In the Cubs organization the third base slot isn’t necessarily vacant, but it is up for the taking if a player in their system can prove that they can produce in that spot.
When you compare the production that the Cubs got out of the third base position last year to other teams in the National League Central division, it is clear that it is one of the many ares the Cubs can improve in. The question is who is going to do it.
At this point the Cubs do have many options for the position and all need to be explored if they want to put their best possible team on the field next season. One spot may not put them into playoff contention, but maybe it will at least give them the opportunity to be a .500 ball club.
The first option the Cubs have is the man who carried the torch at the hot corner last season, Luis Valbuena, who in 108 games last year batted a mere .218 with only 28 extra-base hits and 37 RBIs. Compare this to the Pirates’ Pedro Alvarez who only hit .233, but still hit 36 jacks and drove in 100 runs, while striking out 186 times. Alvarez lead all of NL third basemen in homers and RBIs, and that is the type of player the Cubs need filling that slot. Hopefully someone more consistent, but a power threat none-the-less, and last season proved that Valbuena is not what Chicago needs in an everyday starting role.
The next option the Cubs have is Mike Olt, who came over from the Texas Rangers in the Garza trade. Olt has had three cups of coffee up in the big leagues and hasn’t accomplished much in any of them. Through 45 Major League games Olt is batting .216 whit three homeruns and seven RBIs. While it is possible that Olt hasn’t hit his ceiling yet, the Cubs need someone who won’t struggle to stay above the Mendoza line.
Another option the Cubs have is highly regarded prospect Kris Bryant. Bryant has shown pop throughout his career, leading all of college baseball in homeruns last year, and pounding another 15 out of the park in 51 professional games. While Bryant is young, and hasn’t had any Major League experience yet, he is a good candidate for the position, and is expected to rise through the ranks quickly. In those same 51 games, Bryant has batted a staggering .353 and has been consistent throughout. However, in the Arizona Fall League he has had some issues in the field. In the Falls Stars game he accounted for the only two errors in the games, one on a routine grounder that allowed a run to score. The upside to Bryant is his bat, and the Cubs will have to make the decision of whether or not it will make up for his sub-par defensive skills.
One option that has not been entertained by the Cubs front office, to my knowledge, would be to move number one Cubs prospect Javier Baez over to third base. This would help the Cubs on many levels. The first being they would be able to keep Starlin Castro, where he belongs, at short. Also Baez is much closer to the bigs than Bryant is and it would allow the Cubs to see what they really have in him. Baez has proven himself in the minors. Last season in 130 games in both double and single A, he batted .282 with 37 big flies and 111 RBIs, to go along with 20 stolen bases. Baez has a ton of talent, and if the Cubs want to get the kind of production the Pirates do out of Alvarez, he is definitely their best bet as of now. In fact with someone like Baez, there is no reason to go shopping in the free-agent, or trade, markets for a third baseman. If his play at shortstop is any indication, he will be defensively sound in the hot corner, and will more than make up for any mistakes in the field, at the plate. If the Cubs really want to make a push out of the cellar of the central division, they need to get Baez up, and with Castro on the team, that can’t happen unless they stop thinking of him as a shortstop.
This of course leads to the concern that the Cubs just spent the second overall draft pick on a third baseman, Bryant, and how are they going to get him up if Baez takes over the third base slot. This can be solved with relative ease. The Cubs have another weak position behind the plate. While Wellington Castillo has a fairly solid campaign last season he never batted above .287 in a full season in the minors, and his progress in the majors from two seasons ago was minimal at best; only tallying three additional homeruns in 210 more at-bats. Bryant has the arm to be a catcher, and this would take a lot of pressure off of him to succeed in the field. It also gets his bat into the lineup, which is his selling point. The young prospect might need a little time in the minors to learn the position well enough to play it in the big show, but he is a hard worker and would pick it up quickly. Picturing the infield Rizzo, Barney, Castro, and Baez with Bryant behind the plate sounds tempting. It is a solid combination of ability with the leather and the lumber, and might just be the Cubs best shot at an 83 win season in the near future.
All these decisions lay in the hands of the front office and top to bottom coaching staff of the Cubs organization, and whether or not they make them is up to them. However the question must be asked by the staff, front office, and fans alike is: Why wait for Bryant, when Baez can be the third baseman of the future, today?