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Chicago Cubs: The 1 Prospect the Cubs Must Hold on to

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Chicago Cubs: The 1 Prospect the Cubs Must Hold on to
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When Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer initiated their mission to bring a World Series Championship to the Chicago Cubs, they began by analyzing the organization in both current and future terms. 

They looked at their MLB roster and the status of their farm system as dictations on where their plan would or should go and the expediency their plan can take.

What they found was not necessarily a bare cupboard, but more of a kitchen cabinet stocked with items such as spam, corned beef hash, a few cans of vegetables, corn kernels to be popped and the like.

Epstein and Hoyer now knew they would be tasked with re-stocking the cupboard with the ingredients necessary to cook a decadent multi-course meal. 

So they set off in acquiring Anthony Rizzo, Jorge Soler, Albert Almora, Arodys Vizcaino and Travis Wood, to name a few.

But there were some solid players left over at all levels of the organization—Castro, Castillo, Samardzija, Barney and Garza at the MLB level and Baez, Jackson, and Vogelbach in the minors—but overall, the talent list, top-to-bottom, did not allude itself to a quick major league club turnaround.

It would be egregious to sit here and write the Cubs’ immediate future looks as bright as the sun; because it does not.  The Cubs’ future more resembles Alpha CMa—the second brightest star visible from Earth, but the eighth closest to our planet—as it is bright though not beaming, and still a good distance away.

The majority of the Cubs’ best prospects are still at the lower levels of minor league baseball, and their impact to the major league roster will not be felt until sometime during the 2014 season at the earliest.

Some will make their way to the MLB roster with the Chicago Cubs, and some will be used as trade pieces in acquiring veterans and other prospects that fit the Cubs’ system.

Within that group of prospects there is one player, whom will likely fall in the latter category, the Cubs would be wise to hang on to: Dan Vogelbach.

Dan Vogelbach is a rarity to recent Cubs lineups: A power-hitting lefty with a high average that uses the entire field—Rizzo also qualifies, but Cubs fans can remember years of lineups consisting of righties, righties and more righties.

Vogelbach has been compared to the Detroit Tigers’ Prince Fielder due to his size and his ability to hit the ball to all fields. 

But with guys like Fielder and Vogelbach who are aware of their size and know what they need to do to not let it impact their performance, when they lose almost 50 pounds so they can become an overall better baseball player, their dedication to the game cannot be questioned.

Whilst shedding those pounds, in 2012 with the Boise Hawks of the Low-A Northwest League, Vogelbach had a line of .322/.423/.608—that’s a 1.031 OPS—and a .989 fielding percentage at first base.

And therein lies the hiccup: Dan plays first base.

The Cubs already have their cornerstone infielder and franchise first baseman, Anthony Rizzo, on the MLB roster, leaving the future prospects of Dan Vogelbach making the “Bigs” with the Cubs uncertain.

Regardless of his current status with the club, the Cubs would be wise to hang on to Vogelbach for as long as they can for two reasons: First, and most obvious, is his trade value.

Photo Courtesy of MiLB.com

If Vogelbach keeps any semblance of his Low-A Boise numbers as he makes his way up the minor league rungs, his trade value will climb as well.

If he is able to wreak as much havoc in Triple-A as he has done in the Arizona League and Northwest League, the Cubs may not have to offer little more than Dan Vogelbach when proposing a trade for a veteran or a prospect that fills a positional need.

But the second reason the Cubs should hang on to Vogelbach is one that has already been mentioned:  He’s a power-hitting lefty with a high average that uses the entire field. 

For that reason, a position switch should not be ruled out.

Vogelbach has not spent so much time in professional baseball that a position change at this point in his career would be too concerning. There have been many cases over the years of organizations changing a player’s position to allow their bats in the lineup.

Two notable examples were showcased in the 2012 Fall Classic—Pablo Sandoval and Miguel Cabrera—and the Cubs could do with Vogelbach what the Giants did with Pablo Sandoval, and the Tigers did with Miguel Cabrera: Move him to third.

But of the two examples, Sandoval’s switch is more relevant to Vogelbach’s case than Cabrera’s due to Miggy having played third before moving back from first.

Pablo Sandoval began his minor league career as a catcher in 2004 before moving to third in 2005, splitting time between first and third in 2006, then first and catcher in 2007 and 2008. 

When he made his MLB debut in 2008, he played 17 games at 1B, 12 at 3B and 11 at catcher. Then again in 2009, he still split playing time between 1B, 3B and catcher, however the majority of his starts were made at the hot corner.

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The criticism for moving from first to third being more difficult than catcher to third is valid, as Bill James made note of in “The Defensive Spectrum,” where he ranked the positions in order of fielding difficulty—catcher was No. 2 behind the pitcher position, and first base was dead last. 

This principle is explained in an excerpt from “The Bill James Baseball Abstract 1988” posted here by Sean Lahman on his website, and summarized well by Dan Holmes:

In his Baseball Abstract books, author Bill James introduced what he called “The Defensive Spectrum,” in which he rated the difficulty of baseball’s eight defensive positions. It went like this:

P – C – SS – 2B – CF – 3B – RF – LF – 1B

The farther you go to the right, the less demanding the defensive position is. According to James and his disciples, players usually start off somewhere on the spectrum and move to the right as their career progresses. Rarely does a player move to the left—the more demanding positions—of the spectrum

There is also the belief that either Javier Baez or Starlin Castro will be the Cubs’ future third baseman when Baez is ultimately called up to Chicago, and that would hinder moving Vogelbach across the diamond. 

The Cubs could move Baez or Castro to second base, leaving third open for Dan’s position switch, but that seems highly unlikely; especially if Dan’s defensive capabilities at third are questioned.

There is another option for a potential position switch the Cubs could explore. 

If the front office wants to keep Vogelbach with the club, moving the lefty to the outfield is the only remaining alternative.

A move to right field would be ideal since it is on the same side of the diamond as 1B, but clubs prefer their right- and center-fielders to have decent arms—an aspect of Vogelbach’s repertoire which is unknown since he has not played outfield.

A move to left field would be easier. 

Not a whole lot is expected of left fielders defensively. In fact, left field is where most National League clubs hide their most defensively deficient outfielders if their bats make them indispensable to the lineup—and, not surprisingly, first base for infielders.

A big, fat “for instance” would again be located in the Bay Area. 

When Barry Bonds’ career transitioned from that of an all-around baseball player to a home run slugger, he was still trotted out to left field every game just to keep his bat in the lineup. Even in the twilight of his career, when his knees caused him to become little more than a statue out in left, his bat still afforded him a spot in the everyday lineup.

Another example, closer to home, would be Alfonso Soriano. 

Even in his “best” offensive seasons with the Cubs, he was still a defensive liability in left.

You could also look at Matt Holliday, Manny Ramirez, Adam Dunn, Carlos Lee, etc., etc. if you need more examples of a player’s bat outweighing his defensive shortcomings in a MLB lineup in recent baseball history.

If Dan Vogelbach continues tearing through the minor leagues, then why shouldn’t there be discussions on moving him to left. 

It may not be ideal for the Cubs brass, but a player with the talents such as Vogelbach should not be resigned to a trade piece without adequate efforts made to do everything possible to keep him with the organization.

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