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July 2011

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Who is the Cubs third baseman of the future?

Written by , Posted in General


Aramis Ramirez is signed through the 2011 season with a $16 million club option for 2012.  Chances are that the Cubs will decline his 2012 option and look elsewhere for a third baseman.  Josh Vitters has long been considered the heir apparent to Ramirez, but scouts are not that sure anymore.

Who are the internal third base options for the Cubs?  Let’s take a look:

Marquez SmithSmith enjoyed a fine season with AAA Iowa in 2010, hitting .297/.371/.556 with 20 homers in 347 AB’s (including 44 at Tennessee).  However, after his strong season, the Cubs were apparently not impressed and left him off the 40 man roster prior to the Rule 5 draft, exposing him to other teams.  They were not impressed either, as no one selected him in the draft.

This year, Smith has continued to hit well at Iowa (albeit with less power) with a .283/.353/.448 line, but just 6 homeruns in 223 AB’s.  Its probably not enough to force his way into the Cubs plans and its likely he will be with another team next year.

D. J. LeMahieuLeMahieu is considered the best pure hitting prospect in the Cubs system.  In 236 minor league games, he has hit .327.  The problem is that is about the extent of his abilities, as he has limited power, with a career .408 slugging percentage.

He doesn’t have the range to play second or short and is not the typical third baseman, due to his limited power.  The Cubs believe that he can eventually hit 15 homeruns a year in the majors, once he learns to turn on inside pitches.  This would give him an upside of maybe Wade Boggs or Bill Madlock.  In other words, he could pass as a third baseman, but he would need to hit for a high average to make up for his lack of power.

Chances are he will end up more as a utility infielder with the Cubs.  We already saw a little bit of this during his June callup, when he played 13 games at second, 2 at third and 1 at first.

Ryan Flaherty – Unlike LeMahieu, Flaherty probably has the power to stick at third.  However, his problem has been defense.  The Cubs don’t seem to consider him a third baseman either, as they have shifted him all around the field in his brief minor league career.  He has played 147 games at second, 111 at short, 86 at third, 32 in the outfield corners and 4 at first.

He too is likely destined to be a utility fielder and could become the next Mark DeRosa or Juan Uribe, a super-utility type who can play the infield and outfield corners along with a passable second and short.  He has the pop to hit 20 homers a year in the bigs and, with his versatility, could make himself a valuable member of the Cubs in the not-so-distant future.

Josh Vitters – Prior to this season, Vitters still ranked as the Cubs highest third base prospect by Baseball America.  BA had him as the Cubs 5th best prospect (out of 30), with LeMahieu at #13, Flaherty #22 and Smith unranked.

Vitters makes solid contact (career 83.8% contact rate in the minors), but that can be misleading.  He shows a lack of patience (career 3.8% walk rate), often swinging at bad pitches and putting them in play for easy outs.  His career line of .276/.316/.437 doesn’t scream future major leaguer and his defense has come into question as well, with 13 errors in 53 games at third this year.

The Cubs have started playing him at first base this year (29 games at AA Tennessee), indicating that they may be giving up on him as their future third baseman.  He’s still young (just 21) and has time to turn things around, but it appears that the Cubs’ patience is starting to wear thin.

Looking at the Cubs internal options, it appears that none of the minor leaguers are ready to take over third next year and thus the Cubs may have to pick up Ramirez’ option or find a one year stopgap.  However, if forced to choose one of them to be the Cubs’ third baseman of the future, I would go with D. J. LeMahieu.  He has shown the best combination of hitting and defense amongst the alternatives.  If he could just develop average power, he could be a real asset to the team.

For more of Mark’s writing, check out The Cubs Billy Goat Blog

  • Chet

    Awesome. Yet again, we have a position that is about to open and no real MLB ready candidates.

    I see Aramis getting his option picked up, which will then result in all of Cub nation throwing up in unison.

  • Norm

    Ramirez is obviously the most productive option. The new GM will have to decide if he wants to spend on Ramirez with that $16M salary opening up in 2013 or if he wants to re-allocate those funds to a different area for 2012.

  • Joe

    I’m pretty sure the Cubs have already said they were NOT picking up his option, but I could be wrong.

  • Seymour Butts

    My anti spam word is beauty. I’m not sure of the baseball connection. I thought about a complement designed to get a mention in the wizzies, but won’t overtly pander. I’ll let Raker do that.
    Likely should stick with Aramis for another year. No body in the minors is taking it, and we should not be buying any high dollar free agents for a few years even if one were available.

