There isn’t a lot of depth on the 2011 Cubs and the infield has a few positions where this is quite apparent. I previously looked at the impact that injuries could have on the pitching staff and the catcher position. I think every Cubs fan should pray daily that Geovany Soto stays healthy.
As if we weren’t already shaky on Koyie Hill. Koyie batted .031 in Spring Training. He played in 17 games, got 31 at-bats and got 1 hit. ONE HIT. This coming from a guy that stands to make $850,000 this year. Don’t forget that Hill ended the 2010 campaign with a .214 batting average. So in 2011, the Cubs have almost 11 million dollars wrapped up in two guys that hit under .215. Sorry, I am letting my pessimism show. Koyie Hill brings that out in me. However, this post isn’t about the catching position.
Derrek Lee is in Baltimore and the Cubs replaced him with Carlos Pena. You know the drill with Pena. He had a laughable .196 batting average last year and somehow manipulated Jim Hendry into giving him $10 million for a one-year contract. The sad thing is, as Cubs fans, we consider this a great contract because Hendry demonstrated he can sign players to a one-year deal. Pena has power and that’s what Hendry is banking on. The Cubs have been lacking in power the last few years. I know Pena isn’t going to hit for average. My strategy of judging Pena’s success is how he does in clutch situations. If he has runners in scoring position and can’t drive them in and then he hits 25 solo homeruns, I won’t be dying to see Pena return. Pena is supposedly a great clubhouse guy and he’s been a great team player by helping Tyler Colvin get acquainted with playing first base.
Colvin played 5 games at 1st base during Spring Training. While he’s not on the official depth chart for the 1st base back-up, you have to assume he’ll be used there. The official back-up is Jeff Baker. Baker is the listed starter at 2nd and the back-up at 3rd, so I think Colvin will get some time playing 1st base. If there is a possibility he’s the first baseman of the future for the Cubs, he should be playing every time Pena sits.
Is there ever a shortage of 2nd basemen for the Cubs? This year is no exception. Jeff Baker is listed as the starter, but Darwin Barney has busted onto the scene and may push Baker out of this role. Spring Training stats seem to always be inflated (a scary thought when considering Koyie Hill). Jeff Baker batted .360 this Spring and Darwin Barney earned a spot on the roster with a .340 average. I know he’s not going to be an All-Star or franchise guy for the Cubs, but I like Barney and I hope to see him play a lot this year. One thing that Kurt and I noticed at Spring Training is that Starlin Castro and Darwin Barney seemed to have good chemistry, especially on the double-plays.
I’m a Cubs fan and we like certain players for no reason. I saw Darwin Barney talking to a kid after one of the games in Mesa and he pulled out his iPad to show this kid a piano app and I was pretty much sold on him right there. The odd man out at 2nd base is Blake Dewitt, who came over to the Cubs from the Dodgers last year. Dewitt did not have an impressive Spring Training, batting .186 while having the 4th most at-bats on the team in Cactus League play. So we can’t blame a small sample size.
Starlin Castro is the future of the Cubs and I don’t want to even think about him getting injured or being injury-prone. The fears that Castro is all hype and is going to be another disappointment are still there, but they are becoming weaker with every game. Castro hit .348 in Spring Training and led the Cubs in homeruns (4) and RBI’s (15). What is most impressive is that Castro only struck out 6 times in 66 at-bats. To put that into context, Tyler Colvin had the same number of at-bats and struck out 20 times.
Castro appears to be the real deal and while errors will probably still be an issue this year, we can’t forget that Starlin just turned 21 years old. He is learning his position and I think we’ll see those error numbers drop every year. Also keep in mind that for every error he commits, he pulls off some incredible play that us Cubs fans are not used to seeing out of a shortstop. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen both the range and the arm that Castro possesses.
Darwin Barney is the listed shortstop back-up. I would assume that even if Barney is starting a lot at 2nd base, if Castro were to get injured, Barney would move over to shortstop. Baker and Dewitt are more of the prototypical 2nd basemen and don’t have the range for shortstop.
History tells us that Aramis Ramirez will get injured. However, I think last year, Ramirez started playing a little more conservatively on defense. Considering the injuries he’s sustained while diving, it’s understandable that the Cubs would be willing to forfeit a base-hit to keep him healthy. The Cubs need Ramirez’s bat and his timely hitting. I could not stand Ramirez for years, but I have really come to appreciate what he brings to this team. There is nobody that is more clutch than Ramirez. He hasn’t had many opportunities to be clutch in the last few years, but there isn’t anyone I would rather have at the plate in the bottom of the 9th with a guy on 1st and the Cubs down by 1 run. I never thought I would say that about Aramis Ramirez, but he’s proven me wrong many times in his years with the Cubs.
I really do think Ramirez will do everything to stay healthy this year. Not only is he aging, but this is a contract year and his earning potential could vary greatly depending on what happens this year. Backing up Ramirez is….Jeff Baker. This is a pretty logical spot for Baker. He doesn’t have much range and if memory serves me, he has a decent arm.
This is an above average infield if Pena hits for power, Ramirez stays healthy and Starlin…is Starlin. One or two injuries and this is a pretty bad infield. It won’t happen, but let’s look at a catastrophe in the field and all the starters are out. That leaves us with: Colvin, Dewitt, Barney and Baker. Yikes.