Every day brings another story for the Cubs in spring training, and some stories are bigger than others. With all the hoopla around the errors, dugout fights, game winning home runs, late inning base steals, and other various heroics it is easy to loose track of some of the quieter stories, such as unlikely players who are demonstrating they just might deserve a job. Going into camp the last backup infield job was thought to be a battle between Augie Ojeda and Darwin Barney. However, while Ojeda and Barney are still fighting it out for one backup infield job, Jeff Baker may find himself fending off Scott Moore and Marquez Smith for the other.
Marquez Smith and Scott Moore are both playing well enough to earn a lot of consideration this spring. Coming into camp we had considered Smith to be an interesting player who could provide some insurance at third base if Ramirez got hurt and Vitters was not ready to go, but I don’t think we ever really considered him for a bench role with the 2011 Cubs. Similarly, Scott Moore we had pegged as being way down the depth chart at second base, so far down it was all but impossible he could win that job. Neither player has the defense at shortstop to back up Castro, so neither looked likely to figure into the Barney vs. Ojeda battle. And somehow, we just assumed that Jeff Baker’s job was wrapped up.
Well, Jeff Baker is still the front runner, but I don’t think his job is perfectly safe anymore. Baker was the most versatile backup infielder on the roster. A right handed hitter, he was the logical backup for Pena at first as well as Ramirez at third. That ability to play both corner infield positions looked certain to make Baker a lock for a job.
And then Scott Moore started playing first and third. Whereas Baker is a right handed hitter without much power, Moore is a lefty who is currently slugging .529 with 6 RBIs. As we’ve talked about before, the biggest hole on the Cubs bench appears to be left handed power. That might give Moore an edge.
But not so fast. Marquez Smith, the third baseman that some writers are comparing to Casey McGehee (though I’m really not sure why), has played a little second base this spring. Even if he can’t play much first base, the potential emergence of Tyler Colvin as a backup first baseman means Smith could still fight for Baker’s job based on his third / second flexibility. Since Smith is probably the best defensive third baseman in camp, he could have an edge due to Ramirez’s more limited defense.
If we look at the offensive numbers, Scott Moore wins hands down. Baker’s line this spring (.267/.353/.267) is decent, and his 4 RBIs are a nice bonus. Smith has pretty much matched him this spring (.273/.333/.455) with some additional power. Scott Moore, though, has out hit them both (.294/.333/.529) and has those 6 RBIs.
Smith can go to Iowa and still be the third base insurance policy, so let’s just consider Baker vs. Moore for now. Moore makes more sense for the Cubs offensively, but Baker is the veteran. In the end, I think Baker keeps his job, in part because of his $1.2 million salary, but Scott Moore has shown me enough so far to think that the Cubs will be in good shape if Baker gets hurt this season.