Tagged: Arismendy Alcantara

Chicago Cubs Position Previews: Second Base

As the Chicago Cubs prepare to head out to spring training in Mesa, Arizona, Windy City Hardball is previewing each of the positions on the field for the team (and pretending we’re heading to Phoenix ourselves to enjoy the warm weather).

We keep things rolling today with a look at the team’s options at second base.

The Starter:

The Cubs have a ton of options available to them at this position, but who the starter will end up being is up in the air. In all likelihood it is a two-horse race, with Javier Baez and Tommy La Stella going head to head for the job. Baez has plenty of upside and can hit the tar out of the baseball….when he makes contact. As for La Stella, his slash numbers were solid last season with the Atlanta Braves, and his plate discipline was a heck of a lot better than Baez’s.

Javier  Baez bats against the Milwaukee Brewers September 3rd.

Javier Baez bats against the Milwaukee Brewers September 3rd.

The problem with La Stella is that he provides literally nothing else if he isn’t getting on base. His power is nonexistent, and going into his second season in the bigs, pitchers are really going to start adjusting to him in the new year. Baez’s power upside is definitely something that could give him an edge in the battle, but if he struggles in the warm air in Arizona, then we could see a shift in thinking on the part of the Cubs.

Back-Ups:

Either Baez or La Stella could get the primary back-up job at second base (Baez could get a leg up for a roster spot since he can also fill in at shortstop, and potentially at third base in a pinch), but Arismendy Alcantara will also see plenty of time at the position. With Dexter Fowler in center field, Alcantara will be looked at as a utility guy extraordinaire, and he provides a nice insurance option in case Baez and La Stella both struggle out of the gate.

Arismendy  Alcantara warms up prior to September 3rd game vs. Brewers

Arismendy Alcantara warms up prior to September 3rd game vs. Brewers

Position Ranking:

The Cubs may have quite a few guys that can play the position, but we still have this spot ranked seventh out of the eight fielding spots. The questions about Baez’s plate discipline and about La Stella’s ability to continue hitting for average with the Cubs are serious concerns, and even though Alcantara does give the spot a bit of a boost, not having an established guy to man the position is a bit concerning.

Prospect Watch:

The Cubs’ plethora of middle infield prospects is an asset that many teams would love to emulate. Logan Watkins made 68 plate appearances for the Cubs in the 2014 season, putting up an OBP of .269, so he could start the season in the minors. Gleyber Torres is another guy to keep an eye on, with an insanely high ceiling and some great tools that he could use to jump higher on the team’s overall prospect rankings.

One other player to keep an eye on this season is Gioskar Amaya. He could be poised for a jump after playing well in high-A ball last year with Daytona, and he has some decent speed (14 stolen bases in 21 attempts in 2014) to go along with a solid OP of .379 a season ago.

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Chicago Cubs Position Previews: First Base

As the Chicago Cubs prepare to head out to spring training in Mesa, Arizona, Windy City Hardball is previewing each of the positions on the field for the team (and pretending we’re heading to Phoenix ourselves to enjoy the warm weather).

We keep things going with the first base position.

The Starter:

There are only a couple of positions on the Cubs’ roster that are absolutely guaranteed, and their starting first baseman is one of them. Anthony Rizzo went from being a really solid player last season to being a potentially elite one, slugging 32 home runs, racking up an impressing 5.6 WARP and even garnering MVP votes for a last place team.

Perhaps more impressively than his play overall was the fact that he embraced his role as a leader on the team. With precious few veterans on the squad, Rizzo took it upon himself to be the voice of the team, and even though guys like Jon Lester and Miguel Montero will be helping out in that department this season, they aren’t likely to tell Rizzo to quiet down since he’s the guy who’s been around the longest on this particular team.

As for what we can expect from Rizzo in the upcoming year, it’s tough to say. Some advanced metrics suggest he’ll suffer a dip in his home run total but an increase in his RBI total (having guys like Dexter Fowler ahead of you in the lineup will help with that), but it wouldn’t be shocking to still see him hit around 30 home runs and drive in close to 90 runs. That would be a big boost to the Cubs’ offense, and with a guy like Kris Bryant potentially coming up midseason to help provide more protection, Rizzo could really take another step forward in the coming year.

