Chicago Cubs: Turning It All Around, Part III (Middle Infield, Catcher)

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Chicago Cubs: Turning It All Around, Part III (Middle Infield, Catcher)
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This article is part three of a series of articles looking at the Cubs' not-so-distant future. To read part two, which takes a look at the outfield, follow this link.

Starlin Castro still has plenty of developing to do at the major league level, but he is under team control for the next five offseasons and has probably locked up a spot in the starting lineup until he proves he doesn't deserve it, which hopefully won't happen.

Geovany Soto was one of baseball's best offensive catchers during his rookie campaign and, after a disappointing 2009 season, has bounced back to re-gain that position in the first half of this season.

He's under team control for the next two offseasons and isn't likely to be in any danger of losing his starting role, either.

After those two, there is no guarantee that there will be familiar faces (in terms of major league experience) behind the dish or in the middle of the infield for very long.

Ryan Theriot has been linked to the Giants and Rockies, Mike Fontenot was almost dealt to the Red Sox, Jeff Baker hasn't been hitting as well as he did for the 2009 Cubs, and Koyie Hill has a couple of replacements waiting in the wings.

 

Middle Infield Prospects

According to Baseball America, five of the Cubs' top ten prospects coming into this season were middle infielders: Castro, Hak-Ju Lee, Logan Watkins, Ryan Flaherty, and D.J. LeMahieu.

That isn't even counting Darwin Barney, the Cubs' Triple-A shortstop that was invited to spring training this year and was mentioned by Lou Piniella as a legitimate option for the North Siders' bench this season.

Lee is considered a big enough prospect that he might eventually push Castro over to second base, but he is only 19 years old and playing at Single-A Peoria. Watkins is a year older, but he is at the same level and appears to be moving up through the ranks at the same pace.

Although both players are very athletic and either could develop into a major leaguer, the Cubs would likely require someone to bridge the gap for the couple of years it will take for them to realistically reach the big leagues.

Both the 23-year-old Flaherty and the 21-year-old LeMahieu are one level ahead of that duo at Single-A Advanced Daytona, but neither are expected to have the range or quickness to stay up the middle.

 

Catching Prospects

After having three different catchers make that same list over the past two years, none of the other five prospects were catchers. Of course, Geovany Soto is now the Cubs' starting catcher and Josh Donaldson was traded to Oakland in July 2008.

The third of those catchers was Welington Castillo.

The 23-year-old is a good defensive catcher, drawing comparisons to Yadier Molina as recently as 2009, but he hasn't been hitting too well for Triple-A Iowa this season.

Despite hitting for good power (.250 ISO) in 184 plate appearances, his slash line sits at .238/.306/.488 on the year.

Looking a little deeper into the Cubs' farm system, Robinson Chirinos should be an interesting option going forward. He will be eligible for minor league free agency this offseason, but the 26-year-old might offer both offense and defense.

The former infielder has only been a full-time catcher since last year, but Baseball America rated him the organization's best defensive catcher coming into this season and he has hit for a .314/.402/.559 slash line at Double-A Tennessee so far in 2010.

If he can continue to show the steady offensive improvement at Triple-A next season that he's had the past few seasons, he might be ready to replace Hill as the backup catcher before too long.

 

The More Immediate Future

To begin with, there's no reason to get rid of Hill. He'll be under team control this offseason, he probably won't fetch much in a trade, and he's doing a pretty decent job as the backup catcher.

After the 2011 season, he will qualify for free agency and the Cubs can see where they stand with Castillo and Chirinos, neither of whom have any major league service time.

Assuming that both players are on the 40-man roster (to avoid being picked in the next Rule Five Draft) but are not on the 25-man roster, Castillo will have only one option remaining and Chirinos will have two remaining at that point.

Out of the second basemen, Theriot and Baker have two years remaining under team control and Fontenot has three remaining.

Fontenot is probably the best trade chip of the three because of his offensive ability and the extra year of team control he offers, but those same factors probably make him the best option to keep.

In that light, the Cubs will probably trade one or both of Theriot and Baker if they can get anything of value in return. Of course, since Fontenot was recently on the verge of being traded, it's entirely possible that Theriot and Baker's low trade value has already been realized.

But no matter who gets moved, Barney will almost certainly be called upon to fill their spot on the roster.

If two of the three get moved, though, there are a number of ways the team could go.

Micah Hoffpauir or Bryan LaHair could be brought up to give Derrek Lee some rest, but that role is pretty much set with Xavier Nady. They could also bring up Brad Snyder or Sam Fuld, moving Nady almost exclusively to first base and providing the team with more options.

However, there is still one more direction they could go: Matt Camp.

Camp, a 26-year-old utility player in Triple-A, could be an interesting piece for the North Siders. He is a high-contact player with some speed that has played at second base, third base, shortstop, and all three outfield positions in his career.

He might not be the best option at any one thing, but he's been performing fairly well in Iowa and he would allow Nady to keep his current role on the team while giving the Cubs some added flexibility.

 

The position players aren't the only guys that will be moving around, though. This team has a lot of potential talent taking the mound for them right now and, at some point, room will need to be made on the roster for the young guns to get their shot.

Whether it's expiring contracts or explosive personalities, decisions need to be made and will be coming sooner or later.

To read part four, which covers the pitchers, follow this link.

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