For the past few weeks, we’ve been checking out each position in the Cubs organization. So far, first and shortstop were a little low on depth while second base provided the widest array of talent. But the hot corner has the potential to produce some high-end players. In fact, third base really breaks the bank.
Kris Bryant produced an outstanding 6.5 WAR as a rookie at 3B, which included playing slightly above-average defense. Believe it or not, he could still improve upon a season that saw him strike out at a 30.6% clip while not hitting for as much power as expected from his minor league résumé. Bryant may eventually have to move off third, but the plethora of infield options the Cubs have on their major league roster, not to mention those waiting in the minors, makes that a pretty seamless transition
Leading the wave at AA is Jeimer Candelario. The switch-hitting corner man had an outstanding 2015 across two levels in Myrtle Beach and Tennessee. He displayed that he could hit for average and power in the middle of the lineup with a line-drive swing. He’s also had a great AFL campaign, really rounding out his coming-out as a prospect. The big question is whether he can stick at third with his body and footwork.
My untrained eye leads me to believe he can’t, but when I asked the question to John Manuel of Baseball America, he responded with: “Scouts don’t agree with your assessment. I have words like ‘light on his feet’ and ‘agile’ in my notes, plus ‘outstanding defender’ and ‘good instincts’ in my reports from three different professionals in the scouting field.”
Regardless of where he ends up, I think the best is yet to come for Candelario in 2016, and if all goes well he could make the roster as a September call-up.
Christian Villanueva continues to hang around the Cubs organization. In 2015, he displayed a lot more power at AAA than before while playing a mixture of first base and third-base. Being blocked by Kris Bryant hampers where he can go in the Cubs’ organization. Still, you need to remember that he’s only 24 and he just hit .259 with 18 home runs and 88 RBIs at AAA. He has above-average defense at third and really improved his approach at the plate this season. If somebody’s going to want him, they’d better act soon. Villanueva may not be in the Cubs’ long term plans, but he can still be an asset to the organization moving forward.
Before a wrist injury sidelined him for most of the summer, Wladimir Galindo was an RBI machine in the Arizona Rookie League. In just 19 games, he hit .358, slugged .522, had a .922 OPS, and did so without hitting a single home run. He will turn 19 this November and, at 6’3” and 210 pounds, he has a solid frame for the future. I think long-term he might be the best 3B prospect in the minors (if he can stay there), but he has not even played in A-ball yet. Galindo has strong hands, impressive bat speed, and puts on a good display in BP. He did take part in instructs in Arizona last month and was able to hit, play in the infield, and do all the activities the other players did, which is a good sign.
Kwang-Min Kwon, signed in the summer of 2015 as an International Free Agent, is a bit of an unknown. In instructs, he won the Home Run Derby and was mobbed by his teammates. At just 18, he will likely start out in Arizona in the spring and his play will dictate where he goes. He has good size at 6’2” and 194 pounds, but he also played some first base in the fall session. He’s likely a first baseman in the long run, but the Cubs will try him out at third while he’s young.
2015 draftee Matt Rose was profiled at the 1B position three weeks ago, but he played about half his time in the field at third. With an extremely balanced swing, Rose has the potential to drive the ball on any pitch. Coming out of Georgia State as a two-way player, Rose will actually start healthy in 2016 for the first time in two years. While he only hit 4 HRs in 40+ games as a Cub after his signing, he could approach 20 in 2016.
Other third baseman in the Cubs organization include Jason Vosler, who we profiled as a first baseman; Jesse Hodges, who played sporadically for South Bend; and Adonis Paula, who played third base for Eugene. Vosler showed more power at Myrtle Beach than we thought he would. He hit 6 home runs in 38 games after clubbing only 4 in 69 games at South Bend. Hodges occasionally showed some pop but had a low average. Paula hit .261 with two homers in 47 games. PJ Higgins, who we profiled at second base, played some third base this year as well.
The Cubs have a couple of high-end prospects in Candelario and Galindo. Here’s the thing though: Bryant is not sliding to the outfield full-time anytime soon unless it’s to make room for Javier Baez. Candelario shouldn’t be ready until 2017 or so. By that time, things could shakedown a little differently after another year of development. Galindo, who we see as having a high ceiling, could be ready in 2019. The issue for him might be just what kind of player he is going to be and if he sticks at third. Nevertheless, the Cubs look to have plus output at 3B for the foreseeable future.