shortstop who will start 2016 at high A Myrtle Beach, it’s not inconceivable to see Gleyber Torres move over to second base where he has yet to play an inning. A solid fielder, Torres and his bat may play better at second base. His natural right center to right field stroke is designed to hit for a high average. He led the South Bend Cubs in RBIs from the second spot in the lineup. When 2016 begins, he’ll only be 19 years old and I think his bat can improve upon last year’s full season debut where he hit .287 with 64 RBIs across two levels.
With Russell entrenched at shortstop through 2021, Torres might be the safest bet to move into second base as early as late 2017 to early 2018 when he will be 21/22 years old. Wow!
- Ian Happ has yet to play game at second base for the Cubs in the minor leagues. 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 the Cubs can turn Happ into a solid defender, that empowers Happ a lot. Out of all the second baseman in the Cub’s minors, he is the one that has the most power potential. If he becomes a solid defender at second base, his bat and powers make him a possible All-Star. He will start 2016 at Myrtle Beach ironically playing alongside Gleyber Torres.
- 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. He’s still a little raw in the sense that he’s a new player in the organization, and that he’s still not physically mature in the sense that is not filled out. 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. He’s not going to hit for a lot of power. He’s just a basic all-around good baseball player. I think the Cubs may have found a nice little gem in Sepulveda.
- Stephen Bruno has had a rough road to the majors. For the past two years he’s been mainly at AA Tennessee after undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2013. Bruno missed all of the 2013 season high A Daytona. At the lower levels of the minors, Bruno showed a propensity to rake. Last year at AA, his bat went in streaks. He would go up to .280, down to .250 come back to .265 down to 260 and back up to .275. His defense is average, but he also has a quality make up and has been called an outstanding teammate by his peers. In 2016, he should get his first crack at AAA Iowa. His odds are slim of being an everyday kind of guy the manager pencils on the lineup card. He profiles as a bench player and the Cubs are looking for a little more dynamic player.
- Last year’s 12th round pick PJ Higgins out of Old Dominion stunned a lot of people in the Cubs organization. First, he waited to sign until the last day on July 17, and then he began hitting like there was no tomorrow. He showed the ability to hit for average, some power, and the ability to drive in runs in rookie league and at Eugene. He also played some third base. It should be very interesting to see how he does in 2016. Some people gave him the comp of Chesney Young because of his ability to hit for average. I don’t think that’s true, especially after only 36 games. I think he’s his own hitter. He has a more advanced approach to the plate than we think. We will know more after his first full season in the system in 2016. He should start the year in South Bend playing a mixture of 3B and 2B.
- I think David Bote really surprised me a lot in 2015 at South Bend. I saw him last year when he played at Kane County. He showed off his glove playing both shortstop and second base for the Cougars. This year in the second half, he showed off his bat skills hitting .270 with 4 HRs and 28 RBIs. Not only did he show the potential to hit for average at the position, but he also showed the potential to hit for power in key situations for South Bend in July and August. To me, he’s a player on the rise and I’d love to see what he can do at Myrtle Beach in 2016.
- Frandy Delarosa played at Eugene in 2015. While things were very good at the plate for most of July and August, things were equally 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 when the ball was in play to the outfield such as being cut off man or backing up throws to bases. 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 a good defense in 2016, he could shoot right up the rankings.
- After having missed all of 2015 with Achilles injury, Logan Watkins is ready to go. Fact, he is itching to get back at it. 2014, Watkins had his cup of coffee in the big leagues. Previously, Watkins was the Cubs 2012 Minor League Player of the Year. And in addition to second base, he can play a variety of positions. In his last two years at Iowa, he hit in the .250s. Questions remain on whether he has the range defensively that the Cubs need at any position he plays in the majors and whether he can hit it up at the majors. He may be running out of time.
- Myrtle Beach’s Danny Lockhart is easily the best defensive second baseman in the Cubs’ system: good range, great arm, great attitude, and great make up. The only question for Lockhart has been his bat. He really hasn’t come through at the plate just yet. On the other hand, he’s been an essential cog on two championship teams at Kane County and Myrtle Beach. I think how far he can go in the organization really comes down to 2016. Defensively he could go all the way to the majors right now. But the bat has to come around if he’s actually to get to Chicago. At one point at the beginning of 2015, MLB pipeline.com actually had Lockhart as a number 30 Prospect in the organization. The potential is there, he has to put it together.
I think going forward this year that the Cubs will keep both Baez and Castro. They don’t have to have like one or the other. Unlike Rizzo, who is interested first base, I think keeping Baez in Castro’s rearview mirror might actually be the perfect motivation for Starlin. If Castro hits like he did in August and September, the Cubs could have three all-stars in the infield. Name me another team like that.
With the amount of depth at the position, second base is one of the strongest positions in the Cub’s system for years to come. In the next five years, it would not surprise me to see to six of these players all in the majors, but not all on the Cubs. Someone is more than likely to trade a pitcher for one or two them.
Next Weekend – Shortstop
*Editor’s Note – This article will also appear at CubsInsider in a slightly different format and prospect analysis