The Cubs' strategy at the second base position seems to be to hope that one of their many Grade B- prospects takes the bull by the horn. For the time being, the Cubs are employing a group of mediocre but at times mildly useful trio at the positon.
Major League Level: Ryan Theriot (age 30) : Since Theriot's Home Run explosion last year, he has turned into a terrible hitter. Coming into today's game, he had a .277/.314/.308 triple slash number. His ISO, never particularly good, has completely tanked. He used to be a shortstop where a team could live with that type of productiion if a player were awesome with the glove but Theriot is now a poor fielding second baseman. He's 16 for 20 in SB attempts so at least he has that.
The thing with Theriot is that he is being paid 2.6 Million. It's not much and in a typical year, it wouldn't be a big deal but he's far from earning his paycheck this year and I see no real use to the team next year. I think the Cubs will try to move Theriot at the trade deadline or they will DFA him in the off season. It would surprise me if Theriot were still around in 2011. Sorry Ryan, you were a Riot, but your time as a Cub appears to be coming to an end.
Major League Level: Mike Fontenot (age 30): Fontenot is the prototype perfect left handed hitting half of a platoon at second base. Fontenot is under control of the Cubs for two more seasons and I see no good reason why the Cubs shouldn't maintain that control. Now he's not a great player or a great hitter. He's hitting .294/.341/.412 this year. He's become more of a contact hitter. He occasionally drives the ball and the rumours of his impending power decline have been somewhat exaggerated. That stated, if some other team wants to give us a prospect for him at the trade deadline this year, I say the Cubs need to move him.
Major League Level: Jeff Baker (age 29): Baker is the near perfect bench player and the best player the Cubs could have with Fontenot on the team. He is a good hitter vs LHP's and is a really fantastic glove man. He's under team control for either 2 or 3 more years and would become mildly superfluous if Fontenot is dealt. He shouldn't be a starter ever even for a bad team. Once again, like Fontenot, Baker has his uses. A true Fontenot/Baker platoon at second base with Baker also spelling Ramirez at third from time to time would be a very productive platoon.
AAA level: Bobby Scales (age 32): Nothing special potential bench player playing in Iowa. Everyone remembers him from 2009 on the Cubs. If the Cubs decided to give Scales the job that Baker is now doing, I seriously doubt we'd notice a particularly large drop off. He's the guy who will be starting at second in August and September in all likelyhood if the Cubs trade all 3 players above. Not likely but possible.
AAA level: Matt Camp (age 26): Left handed hitter. 13th round draft pick. Numbers in the minors suggest a poor man's Theriot. Yeah, not good. I give him credit for making it to AAA. He's not a candidate to take the second base job.
AA level: Tony Thomas (age 23): Basically a grade C or grade C+ prospect sitting in Double A and the leading candidate to be someone you never heard of making an impact on the 2011 Cubs. He's got OK power, decent speed. He seems pretty good with the glove. He's repeating Double A and he does have some contact problems and will struggle to keep his batting average over, say, .240 in the big leagues. He walks a decent amount but probably not enough at this time to be better than the Fontenot/Baker combo we have in the big leagues now. I think he should spend all of 2011 in triple A but it's possible that he could impress and make the big league squad.
High A level: Ryan Flaherty (age 23): This is where we get into the potential future at this position for the Cubs. Flaherty was challenged by the Cubs at the start of this season and sent to Double A but he failed miserably and ended up in High A after hitting the cover off the ball in Peoria in 2009. Back in the Florida State League, Flaherty has hit well again. He's a real big guy (6'3", 220) and I worry if he will stay at second base but he has a chance to really move in 2011. He has genuine power but he also has some contact issues. He probably will never be a star but he could hold his own, easily as a solid regular for years. At the rate he's going, he might not enjoy his rookie year until he's 25 or 26 but he should be fine in the majors once he gets there. I am rooting for him to be playing in Iowa and pushing Tony Thomas off of second by this time next year.
