What To Do About Ian Stewart And The Third Base Position?


May 28, 2012; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Cubs third baseman Ian Stewart hits a two-run home run during the fourth inning against the San Diego Padres at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-US PRESSWIRE

When the Chicago Cubs acquired third baseman Ian Stewart from the Colorado Rockies in a trade that sent outfielder Tyler Colvin and infielder DJ LeMahieu to the Rockies, the hope was that Stewart would be able to prove that the 2011 season was a mirage.

With the Rockies in 2011, Stewart hit .156/.243/.221/.464 with 0 home runs 122 at bats. Stewart did battle with a wrist injury for most of the season and that is why the third baseman spent time between the Rockies and the team’s triple A affiliate.

After the Cubs trade for Stewart, Cubs’ president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer were confident that Stewart’s 2011 season was an inaccurate portrayal of the third baseman. The Cubs front office were quick to attribute Stewart’s poor 2011 season to his wrist injury that he suffered. The same wrist injury that forces Stewart to miss a game throughout the 2012 season with the Cubs.

While Stewart has showed an increased power production during his time with the Cubs there still is much room for improvement out from the Cubs third base position. Stewart has already collected more at bats for the Cubs this season than he did with the Rockies last season (148) and the third baseman is hitting .201/.290/.354/.644 to go along with 5 home runs and 16 RBIs.

Even though Stewart is only 27 years old, there is a good chance that the current Cubs’ starting third baseman will not be a part of the Cubs long-term future. Reason being, Stewart does not fit the Epstein and Hoyer mold of players. The low average and on base percentage combined with the high amount of strikeouts may be what refrains Stewart from becoming a long-term asset for the Cubs.

When Stewart was acquired from the Rockies, the thought was that the former Rockie would be a temporary fill-in for the Cubs at third base. While Junior Lake and Josh Vitters develop in the Cubs’ farm system, Stewart would be the team’s starting third baseman. However, I get the sense that Stewart may not last the entire season as the Cubs starting third baseman.

Epstein and Hoyer are willing to take their lumps in their first season with the Cubs. However, their is a belief that neither Epstein nor Hoyer want to go down in history as having the worst Cubs’ team in the history of the organization. In order to take a detour from the path that leads the 2012 Cubs to being the worse Cubs team in the history of the organization, the Cubs front office may look for short-term fixes. These fixes would be minor changes that don’t necessarily hinder the long-term future of the Cubs’ organization. When position that could stand to have one of these fixes is the team’s third base position.

As things stand, the Cubs currently have two prospects that could be considered as the third basemen of the future.

The first is third baseman Josh Vitters. Vitters is currently in the middle of his first season with the Iowa Cubs. Vitters is hitting .281/.330/.468/798 to go along with 7 home runs and 25 RBIs for the Iowa Cubs this season. Though, Vittters’ offensive ability was never in question. It was always Vitters’ defense that would hold him back. All reports from Iowa have suggested that Vitters had made an improvement in fielding the third base position. Though, being that this is only Vitter’s first season with the Iowa Cubs, it seems unlikely that Vitters will make his Major League debut anytime before being a potential September call up when the rosters expand. However, Vitters may not be viewed as the Cubs first baseman on the future.

Instead that notion could go to Junior Lake. Lake is currently with the Tennessee Smokies, though the shortstop/third baseman may soon be playing with the Iowa Cubs. In 85 at bats with the Smokies this season, Lake is hitting .294/.368/.459/.827 to go along with 9 extra base hits. Lake was injured to begin the season, so the 22 year old shortstop did not make his debut with the Smokies until early May. The Cubs project Lake as a third baseman, and their is a belief that the Cubs’ new regime has more stock in Lake than they do Vitters. Lake could be close to being promoted to the Iowa Cubs. Lake is 15 at bats away from reaching the 100 at bat landmark with the Smokies, and teams generally begin to consider a promotion for a prospect after he reached 100 at bats in season with a specific level. Once Lake is promoted, the Cubs may move Vitters to first base and then have Lake play third base. Though, this scenario is dependent on Anthony Rizzo being promoted to the Major League level. If Lake makes a successful transition from Tennessee to Iowa, then the 22 year old could be making his Major League before the 2013 season. Though, I do not anticipate it to be anytime before September.

The Cubs have Vitters and Lake in their organization with Lake being the likelier candidate to be the team’s third baseman of the future. But, if Stewarts struggles continue, Epstein and company may look for a short-term fix until Lake or Vitters are deemed Major League ready.