  • Aaron

    If Hendry only had a BRAIN…

    @Joe – I think there’s been a lot of speculation (and more than a few predictions) that the Cubs will exercise the $2 million buyout on Ramirez’ contract after the season (assuming he’s not traded sooner), but I don’t think the Cubs have come out with an official announcement one way or the other.

  • Doug S.

    Jake Fox anybody?

  • Doug S.

    Whatever happened to Jake Fox?

  • Despite people’s hate for Aramis, he most likely will be the most productive option at 3B next year. If Hendry is still in charge of the team I see him picking up the option simply because Hendry will try and put the best team out there that he can for next season (maybe not best in the long term).

    And really, I’m sure Ricketts will want the most productive team as well. He sees those empty seats, if the club were near .500 they would be a lot more people at the games. It may not be best for the future, but I think he can’t help but look at those seats and see dollar bills. I think Ramirez’s hot streak over the past month or so may push them to pick it up if he continues it the rest of the way.

  • Buddy

    That list is pretty sad. Let’s hope Javier Baez adapts to 3B and moves through the system quickly.

  • Buddy

    I think Fox got cut by the Orioles.

  • Norm

    Keeping Ramirez, letting him go…either way it doesn’t affect the future.

  • Buddy

    True enough Norm. It may not be Ramirez in 2012, but the Cubs will need a one year band-aid at 3B. Maybe more than a year.

  • Buddy

    I missed Mark’s “Wade Boggs” comment earlier. If anybody in the Cubs system becomes Wade Boggs, we can all rejoice. Boggs had a career onbase percentage of .415.

  • Doc Raker

    In 2012 the Cubs will blow with or without Aram so let him go missing. Soriano should play either 1b or 3b, probably 1b since he would actually have to move his feet to play 3b.

  • Dan Koester

    Rammy is the best clutch player on the team. since they got him from Pittsburgh he has been the best clutch player. ENOUGH SAID.

  • Buddy

    I wouldn’t wish Soriano at 3B on my worst enemy.

  • Gino

    I’m with Dan. Why the dislike towards Aramis. Has been the most consistent hitter the club has had since his arrival from Pittsburgh. Sure Lee had better years, but Aramis filled what has been a huge hole for the Cubs organization and quite well I might add. With the exception of last year I’m pleased and they should be trying to extend him not get rid of him.

  • Jason

    I saw Pujols playing 3B for the Card’s a week or two ago….haha!

  • Jason

    I wouldn’t mind seeing a Michael Young for the Rangers come over to the Cubs. He is a very team oriented guy who can play alot of positions and hits well. Plus, he has been very unhappy with the Rangers and how they have treated him over the past few years so a fresh start couldn’t hurt. Just my thoughts.

  • Doc Raker

    Aram has been clutch for the CUbs but he is not worth his contract at this point in his career. His defense is suspect and can be downright horrendous as Brenly even pointed out last year with a “Will Aramis Ramirez ever get in front of another ground ball this year?” Aramis contract is an albatross, need to move on.

  • BuckeyeLakerCub

    Why can’t we bring him back at a lower salary? I don’t think Boras is his agent.

  • Doc Raker

    Aram has a club option for 2012 for $16M- approximate. I assume that means if the Cubs bring him back we would have to pick up the option, or maybe the Cubs can decline the option and then deal with him as a free agent. What would his free agent market value be? Probably more than I would want to pay for him. I just see no reason to pay big money to a free agent when you are rebuilding with youth. We need starting pitching, not high priced one dimensional hot weather sluggers or sluggers who can only hit righties.

  • Buddy

    For what it’s worth, here are a few 2012 free agent 3B (not a great list):

    –Wilson Betemit
    –Casey Blake
    –Eric Chavez
    –Greg Dobbs
    –Edwin Encarnacion

  • @Buddy – Boggs is LaMahieu’s extreme upside, so I wouldn’t count on it. As to the free agents, pass. However, there is always the possibility of a trade.

    Ramirez may be the most productive internal option, but he is not worth $16 million at this point.

  • Buddy

    Yeah, I don’t think anybody is counting on it. Not even LaMahieu’s mother, best friend, high school baseball coach, etc.

  • Chester

    I don’t understand. Ramirez is hitting .298 with 15 homeruns and we are bashing on him? His numbers are by far the best in the national league. Zimmerman is hitting .254 with 4 homers and david wrights hitting .226 with 6 homers. We have the best 3b in the NL so how about we be happy and pay him that 16 mil next year

  • Doc Raker

    “LeMahieu is considered the best pure hitting prospect in the Cubs system.” If that is true then let’s see what he can do. I like guys who can hit.

  • Buddy

    I wonder who considers him the “best pure hitting prospect in the system.”