Chicago Cubs: 3 Reasons Their Middle Infield Will Lead Them Back to Prominence
A solid middle infield goes a long way to bringing home a World Series ring. Whether it’s at shortstop or second base, the middle infield is crucial to a team’s success.
The Cubs will need to rely on their middle infield to get them back to prominence. They have the pieces to do so.
The Cubs have depth at middle infield with three of their top 20 prospects playing those positions. Combine the up-and-coming talent with Castro and Barney and the Cubs will have some significant battles for spots in the 2013 spring training.
Here are three reasons the Cubs middle infield will get them back to prominence.
Starlin Castro Will Only Get Better
The Chicago Cubs have their shortstop of the future in Castro. The Cubs inked the 22-year-old shortstop to a six-year extension through the club option in 2020.
Castro is the youngest player to lead the National League in hits. At 21 years and 188 days, Castro recorded 207 hits in 2011. That season he hit .307.
Named an All-Star in 2012, Castro is one of the most talented young shortstops in the MLB. Despite hitting in the middle of a weak Cubs order, Castro is hitting .281 with career highs in home runs (13), RBI (75) and stolen bases (24) through 144 games.
CBS Sports ranked Castro the No. 9 best shortstop in the MLB. Castro gets high praise for his offensive prowess, but has struggled defensively in his three-year career. Castro has a .959 career fielding percentage.
The Cubs think Castro can be even better than he has shown in his first three years.
“There are some inconsistencies, but it’s just a matter of getting to another level,” Cubs Manager Dale Sveum said. “He’s at one level, but we want to get this 22-year-old kid to another level.”
Arguably the best shortstop in the history of baseball, Derek Jeter, has racked up nearly 3,300 hits in his career. In his first three complete seasons, Jeter had 576 hits.
Castro currently has 508, with 18 games left this season. If Castro continues to improve, the Cubs could be building a legend. Cubs fans are hoping Castro can bring even one World Series ring back to Chi-Town.
The Cubs have a solid pair in the middle infield currently with Castro and Darwin Barney. Barney has the National League record for consecutive games without an error.
What Barney lacks in offensive production he makes up for on defense. Unfortunately, the Cubs are hitting less than .250 as a team and will need to add production to their lineup in as many ways as possible.
One way to add pop is by adding the bat of the Cubs’ top prospect, Javier Baez. The 19-year-old was the ninth overall pick by the Cubs in the 2011 Draft. He is expected to make his debut in the Majors in 2014.
Baez is a natural shortstop that has above-average bat speed. He has good hands defensively and many feel that he will be moved around the infield, especially with Castro holding down shortstop.
With Peoria and Daytona, Baez is hitting .294 with 16 home runs and 13 doubles. He is a bit of a free-swinger with 69 strikeouts to 14 walks.
The Cubs have two other middle infield prospects in their top 20, Junior Lake (No. 9) and Gioskar Amaya (No. 18).
Lake is a speedster who has a lot of upside. He was added to the Cubs’ 40-man roster this season and is expected to be called up next season.
Amaya is a 19-year-old prospect who has dominated at every level. He finished second in the Arizona Fall League in batting average and has settled in at second base.
The Cubs will have some significant battles in spring training next season for infield spots. Some talented prospects will help turn the Cubs middle infield into significant producers in the near future.
If It’s Not Broken, Don’t Fix It
The Cubs’ season hasn’t had a lot of things to be excited about. The middle infield with Castro and Barney is one of the only bright spots.
From Barney’s record-setting defense to Castro being named to the All-Star game, the middle infield has been providing positive headlines for the Cubs for the majority of the season.
Barney draws criticism for his lack offensive output, especially with players like Dustin Pedroia, Robinson Cano and Brandon Phillips putting up strong numbers. However, second basemen aren’t typically big producers at the plate.
Barney is the prototypical second baseman. He has good hands, a contact bat and good range. He also has a great chemistry with Castro.
Castro and Barney have been a part of 86 double plays, good for eighth in the MLB for shortstops and sixth for second baseman.
There is a mutual goal for the Cubs middle infield—they want to be the best in the league, according to the Chicago Sun Times.
‘I want to be the best two up the middle in the league, the All-Star shortstop told his second baseman, be the best two guys on the double play, the best two guys on the relay, everything. Castro said, (Barney) was thinking the same.
Barney is the highest-rated second baseman in the MLB in defensive wins above replacement at 3.4.
Cano is 1.7. Pedroia is 1.5.
If defense wins championships, the Cubs are going to be in good shape with their young middle infielders. The success of the Cubs will fall squarely on the shoulders of the production up the middle.