Back-Ups:

First base is really the only position that the Cubs don’t have a certain back-up for at the moment, but guys like Mike Olt will likely be looked at to give Rizzo an occasional break. Calling up a guy like Dan Vogelbach is off the table (at least we’d assume it is), but other options like Tommy La Stella, Chris Coghlan and Arismendy Alcantara (who is likely shifting into a utility infielder role with Fowler taking over as the full-time center fielder), aren’t exactly palatable.

Position Rating:

Even though they aren’t blessed with a tremendous back-up, the Cubs’ first base situation is their second-best position in our eyes. Rizzo is one of the top first basemen in the National League, and with Joe Maddon at the helm and with the confidence of his breakout season still fueling him, the Cubs won’t have to worry about addressing this spot for a while.

Vogelbach bats vs. the Scottsdale Scorpions in AFL action.

Vogelbach bats vs. the Scottsdale Scorpions in AFL action.

Prospect Watch:

With tremendous depth at other positions, the Cubs have a really shallow group of true first basemen in their system. Vogelbach is just about the only guy that immediately comes to mind, and while he’s a solid prospect, he’s likely not a game changer at the position from a defensive standpoint. That’s not a deal-breaker, especially considering how good he is at the plate (he had an impressive .357 OBP and 45 extra base hits in 560 plate appearances in High-A Daytona last season), so it wouldn’t be surprising to see him take a step or two up the ladder this season.

 

 

Alcantara, Arrieta Shine as Cubs Youth Movement Continues to Impress

Jorge Soler bats against the Milwaukee Brewers September 3rd

Jorge Soler bats against the Milwaukee Brewers September 3rd

Unlike the past few Septembers, the atmosphere around Wrigley Field has been electric in recent weeks, and Tuesday night was no exception as the Chicago Cubs trounced the Milwaukee Brewers by a score of 7-1.

While plenty of the headlines will focus on the injury that Starlin Castro suffered in the first inning of the game, the contest was yet another showcase of the myriad of young players that the Cubs have working their way up through the system. Headlining that list was pitcher Jake Arrieta, who bounced back from a rough start against the Cincinnati Reds last week with a strong outing in this one. Outdueling Yovani Gallardo, Arrieta scattered five hits over six innings, allowing just one run and striking out four batters.

He varied up his speeds well, topping out at 95 MPH on his fastball and ratcheting down by 15-20 MPH on his offspeed stuff. His command was solid through most of the game, and even in tough situations like the one he faced in his final inning of work, he never strayed from his plan. With runners on second and third with two outs in the sixth inning, Arrieta struck out Gerardo Parra and got out of the jam with his team’s lead still intact.

Arismendy Alcantara warms up prior to September 3rd game vs. Brewers

Arismendy Alcantara warms up prior to September 3rd game vs. Brewers

Arrieta wasn’t the only youngster that shone in the game either. Arismendy Alcantara also had a nice night, slugging his eighth home run of the season to put a finishing touch on the rout. With Castro’s injury, we could end up seeing more of Alcantara at second base, but with the way he’s taken to playing center field in the big leagues, that might end up being a longer-term answer than some folks previously thought. 

Javier Baez was also impressive in the game, despite only reaching base once. He looked much more patient at the plate, and he made some really good contact with the ball, including a shot to center field in the second inning that would have been a long home run on most nights at the ballpark. He also transitioned seamlessly from second base to shortstop when Castro left the game, and he fielded the ball perfectly in those eight innings of work.

Jorge Soler also continued his torrid start with the Cubs, picking up an RBI single in the first inning and nearly hitting a home run in the fifth inning. Unfortunately for him, the wind held the ball in the yard as Khris Davis made a warning track snag, but his bat speed and sharp eye at the plate were both on full display. He also made a couple of spectacular grabs of his own in the outfield, including a diving catch that ended a potential Brewers rally in the seventh inning.

With so many young and exciting players in the lineup, Cubs fans are a much more optimistic bunch these days, and even though the paid attendance was below 30,000 on Tuesday, the crowd was still engrossed in the game. The Cubs aren’t going to make the playoffs this season, but if they continue to show the kind of improvement they have over these past few months, next season could be a lot more exciting on the North Side.

