It’s the prince and the pauper of infields on the north side in Chicago. You have a bonafide early-round young star shortstop, and a super sleeper first baseman, and then… the Cubs might not produce a third baseman or a second baseman worth rostering in any league.
When it comes to Starlin Castro, there’s really not that much you can say in a short blurb. He’s going to be 23 this season, and all of the markers are going in the right direction. His isolated slugging percentage, stolen base and home run totals have all inched forward in each successive year. Most of the projections don’t expect that to continue, but it’s fair to dream upon the young shortstop, considering he’s probably pre-peak in most facets of the game. Could he hit .300 with 15 home runs and 30 stolen bases this season? That would push him real close to the top two rounds, and would look like Jose Reyes‘ peak year.
At first base, there’s a lot you can say about Anthony Rizzo. It certainly looks like he made an adjustment to his swing, the often grouchy ZiPs loves him, and his major league contact rates — which stabilize more quickly than almost any other hitting peripheral — improved in Chicago. His swinging strike rate was still worse than average, though, so you might expect his strikeout rate to be closer to 20% than the 18.6% he showed last year. The good news is that he has more power than he showed last year, and power takes longer to stabilize. You might be stuck scouting with your eyes on this one, but Rizzo offers plenty of upside at a cheap draft cost.
And that’s where the fun stops. Darwin Barney has real-life value, but it’s based mostly on his defense. He needed some BABIP love to put up a .276 batting average in 2011, and last year he wasn’t above-average in any facet of his offensive game. Well, he makes contact, but he doesn’t have enough power to make that contact count. Since he’ll drain you in most categories, he’s just not a fantasy player.
Then there’s the scrum at third base. You might want to watch for a winner, but there probably won’t be any fantasy winners in this debacle. Luis Valbuena may have more power than the .119 ISO that he’s shown so far in the big leagues, and he does have enough patience to have league-average OBP upside. The rest of his game leaves a lot to be desired. He strikes out too much to show a good batting average, and now at 27, his speed is mostly gone.
And Valbuena is probably the best of the pack. Ian Stewart is still kicking around, and has even improved his strikeout rate in recent years, so there’s the chance he can tap into his power in an interesting way. But dude is going on 28 and we have a long track record on him, and it’s not great. This graph of his strikeout rate is about all he has going for him, and if you put the other graph (his isolated slugging percentage) next to it, well you have your full story then.
Josh Vitters is, in his way, the Cubs’ own homegrown Ian Stewart. At least, he’s shown a problem with the strikeout so far. But given repeated chances at Double- and Triple-A, he whittled that whiff rate that down, and he’s only had 109 plate appearances in the major leagues. He could improve that terrible MLB strikeout rate. If his bad major league walk rate doesn’t keep him off the roster, though, he has the upside to hit for a better average than Ian Stewart, paired with similar power, and even a few stolen bags. There are problems with his game, but as Mike Newman pointed out, third base for the Cubs is wiiiide open.