2014 Projected Starting 2nd Baseman: Darwin Barney
2013 Season in Review: Darwin Barney followed up his 2012 Gold Glove campaign with another outstanding season in the field. Although he did not take home the Gold Glove last season (Cincinnati Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips won the award), Barney played extraordinary at second base leaving no doubt he is one of the best defensive players in the league. However, his major struggles at the plate leaves serious questions to his long term future with the Cubs.
Negatives- Barney, like most of Cubs players, struggled hitting last season. He has never been known to be a threat with the bat, but last year was an all time low for Barney. 2013 was a year to forget, he struggled from start to finish posting a batting average of .208 in the month of April and a season low .158 in September. Fortunately for Barney, he is not heavily relied on to carry the load of the offense, so as long as he hits consistently the Cubs would be happy. That being said, no body was content with Barney’s .208 season average last year. Once thought of as the second baseman of the future, now is fighting to save his job. He started the 2013 campaign towards the bottom of the batting lineup, but looking for answers to solve his batting woes, he was bounced all over the lineup before finally settling in the 8 whole. Barney will most likely start 2014 in the same batting spot, but if 2013 is any preview of what is to come in 2014 then Darwin Barney will be wearing another uniform by seasons end.
Positives- Once again, Barney had an extraordinary season defensively. He followed up his Gold Glove season with another superb year. In his 139 games started, he only committed 4 errors. By seasons end he had a fielding percentage of .993, while Gold Glove winner Brandon Phillips committed 9 errors, and had a fielding percentage of .987. There is no question that Barney is an elite second baseman, and last season only solidified that fact. Barney, similar to teammates Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo, was a workhouse last season by starting 139 of 162 games. Barney has been extremely durable during his entire career; he has not been injury prone and is someone that can be counted on to anchor the middle of the infield on a daily basis. Even though Barney barely hit anything last season, no one on the Cubs did (Outfielder Nate Schierholtz led the team with a .251 batting average), so as long as Barney can rebound this season most fans will forget about the hitting woes of 2013.
2014 Projections- Darwin Barney and the Cubs are still in the negotiation progress for a new deal, that will most likely pay him around 2-3 million dollars. Once that is settled, all the pressure will be on Barney to bounce back from last season. Everyday that Barney struggles at the plate marks one day closer that a prospect could take his job. His fielding will once again be impressive, and will be in the top 3 of Gold Glove voting. He even has a legitimate chance of taking home the trophy. In 2011 Barney hit .276 and had an on base percentage of .313, so he has proven that he can be somewhat of a threat with the bat. I look for his batting numbers to improve solely because they can’t get much worse, and if he can reach his numbers from 2011 he may solidify a spot on the 2015 roster. There are several second base prospects that are performing extremely well in the minors, so if Barney has a great season at second base it will provide the Cubs with a good predicament to be in. However, if Barney duplicates his 2013 season this year, than it will make parting ways with him the easiest decision President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein has had to do during his tenure with the Cubs.
Prospect Watch: Second base has been a position that the Cubs have been searching for answers in the minor league level, but now they feel as though they have solved it. Javier Baez, the Cubs number 1 prospect in the whole organization, is a natural shortstop, but with Starlin Castro locked up with a long term contract Baez might be moved to second base. The transition to second may start as early as spring training for Baez. In 2013 Baez played in A and AA, and smacked the cover off the ball, putting together a .282 average with 37 home runs and 111 runs batted in, all while having an on base percentage of .341. The only flaw that Baez portrayed last season was that he was a major strike out victim. Baez will probably start in AAA, and could even make his way up to the majors at some point in the season. Javier Baez has extraordinary talent, and whatever positions he ends up playing he will be an impact player on a daily basis.
The Cubs also have another intriguing prospect in Arismendy Alcantara. Alcantara burst onto the scene in 2013 putting up extraordinary numbers while playing for AA Tennessee posting a .271 average and a .352 on base percentage. Although Alcantara does not get as much publicity as some of the Cubs prospects, he should not be overlooked. He has played second base in the minors, so in terms of experience, he has the upper hand on Baez. Even though his power numbers aren’t superb, he has been to know to be able to go deep, and sometimes the threat is just as good as the power. Two years ago most people didn’t know who Arismendy Alcantara was, but now he could be competing for a starting second base job for the Cubs by 2015.
Two of the most interesting positions for the Cubs the past few seasons have been 3rd base and shortstop, stay tuned for an in depth look at the both of them next time.