High A level: D.J. LaMahieu (age 21): On the bright side, he is very young at just 21 for a former college guy. He is also tall and has "projectable" power. On the negative side, it's hard to imagine a 6'4" second baseman and he just barely hit his first HR as a pro. I'm not calling him a bust as he's 2 years younger than Flaherty and Thomas so he could still make it as a major leaguer but I'm scratching my head right now.
Low A level: Logan Watkins (age 20): Watkins has a decent left handed bat and is just 20 but he was a late round draft pick and hasn't hit well in Peoria this year. I do think he has probably earned a couple more year look in the low minors to make sure but so far I think Watkins is just the left handed version of LaMahieu. At this point, I would be surprised if either of them ever knocked on the door of Wrigley Field.
Short Season: Pierre LePage (age 21): It's early and he's 21 and playing in the Pioneer League but what a great name. I don't know much else about him. He's hitting over .330 in his inagural year as a Cub farmhand.
Conclusion: I think the Cubs might be smart not to get too excited about their middle infield prospects. Flaherty is good and I like him but he stumbled this year. LaMahieu has shown very little power thus far. The Cubs can get by for a year with the Fontenot/Baker platoon or even giving Thomas a shot but eventually someone else is going to have to step up. I think the Cubs should be on a look out for a player at this position at the trading deadline this year or they might have to dip into their free agent budget for a second baseman in the future. That would not be good.
Of course, hoping Hak-Ju Lee plays well enough that they can decide where to play Lee and Castro in a couple of years would be the best possible result. Second base is an interesting situation. We'll see how it plays out.
The Cubs made their final roster cuts yesterday when they decided to keep Chad Tracy over Kevin Millar. Both A.J. and Rob talked about their takes, but I wanted to look at the bench as whole and show a few trends for the 2010 squad. Before we can move forward, we need to look back at last year's group:
Koyie Hill, C: We will cover Hill with with the 2010 group.
Micah Hoffpauir, 1B-OF: Besides having a cool name, "The Hoff" doesn't bring much to the table. He really didn't hit that well last year, and doesn't have a spot that he plays well on the infield or outfield.
Aaron Miles, IF: I was taught not say anything about a person then I shouldn't say anything. Holding my tounge....holding my tounge.....holding my tounge......Really, this was Jem Hendry's answer to Mark DeRosa. Really, Hendry should have his GM free agent signing card revoked from him. Miles and Bradley in one year.
Joey Gathright, OF: Another stellar signing from Hendry. Ir really seems that Baltimore quites like the man that can jump cars (really, its on youtube)! He went to Baltimore last year, wasn't resigned. He was then signed by Toronto and was cut a few days ago, only to be signed to a new deal by Baltimore. Ah...the power of speed and no hitting.
Reed Johnson, OF: I always like Reed, but last year was a not a banner year for the SWG of the Cubs. He broke his foot and was out for much of the year. It really was no surprise that he was let go this year in favor of more youth.
Now, here is the 2010 group of bench guys:
Hill, C: Hill really is the perfect backup. He's cheep and plays good defense. He doesn't hit much, but that's ok with your backup catcher as long as he doesn't have to play much.
Chad Tracy, 1B-3B: Tracy locked up the final spot yesterday, and I feel it was the right choice for the job. He's lefthanded and provides another backup option off the bench for Lee and Ramirez.
Jeff Baker, IF: Baker reminds of DeRosa, just without all the home runs. Of course, DeRosa didn't hit a lot of home runs until later in his career. Baker does provide some insurance and might end up in a platoon with Fontenot before the season ends.
Tyler Colvin, OF: Here is the biggest surprise of the year. Colvin was not supposed to make this team, but he hit a ton and now the Cubs are going to give him a shot. Colvin needs at bats, and doesn't really walk much, so he will come down to earth very quickly. He's hit for power and has some speed, so he should be useful. At least, it gives the Cubs another option should Kosuke Fukudome or Alfonso Soriano be out for a long period of time.
Xavier Nady, OF: I love the Nady signing. Here is a guy that is coming off a surgery, but has shown he can hit for major league teams. If he could play the outfield without walking the ball to the infield would be nice, but he should be a solid option once he can throw again.
We can only hope that the bench will lead to a few more wins this year, but in the end I hope we don't see them too much.