Chicago Cubs: Plans for Top Prospects Come to Light, so Do Questions

Jared DwyerCorrespondent IIIFebruary 21, 2013

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The Cubs future looks bright.  In their compilation of Top Prospects for 2013, Baseball America named four Cubs to the list:  Javier Baez, #16; Albert Almora, #33; Jorge Soler, #34; Arodys Vizcaino, #83.

And, wouldn’t you know it, three of the four received invites to Spring Training; along with Junior Lake and a handful of other prospects.

But the four “baby bears” are not expected to break camp on the MLB roster.  If forced to wager a bet at which had the best chance, smart money would be on Vizcaino—but even then the odds of that are worse than the Cubs winning the World Series this season.

This Spring Training could give a glimpse of what the Cubs have planned for some of their top prospects as they continue to develop.

There has been considerable debate about what positions the organization’s top prospects should or will play as they make their way up the minor league ranks.

This spring the Cubs plan on having Jorge Soler split time between left and right fields, starting with left field in today’s (2-21-13) intra-squad game—Javy Baez will be playing shortstop in the game. 

With Starlin Castro manning the shortstop position for years to come, there is a logjam at that position.  Javier Baez is a natural shortstop, as are Junior Lake and Arismendy Alcantara.

So, that means the Cubs have two options:  Move them to new positions or keep them where they are and use them as trade bait.

There is one thing, however, that works in the Cubs’ favor:  They have “prospect” holes at two infield positions.

Darwin Barney is one hell of a defensive second baseman.  But if he continues to bat around .260 his time with the organization will be finite.

The belief was as Javier Baez moved his way up to the majors he would eventually be moved to third base to form a very promising tandem with Castro on the left side of the infield.  However, this spring the Cubs plan on playing him a short and second base.

“Sveum has said Baez will play some second base as well as shortstop.”

At third base, though, the Cubs do not have as many quality prospects coming down the pipe nor is their long-term option on the MLB roster.

Christian Villanueva and Jeimer Candelario are the two more promising third base prospects—Villanueva is the better defender and Candelario is better at the plate—but both will begin 2013 at Double-A or lower.

This spring, however, they just may receive some company in the third base prospect pool.

Junior Lake is, or was, “supposed” to be moved to the outfield.  But, again, Dale Sveum has a surprise up his sleeve.

“Sveum said he will use infield prospect Junior Lake at third base and in the outfield, where he played this winter in the Dominican.”

Lake did play 29 games at third base with the Tennessee Smokies, but as a permanent position switch it does not match up with his although impressive, still unrefined, skill set.  

Moving Lake to third base would benefit the Cubs in, say, two years when he could help platoon third base.  But he does not have the complete skill set to play third base such as Christian Villanueva does.

So, why the change?  Or rather, why did the Cubs decide to change the believed alternate positions of these players this spring?

Before you say anything, or think it, I know they are simply experimenting with Baez and Lake at positions different than expected and are not necessarily permanent moves.  But still, there are many questions one has to ask.

Does having Baez split time at second base hint at the Cubs believing natural third base prospect Christian Villanueva to be a better long-term solution at the hot corner?  Or has Baez’s defense improved enough that they feel comfortable with him playing the more difficult defensive position?

Is the organization having Baez split time at second base this spring so Junior Lake can have more time at third?

But why plan to have Junior Lake spend time at third when everybody expects him to be moved to the outfield?  Is Lake going to play at third because they want to cultivate him into another third base prospect so he can be more appealing in a trade package?

Or perhaps could I be wrong in my assessment of Christian Villanueva, and the Cubs believe Junior Lake has the tools to become a better overall third baseman than Villanueva, thus explaining this move?

Could it be that with the outfield being a prospect-heavy position—Sappelt, Jackson, Soler, Almora, Szczur—by having him play some third base they’re just trying to find a position for Lake to move forward with?   Might they be setting up his permanent position move from short because not only are there better prospects at that position ahead of him, but also behind him?

These questions, and many more, can only be answered by the Cubs’ brass and Dale Sveum.  But since it does not seem likely they would agree to a sit-down with me, it is time for you to put your VP\GM\Manager hat(s) on and answer them.