Could Valbuena Be Trade Bait for Cubs with Bryant Coming?

Over the past several seasons, the Chicago Cubs haven’t really been in a position where they’ve had to jettison players to make room for others, as their young talent was still spread out throughout the minor league system.

Beginning next year however, some of those decisions are going to start popping up. Kris Bryant is all but a shoe-in to start the year as the Cubs’ third baseman, Arismendy Alcantara will either be playing second base or center field for the north siders, and players like Albert Almora and Billy McKinney will soon be vying for outfield spots for the team.

All of those youngsters coming up through the system are obviously great for the club, but the news isn’t as good for players like Luis Valbuena. He has 16 home runs and 46 RBI in 540 plate appearances this season, and he’s already got career highs in both of those categories. He does strike out a lot, with 97 punchouts this season, but he does walk quite a bit, and his .325 OBP isn’t exactly terrible when you consider the amount of power that he provides at the dish.

Valbuena once again showed off his value on Monday afternoon as the Cubs tried to knock the Milwaukee Brewers out of first place. After watching Starlin Castro strike out looking to lead off the eighth inning against Brewers reliever Jeremy Jeffress, Valbuena deposited a 1-1 pitch into the center field bleachers to give the Cubs a critical insurance run. That breathing room allowed Hector Rondon to come in and nail down the save against the heart of the Milwaukee order, and the Cubs were able to knock off their rivals to the north 4-2.

Valbuena’s bat is a really good asset for the Cubs, and his glove is as well. With plays like the one he made Sunday afternoon against the St. Louis Cardinals (he took a step back on a sharply hit grounder, picked it cleanly, and started a 5-4-3 double play), Valbuena is capable of turning a game with the leather too.

Unfortunately for him, none of that is going to matter when the 2015 season comes around. The fact of the matter is that Valbuena might be too talented of a player to simply use in a utility role, and the Cubs might be better off trading him away. There are plenty of teams who could use a slick fielding third baseman with the potential to hit 20 home runs a season (the fact he’s under team control until 2017 is another selling point), and the Cubs could enrich their pitching rotation or bullpen if Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer play their cards right.

Losing Valbuena would stink, especially considering how much he’s done for the Cubs while they’ve been mired in mediocrity while waiting for their youngsters to make it to the big leagues, but it would be equally unfair to him to make him a bench player as other players come into the fold. Trading him would be the most fair way to go about things, and both parties would benefit in the long run from that kind of move.

 

 

Soler Call-Up Yet Another Reason for Hope for Cubs Fans

For fans of the Chicago Cubs, there is this weird feeling that is currently settling into the collective psyche. An emotion that many haven’t felt since the 2008 season, when the team won 97 games and looked poised to make mincemeat out of their World Series drought (spoiler alert: it didn’t happen).

That emotion: optimism.

Sure, the old refrain from Cubs fans is “there’s always next year,” but after many years of that being a hollow premise, it seems as though there might finally be some validity to the maxim. After all, the Cubs have called up several of their biggest prospects this season, including Javier Baez and Arismendy Alcantara (whose two-run homer on Tuesday helped lift the Cubs to victory), gotten a 30 home run season out of Anthony Rizzo, and have several prospects still in the minors, including Kris Bryant and Addison Russell, that are going to make a massive impact on the team in coming seasons.

The team’s decision to call up Jorge Soler to be their starting right fielder for the stretch run is yet one more example of that forward progress. Soler is a really good hitter with plenty of power, and after years of experimenting with a multitude of players, team management has to be hoping that Soler will finally lock down a position of weakness on the roster.

With eight home runs and 29 RBI in just 32 games for the Iowa Cubs this season, Soler has shown that he is ready to make the next leap forward in his development. Much like they have with their other top prospects, the Cubs have taken it slowly with the Cuban outfielder, and the 22-year old has certainly paid his dues as he made his way up the ladder. His bat is definitely a tantalizing addition to the lineup, and the thought of him hitting behind Rizzo and Starlin Castro in the Cubs’ lineup could make for a very interesting September.

Sure, Soler’s debut in the majors is likely to be fraught with growing pains, but Cubs fans that have already waited so patiently for these guys to make their way up to the majors aren’t going to panic over a September slump. There is still palpable excitement in the air when Baez strides to the plate, and he’s had four four-strikeouts games already in just 21 big league contests. If those kinds of struggles can’t dampen the enthusiasm of a fan base, then frankly nothing will.

