Every time it snows, I am reminded of the old game, King of the Mountain. That image of a group of kids engaging in a mostly-friendly competition to see who will be on top of the snow pile is how I view what the Cubs will have going on the next few years when it comes to shortstops in their system. They’ve got a bunch right now, but there can be only one at the top.
After everyone celebrated (or lamented) how the Cubs had a treasure trove of shortstops seven summers ago, only Javier Báez stuck with the team in the long run. I have a sneaking suspicion that this current group will have more staying power for one reason or another. The problem is there can only be one guy playing the position at a time.
Even though they lost Nico Hoerner and Zack Short from last year‘s shortstop list, there’s still plenty of elite talent to go around. Over the past three summers, the Cubs have gone all-out to acquire as many young athletes at the position as possible. That kind of depth bodes well because many of those players probably will take their strong tools to another position and/or they could be traded to acquire other players at positions of need.
When MLB Pipeline’s top Cubs prospect list comes out either in February or March, you could find as many as six or more shortstops on the list. Ed Howard, Cristian Hernandez, Reggie Preciado, Yeison Santana, Louis Verdugo, and Kevin Made stand a good chance of being named. Who knows, maybe even Andy Weber gets some love to make it a lucky seven.
Javy is of course the current King of the Mountain and what the Cubs do about his impending free agency is going to tell a lot about who’s going to be the king for years to come. If the Cubs extend Báez, he could continue to be the man for the next several years. That would provide continuity while giving the organization’s young prospects plenty of time to develop.
The issue is that several of these players may not need that much time.
There’s still a lot of uncertainty as to which prospect is going to come out on top, but there’s a reason they always say development isn’t linear. While I have set up the competition analogy, these youngsters don’t all have to stick at shortstop. In fact, it would be better if they didn’t. Based on how they develop over the next few seasons, some of them can slide over to adjacent infield spots or maybe even the outfield.
Several factors will determine who ends up sticking at shortstop and who moves to a different position.
- Physical Maturity
We’re talking about several players who are still in their teens and who have yet to take part in professional training programs. Natural physical development will play a huge role in each player’s future. Both Hernandez and Made are 6-foot-2 with broad shoulders and I would not be surprised to see either of them slide over to third if they continue to grow and add muscle as most 17- and 18-year-old kids do.
When the Cubs acquired Preciado from the Padres, it was said that he was still growing was probably closer to 6-foot-5 at this point. You don’t see too many shortstops who are that big. Between his youth (18) and his ability to switch-hit, he may not even make it to the middle of the diamond next year due to a move to third.
Reggie Preciado was Panama's top prospect in the 2019 international signing class.
He'll now head to the Cubs in the Yu Darvish deal.
— Baseball America (@BaseballAmerica) December 29, 2020
- Baseball IQ
Making the right plays at the right time is an essential part of baseball and, while that skill can improve with experience, the best shortstops seem to have an innate feel for it. Howard is said to have exceptional acumen for the game.
The top shortstop in the country 🇺🇸 in the 2020 high school class is Ed Howard, from Mount Carmel HS in Chicago.
— Ben Badler (@BenBadler) January 7, 2020
From what I’ve seen since 2018, Weber has one of the best minds for the game in the Cubs’ system. He’s already switched from second base to shortstop and he could switch back, but he knows what to do on every single play as a defender. At the plate, his control of the strike zone is on par with Mark Zagunis and Jorge Soler, two of the best prospects who knew what a strike was and wasn’t. Weber should be at Double-A to start 2021.
Andy Weber might be the most underrated prospect in the #Cubs system
• 5th rd draft pick in 2018 out of UVA
• .275/.338/.400 (113 wRC+) in 2019
• Only 2 errors at SS in all of June
• System leader with 36 doubles
• Improved at the plate & in the field as the season went on pic.twitter.com/344kV6QGTK
— Greg Huss (@OutOfTheVines) November 9, 2019
- Pure Athleticism
What’s going to allow some of these players to move elsewhere on the diamond is the same thing that has kept them at short so far: They have been the best athletes on their respective teams. Whether it’s quick hands, speed, great instincts with solid decision-making, or incredible reaction time, they were the players their coaches wanted to have at a premium position.
As some of them begin the shift to other spots, we’ll see changes in next year’s position rankings (see below for more). Keep in mind that some of those decisions could also be based on how one or more of the current shortstops excel at a given level. Having two or three of them on the same team means moving around as a function of necessity.
The 2021 season is going to be all about making up for lost time and finding out who has developed the most since the end of 2019. Performances and assessments may change from month-to-month as players adapt to new environments and make adjustments. Who is hot in May is not necessarily going to be who is hot in July or August.
As such, it could be a wild path up to the top of the mountain.
Probable SS Assignments
Iowa – Abiatal Avelino
Tennessee – Weber, Aramis Ademan
Myrtle Beach – Howard, Santana, and Preciado
Mesa – Hernandez, Made, Rafael Morel
Check out our other organizational breakdowns