This marks the beginning of CI’s annual offseason series breaking down each position in the organization, though it’s structured a little differently this year. Rather than just beginning at catcher and going around the horn, positions will be ranked by strength and depth. That means we will start at third base, the lowest ranked position in the system, and conclude with shortstop, which is the strongest.
Since the Cubs took Kris Bryant in the 1st round in 2013, the hot corner has not gotten much attention in terms of talent acquisition. In fact, Ryan Reynolds (2019, 14th round) is the only third baseman taken in the top 20 rounds over the last six years who is still in the system. Already gone are Jason Vosler (2014, 16th round), Austin Filiere (2017, 8th round), and Luke Reynolds (2018, 7th round).
A lot of folks might be pointing to David Bote here, but he was drafted in the 18th round all the way back in 2012. It’s unclear whether Bote is going to be the long-term solution if and when Bryant does leave because he’s still pretty limited when it comes to getting everyday plate appearances. By the end of 2021, we may have a whole different outlook on the position.
Chris Morel is a 21-year-old who broke onto the scene in 2019 at South Bend after moving from short to in for the injured Fidel Mejia at third. It took Morel about a month bit to figure some things out, but then he was like lightning in a bottle and hit over .400 in the second half before going down with a knee injury. Morel has a quick bat, a high motor, a cannon for an arm, and is still growing.
Though he was probably the biggest surprise when the Cubs announced the roster for the alternate site back in July, his performance there made him a relatively easy call to be added to the 40-man roster. Don’t let the organization’s trust in him make you think Morel will be ready to go anytime soon, though. While he should start off 2021 in Tennessee, he’s going to need to face a lot more advanced pitching at Double- and Triple-A before he’s even close to coming up to Chicago.
As someone who has been on the his hype train for the last year and a half, I’m excited to watch him grow and develop next summer. Cue the video and watch how fast he recognizes the pitch and accelerates the bat through the zone.
Chris Morel dreaming today… pic.twitter.com/G3MM6DMUFj
— Todd ⚾️🐻🦌 (@CubsCentral08) March 1, 2020
As for the rest of the system, we may still see a continuing trend of third base being another place for second baseman to play. Again, the Cubs haven’t paid much attention to the position because of Bryant’s presence and can’t really change things overnight even if the former MVP is no longer there.
Second baseman Chase Strumpf, the Cubs’ second-round pick last year, saw a lot of action at the hot corner during fall instructs and could get some time there in 2021. That would be more about his versatility and the lack of depth at third in the system, but it could become a little more legit if his power profile clicks in.
Mejia got off to a great start in April 2019 before he injured his wrist sliding into second base and missed the next two months. As is often the case with wrist injuries, he struggled to replicate his hot start as he worked to regain strength. Still just 21, he will probably spend most of next summer at one level of A-ball as he makes up for lost time.
Another name to watch is Fabian Pertuz, who slid from shortstop to third and had a 126 wRC+ during the 2019 campaign in Mesa. The big limiting factor here is power, since Pertuz is probably not going to put up many home runs. If Luis Verdugo also makes the transition over from shortstop, the Cubs’ prospects (pun intended) at third base should increase dramatically.
Ed Howard taking over and proving himself as the shortstop of the future could push other shortstop prospects like Kevin Made and Cristian Hernandez over as well. Third base remains a soft spot in the organization based on the lack of attention paid to it, but that could all change over the next year as things start to fall into place