No, Soler isn’t going to single-handedly bring the Cubs back into the wild card hunt. No, he probably isn’t going to sock 10 home runs in a month and make everyone in Chicago forget about Jose Abreu. No, he isn’t Kris Bryant. None of those things matter. All that matters is that the Cubs are clearly gearing up to make a serious leap forward in the 2015 season, and getting Soler his first MLB at-bats is yet another reminder that brighter days are ahead on the north side.

Alcantara’s Brief Call-Up a Signal of Things to Come for Cubs

The Chicago Cubs are being really cautious with their most prized prospects, but one guy that’s been lighting up the minors this season will get a brief two-game stint with the big league club over the next few days.

That’s because infielder Arismendy Alcantara will be called up to the Cubs to take Darwin Barney’s spot on the active roster. Barney will be leaving the team to be with his wife for the birth of their third child, and Alcantara will start the Cubs’ remaining two games against the Cincinnati Reds.

Alcantara has played 88 games so far this season for the Triple A Iowa Cubs, and he’s been, in a word, excellent. His batting average of .308 and his OPS of .892 are both impressive, and his 45 extra-base hits are a great sign as well. Add to that his 21 stolen bases and his ability to play both middle infield spots and center field, and you have a player that has Cubs fans legitimately excited.

Of course, Alcantara will only be up for two games (although there’s no rule that says he can’t be called up if the Cubs do end up trading Barney before the trade deadline), but there’s still reason for Cubs fans to be optimistic. The team on the field at the big league level is struggling again after the Jeff Samardzija trade last week (although to suggest that one has to do with the other is silly), but the Iowa Cubs have been a treat to watch. Guys like Javier Baez and Kris Bryant continue to rake against the pitching at that level, and even though he isn’t as highly touted as either of those players (or Addison Russell, for that matter), Alcantara is a guy that could very well be in the Cubs’ plans well into the future.

Getting to finally get a brief glimpse of him against big league pitching is definitely something to look forward to, and the hope has to be that he gives Cubs fans something to cheer for in his brief stay with the team. He is an intriguing player, and he’s the first of the team’s many big-time prospects to get a whiff of the big leagues.

Cubs’ Re-Signing Barney Was A Smart Move

The Chicago Cubs avoided arbitration with second baseman Darwin Barney on Thursday, agreeing to a 1-year deal worth $2.3 million, the team announced.

The figure is the exact midpoint between the number the team ($1.8 million) and Barney’s agent ($2.8 million) exchanged as they prepared for their arbitration hearing, but that will no longer be necessary as Barney is officially in the fold for 2014.

The deal means that pitcher Jeff Samardzija is the only Cubs player remaining on the arbitration list, and if the two sides can’t bridge the $1.8 million gap that exists between the figures they submitted, then their case will be heard by an arbitrator.

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Barney is a Gold Glove-winning defender (and a finalist in 2013 as well), but his bat has been the subject of ridicule and contempt from Cubs fans. In 2013, Barney only batted .208, with seven home runs and 41 RBI. He had an abysmally bad on-base percentage as well, only getting on base at a .266 clip.

The forecast for 2014 for Barney isn’t much better, as Baseball Prospectus is only projecting him to hit a modest .250, with an OBP of .294. His power numbers are projected to stay the same, and his Wins Above Replacement Player, which was at -1.8 last season, is projected to improve by two wins to a whopping 0.8.

Even with all of those offensive woes in mind, it makes sense that the Cubs would retain Barney’s services for another year. Yes, even putting him in the eighth spot in the order means that the Cubs essentially cede two batters to opponents every time they go through the order, but the fact of the matter is that Barney is merely a placeholder for a guy who will be coming through the system and debuting in the majors within the next year or two.

Whether it’s Javier Baez, Starlin Castro, or Arismendy Alcantara, there are plenty of options to replace Barney’s bat in the lineup in 2015 or 2016, but for the 2014 season, he’s simply the best option they have at this point. His glove will save some of the runs that his bat will cost the team, but despite the discrepancy, it’s a move that the Cubs organization was right to make.