Coming off yet-another poor season in Chicago, Cubs fans are eagerly awaiting the arrival of some of the most highly-touted talent in all of Major League Baseball. Over the next few weeks, we here at Cubbies Crib will take a look at the team’s top talent, where they came from, what 2013 looked like for them and what role they will have with the organization in 2014 and beyond.
Top Prospect – SS – Javier Baez
Baez, just 21 years old, is one of the most anticipated prospects in the game today. Despite his youth, the infielder put on an offensive show in 2013, crushing 37 home runs and driving in 111 runs while slashing .282/.341/.578 in 130 games. With the struggles of big league shortstop Starlin Castro becoming well-noted by Chicago media and fans alike, many were clamoring for Baez to be called up, but to no avail.
For the time being, the Chicago front office plans on keeping Baez at shortstop, but many talent evaluators project him as more of a third base type player as he continues to mature. Should the Cubs follow through and keep him at shortstop, it could create a logjam on the left side of the infield with Castro, and another pair of prospects in the form of Kris Bryant and former Texas Rangers standout Mike Olt, who will look to bounce back after a disappointing 2013 season in which he recovered from injury.
According to Baseball America, Baez tops the organizational ranks in just one respective category, as he is noted as the Cubs’ best power hitting prospect. That being said, the team’s recently replenished farm system comes to a head in the form of Baez, who has turned heads throughout the Minors since he broke onto the scene.
As we approach Spring Training 2014, many questions surround Baez and his role this season. On the record, Cubs GM Jed Hoyer has indicated that Baez will begin the year as the starting shortstop at Triple-A Iowa, which is a well-deserved role for Baez, who dominated pitching at both High-A and Double-A last season. However, many are wondering if the team will give him a chance later in the season, especially if Castro’s offensive woes continue and his mental composure shows no signs of improving. One potential solution to the logjam could be moving the young Castro over to second base, using Darwin Barney as more of a defensive option off the bench.
#2 Prospect – 3B – Kris Bryant
After being selected with the second overall pick in last June’s Major League Baseball Draft, infielder Kris Bryant didn’t miss a beat, coming through for his club in his first professional season.
The 21-year-old Bryant split time this summer between Rookie Level, Low-A Boise and Class-A Advanced Daytona, appearing in 36 games total (keep in mind he didn’t get drafted until mid-June), collecting 43 hits in 128 at-bats, which comes out to an impressive .336 clip. He showed some pop, as well, adding nine home runs and 32 RBIs, as well.
Although rumors have swirled around potentially moving Bryant to the outfield, it appears he will man the hot corner next season. Baseball America ranked Bryant as the organization’s best infield arm, making him an incredibly valuable asset for Chicago moving forward.
The team has had little-known players manning third base over the past few seasons, with the likes of Luis Valbuena and Donnie Murphy making appearances, and while this has sufficed as the team regularly flirted with 100 losses, as the Cubs transition into a contender, such options are not feasible.
Bryant almost certainly will begin the year with Double-A Tennessee, and it would be surprising if he reached Chicago anytime before 2015 – at the earliest. However, the infield in 2016 projects to be quite impressive, including the likes of first baseman Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro, Baez and Bryant. Granted, this is if Castro is moved to second, but one way or the other, it appears that Baez and Bryant will form one-half of the Cubs’ infield – a thought that is certainly promising.